Millions in India in citizenship limbo

Bracing for “the biggest exercise in forced statelessness” . . .

Millions of people in the northeastern Indian state of Assam may find themselves stateless tomorrow after the local government publishes its National Register of Citizens (NRC), purportedly verifying which residents have valid citizenship. Assam’s Muslims, many of them poor and without access to birth certificates, will be disproportionately impacted. The government claims many of them immigrated illegally from Bangladesh. Those whose names do not appear on the NRC will have four months to appeal. Observers expect the appeals process to be overwhelmed by millions of cases, indefinite detention and/or deportation. Some may be deported to Bangladesh – a country that denies they are Bangladeshi citizens, and that is already struggling to accommodate Rohingya refugees on its eastern border. Al Jazeera warns Assam could become “the biggest exercise in forced statelessness in living memory.”

Advancing the 'Hinduization' project . . .

The Assam policy has implications beyond the immediate humanitarian concerns. Since it won a resounding mandate in the May 2019 lower house elections, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has pursued its ‘Hinduization’ project with increased vigour. The BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned on a strong Hindu nationalist message, even amid rising vigilante violence against the country’s 200 million Muslims. The rhetoric prompted speculation that the BJP plans to fundamentally alter the character of India, from avowedly multicultural and secular to avowedly Hindu. Cancelling Kashmir’s special status earlier this month is seen by some as an opening salvo, but in fact, the citizenship decision in Assam was initiated during the BJP’s previous term. Home Minister Amit Shah has signaled he may implement a similar citizenship-verification process nationwide.

Can Canada break the deafening silence?

The world is running woefully short on advocates for the rights of persecuted minorities. In contrast, Canada has reinforced its commitment to multiculturalism, giving it the credibility to raise the issue in international fora. Ottawa’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, who was dispatched to investigate the case of the Rohingya refugees, could also serve as a broader mechanism for raising awareness about an alarming rise in stateless persons in that part of the world.