India’s state of Assam has released a draft list of legal citizens living in the northeastern state amid widespread criticism from some 13 million people who have yet to be registered by the authorities.
The list issued on Monday with the aim of curbing illegal immigration included only 19 million of Assam’s more than 32 million residents, with many from the state’s Muslim minority community effectively excluded.
Authorities have sought to ease public concerns about the draft, which has been prepared upon an order by the Supreme Court, as it struggles to cope with piles of citizenship applications from undocumented residents of the state.
Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, from the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said Sunday that every “bona fide Indian citizen” would eventually be included in the list. Security was tight around the state before the release of the list as communal violence had been anticipated.
Assam is the only state in India to prepare such a list and that comes against the backdrop of promises by the BJP in the 2016 state elections to root out illegal immigrants. That promise came allegedly to protect the rights of indigenous residents who accuse Muslims of illegally entering India from mainly Muslim Bangladesh and taking land.
However, the pledge by the BJP may face stiff opposition from Bangladesh as authorities in the country have shown little sign they might accept ineligible citizens.
To be eligible for citizenship in Assam, anyone living in the state should prove that their ancestors’ names were either on a previous list compiled in 1951 or on any electoral roll published before March 1971.