India’s new citizenship law takes toll on Muslims in Assam

Evicted people show their land ownership documents at the Mukua Shapori camp, Sonitpur district, Assam. (AN Photo)
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Updated 08 January 2020

India’s new citizenship law takes toll on Muslims in Assam

  • BJP administration evicted hundreds of Muslim households in Assam following the enactment of CAA
  • Members of the Muslim minority in Sonitpur district have become refugees in their own homeland

TEZPUR, ASSAM: The moment Akkas Ali saw his destroyed home, he burst in tears. The 65-year-old farmer from Bhuttamari Vairabi, Sonitpur district in India’s northeastern Assam state, has spent all his life savings on building the three-bedroom house in the village.

Last month, the district’s administration and a local legislator entered 10 villages in the area with bulldozers and paramilitary personnel. They razed 450 houses and displaced more than 3,000 people.

Ali is now a refugee in his own village and stays at a nearby makeshift camp, without any clue what the future holds for him. 




Evicted people show their land ownership documents at the Mukua Shapori camp, Sonitpur district, Assam. (AN Photo)

“My fault is that I am not registered as a voter in the Sootea Assembly constituency where my village falls. I have my vote in the neighboring constituency. Local Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Padma Hazarika, with support from the administration, threw me and more than 450 families out from the area just because we don’t vote for him,” he said.

“I am a genuine citizen of Assam and my name figures in the NRC. I am a registered voter of the neighboring Tezpur constituency and I've been living here for more than 15 years, after moving from my native village which was washed away by a flood,” Ali told Arab News, referring to the National Register of Citizens, a citizenship list issued by the Assam government in August last year.

“The government says we are encroachers and Bangladeshis, and they evicted us from our own land despite having all the documents. The larger goal, I feel, is that the BJP wants to settle down Hindu Bengalis in this area who will act as a permanent vote bank for the party,” Ali said.

Ever since New Delhi passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in mid-December, tensions have been running high in Assam with the Assamese fearing to lose their ethnic identity if immigrant Hindu Bengalis are allowed to become Indian citizens. 

Under the CAA, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi and Christian minorities from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are eligible to become citizens, if they have come to India before Dec. 31, 2014. Muslims are not included.

Meanwhile, Assam’s NRC has provisions for declaring all migrants – regardless of their religion – as stateless if they have entered Assam after March 24, 1971. More than 1.9 million people, mostly Hindus, could not find their place on the NRC list. The CAA  will now accommodate Hindus, leaving out Muslims.

Members of the Muslim minority in the state fear they would be the real target of the BJP’s majoritarian politics.




A man shows his documents at the Shirwani camp, Sonitpur district, Assam. (AN Photo)

Abdul Quddus faces a similar fate as Ali.

“First they evicted us saying we are not their voters, and soon they are going to throw out the remaining Muslim families,” said the teacher who has been living in at the Mukua Chapori camp, some two kilometers from his house, also as a refugee.

Arab News asked Hazrika, the local BJP legislator behind the evictions, about their grounds.

“They are encroachers, that’s why they have been evicted,” was his reply.

“I don’t care whether they are Hindu or Muslims, they are encroachers and they have been thrown out of the government land,” Hazrika said, adding that the evictions followed a court order.

He denied, however, the presence of refugee camps in the area.

Manvendra Pratap Singh, deputy commissioner of Sonitpur district and a man at the forefront of the evictions, also defended the move by citing encroachment.

“We have a plan to evict more people from that area, as the whole land belongs to the government and those who claim they are owners of the land bought the land from encroachers,” he said, adding that an industrial park and Tezpur University facilities were going to be built in the area.

He also denied the existence of camps and said that eligible to own land would be resettled. “There exists no refugee camp in the area,” he claimed.

But people in the camps say that no one from the government side has visited them.




Akkas Ali stands in the ruins of his house in Bhuttamari Vairobi village, Sonitpur district, Assam. (AN Photo)

“We are being treated as foreigners in our own land. The situation is so bad that local schools are refusing (our) kids entry to school premises. The future of hundreds of students is bleak,” said Ali. 

