Marzina Bibi, a Muslim woman living in India’s northeastern state of Assam, is petrified she will be declared stateless.
The 26-year-old’s name was not on a preliminary list of citizens that was published at midnight on Sunday, although she holds a voter identity card and had voted in state elections in 2016.
“Why are they doing this to me?” Bibi asked, sitting beside a bamboo mat she was weaving outside her mud house in Assam’s Fofonga village. “They think I am a Bangladeshi. I was born here, my parents were born here, I am an Indian.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which came to power in Assam in the April, 2016 elections, vowed during the campaign to act against illegal Muslim immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. But rights activists say the drive is also targeting Muslims who are Indian citizens.
Two national spokesmen for the BJP declined to comment. A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi did not reply to e-mails and a telephone call seeking comment.
Citizenship and illegal migration are volatile issues in tea-growing and oil-rich Assam, home to more than 32 million people, about a third of whom are Muslims. Hundreds of people were killed in the 1980s in a violent protest by a native Assamese group against outsiders from the state taking the bulk of jobs and cornering resources, including land.
For the latest update of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), all residents of Assam had to produce documents proving that they or their families lived in the country before March 24, 1971, to be recognised as Indian citizens.
According to the preliminary list of the NRC, about 19 million people in Assam have now been verified as Indian citizens. More names will be added, and officials say the final list is likely to be published in July.
Reuters spoke to nearly two dozen Muslims, including Bibi, from paddy-growing villages around Fofonga who said their names were not on the preliminary list.
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