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India may soon strip millions of immigrants of their citizenship

A new citizens list left off 4 million Indian immigrants — a majority of whom are Muslim.

Indian women wrapped in scarves hold their documents as they stand in line to check their names on the National Register of Citizens.
Indian residents hold documents in line to check their names on the final list of National Register of Citizens on July 30, 2018.
Biju Boro/AFP/Getty Images
Madeleine Ngo covers economic policy for Vox. She previously worked at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

India just took steps to strip four million people of their citizenship, the majority of whom are Muslim. Immigrants now fear deportation and are left uncertain about their fates.

Indian officials released a draft citizenship list on Monday for the northeastern state of Assam, which borders Bangladesh. The list, called the National Register of Citizens, stipulates that 28.9 million of the current residents are citizens, but leaves off the names of four million people.

The residents in question moved to Assam in 1971 when Bangladesh was at war with Pakistan. Around 10 million undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh flowed into India at the time, and they soon met intense backlash from locals.

Representatives of India’s government said that no one would face “immediate deportation or be arrested,” and they would be given time to appeal the decision. But many people with a suddenly uncertain immigration status were concerned about their fate.

Shafiuddin Ahmed, a Muslim teacher in Assam, told the New York Times that he was not included in the citizenship list, although several of his family members were included. He said he feared being torn apart from his family.

“What will happen to me?” Ahmed said. “They may send me to a detention center. How will my family eat and live? I have all these uncertainties in my mind.”

The Indian government wants to expel undocumented immigrants in Assam

This latest move by the government is part of a larger backlash against immigrants: The ruling right-wing nationalist party, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has vowed to rid the country of so-called illegal foreigners.

Residents of Assam have also protested against ethnic minorities there, blaming them for taking jobs and using up limited resources. In the 1980s, a violent group of local Assamese residents killed about 1,800 newcomers.

This also isn’t the first time the government has tried to kick out undocumented immigrants in Assam. An early draft of the list released last year left off 13 million people. Although that number has been reduced, questions of identity, immigration, and belonging in India remain a major flashpoint.

Since the list was released, many have spoken out against the government’s efforts to push out ethnic minorities, promising to protest and mobilize. “They are trying to isolate Muslims, the number that has come out is high and it is surprising,” Ripun Bora, the state chief of the opposition Congress party, told Reuters. “We are going to fight it out.”