According to local social worker Isfaqul Hussain, “there is a larger game at play in Assam now. Wherever Muslim communities are vulnerable, there is an attempt to displace them internally and make them refugees in their own homeland.”

Tezpur-based political analyst Abdul Qadir explained that following the enactment of CAA, the BJP seeks to settle Hindu Bengalis in Muslim-dominated areas.

“The situation was very sad in the beginning when more than 10,000 people suddenly became homeless. Some of them spent nights in the open in this severe winter. Concerned citizens mobilized funds and erected tents,” he said.

“We are living in a difficult time, when human suffering is measured by the parameters of religion.”


Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Updated 14 June 2021

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

  • Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims
  • Nathaniel Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity

LONDON/ONTARIO: Prosecutors laid terrorism charges Monday against a man accused of driving down and killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
The prosecution said Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism and prosecutors have upgraded those charges under Canada’s criminal code.
Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims.
Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity.
The upgraded charges were laid as Veltman made a brief court appearance via video Monday morning. He has yet to enter a plea.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal were killed while out for an evening walk on June 6.
The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured but is expected to recover.


Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Updated 14 June 2021

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

  • Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin says suspension would be for a further six months

MANILA: The Philippines has suspended for the third time its decision to scrap a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, its foreign minister said on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the suspension would be for a further six months while President Rodrigo Duterte “studies, and both sides further address his concerns regarding, particular aspects of the agreement.”
The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States, and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA. Duterte last year notified Washington he was canceling the deal, which came amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa.


France’s army chief Lecointre steps down, replaced by General Burkhard

Updated 14 June 2021

France’s army chief Lecointre steps down, replaced by General Burkhard

  • General Francois Lecointre’s retirement was widely expected

PARIS: France’s chief of staff of the armed forces, General Francois Lecointre, is stepping down to retire and will be replaced by General Thierry Burkhard, the French Presidency said in a statement on Sunday.
Burkhard was up to now army’s chief of land staff. Lecointre’s retirement was widely expected.
The announcement comes after President Emmanuel Macron announced a drawdown in Mali which will take several months of planning.


New Zealand’s Ardern pans mosque attacks film amid backlash

Updated 14 June 2021

New Zealand’s Ardern pans mosque attacks film amid backlash

  • The US-backed film ‘They Are Us’ has sparked an intense backlash among New Zealand Muslims
  • Jacinda Ardern says filmmakers had not consulted her about the movie

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday criticized a planned movie about her response to the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks as poorly timed and focused on the wrong subject.
The US-backed film “They Are Us” has sparked an intense backlash among New Zealand Muslims, with community leaders slamming the project for pushing a “white savior” narrative.
Ardern said the attacks – when a white supremacist gunman ran amok at two mosques during Friday prayers, killing 51 and seriously injuring another 40 – remained “very raw” for many New Zealanders.
She said filmmakers had not consulted her about the movie, which is set to star Australia’s Rose Byrne as the center-left leader.
“In my view, which is a personal view, it feels very soon and very raw for New Zealand,” Ardern told TVNZ.
“And while there are so many stories that should be told at some point, I don’t consider mine to be one of them – they are the community’s stories, the families’ stories.”
One of the movie’s producers, Philippa Campbell, quit the project in the wake of Ardern’s comments, saying she regretted the shock and hurt it had caused.
“I now agree the events of March 15, 2019, are too raw for film at this time and do not want to be involved with a project that is causing such distress,” she said in a statement.
Ardern won widespread praise for her empathetic and inclusive handling of the attacks, the worst mass shooting in modern New Zealand history, including wearing a scarf when meeting mourners.
The movie’s title references a line from a speech she gave in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity when she pledged to support the Muslim community and tighten gun laws.
A petition from the National Islamic Youth Association calling for the production to be shut down has gathered more than 60,000 signatures.
The association said the proposed film “sidelines the victims and survivors and instead centers the response of a white woman.”
It said the Muslim community had not been properly consulted about the project, which has been scripted by New Zealand writer Andrew Niccol.
“Entities and individuals should not seek to commercialize or profit from a tragedy that befell our community, neither should such an atrocity be sensationalized,” association co-chair Haris Murtaza said.
Muslim poet Mohamed Hassan said the filmmakers needed to focus on members of the community that bore the brunt of the attacks, not use them as props in a feel-good story about Ardern.
“You do not get to tell this story. You do not get to turn this into a White Savior narrative. This is not yours,” he tweeted.
The attacker, Australian self-declared white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, was jailed for life without parole last year, the first time a whole-of-life term has been imposed in New Zealand.


Ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on trial; critics say charges bogus

Updated 14 June 2021

Ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on trial; critics say charges bogus

  • Aung San Suu Kyi’s prosecution poses the greatest challenge for the 75-year-old and her National League for Democracy party since February’s military coup

BANGKOK: Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi was set to go on trial Monday on charges that many observers have criticized as attempt by the military junta that deposed her to delegitimize her democratic election and cripple her political future.
Suu Kyi’s prosecution poses the greatest challenge for the 75-year-old and her National League for Democracy party since February’s military coup, which prevented them from taking office for a second five-year term following last year’s landslide election victory.
Human Rights Watch charged that the allegations being heard in a special court in the capital, Naypyitaw, are “bogus and politically motivated” with the intention of nullifying the victory and preventing Suu Kyi from running for office again.
“This trial is clearly the opening salvo in an overall strategy to neuter Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy party as a force that can challenge military rule in the future,” said Phil Robertson, the organization’s deputy Asia director.
The army seized power on Feb. 1 before the new lawmakers could be seated, and arrested Suu Kyi, who held the post of special counsellor, and President Win Myint, along with other members of her government and ruling party. The coup reversed years of slow progress toward more democracy for Myanmar.
The army cited the government’s failure to properly investigate alleged voting irregularities as its reason for seizing power – an assertion contested by the independent Asian Network for Free Elections and many others. Junta officials have threatened to dissolve the National League for Democracy for alleged involvement in election fraud and any conviction for Suu Kyi could see her barred from politics.
The junta has claimed it will hold new elections within the next year or two but the country’s military has a long history of promising elections and not following through. The military ruled Myanmar for 50 years after a coup in 1962, and kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years after a failed 1988 popular uprising.
The military’s latest takeover sparked nationwide protests that continue despite a violent crackdown that has killed hundreds of people. Although street demonstrations have shrunk in number and scale, the junta now faces a low-level armed insurrection by its opponents in both rural and urban areas.
Suu Kyi is being tried on allegations she illegally imported walkie-talkies for her bodyguards’ use, unlicensed use of the radios and spreading information that could cause public alarm or unrest, as well as for two counts of violating the Natural Disaster Management Law for allegedly breaking pandemic restrictions during the 2020 election campaign, her lawyers said Sunday.
“All these charges should be dropped, resulting in her immediate and unconditional release,” said Human Rights Watch’s Robertson. “But sadly, with the restrictions on access to her lawyers, and the case being heard in front of a court that is wholly beholden to the military junta, there is little likelihood she will receive a fair trial.”
Government prosecutors will have until June 28 to finish their presentation, after which Suu Kyi’s defense team will have until July 26 to present its case, Khin Maung Zaw, the team’s senior member, said last week. Court sessions are due to be held on Monday and Tuesday each week.
Two other more serious charges are being handled separately. Suu Kyi is charged with breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carried a maximum 14-year prison term, and police last week filed complaints under a section of the Anti-Corruption Law that states that political office holders convicted for bribery face a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine.
Although Suu Kyi faced her first charge just days after the coup, she was not immediately allowed to consult with her lawyers. Only on May 24, when she made her first actual appearance in court, was she allowed the first of two brief face-to-face meetings with them at pre-trial hearings. Her only previous court appearances had been by video link.
A photo of her May 24 appearance released by state media showed her sitting straight-backed in a small courtroom, wearing a pink face-mask, her hands folded in her lap. Alongside her were her two co-defendants on several charges, the former president as well as the former mayor of Naypyitaw, Myo Aung.
The three were able to meet with their defense team for about 30 minutes before the hearing began at a special court set up inside Naypyitaw’s city council building, said one of their lawyers, Min Min Soe. Senior lawyer Khin Maung Zaw, said Suu Kyi “seems fit and alert and smart, as always.”