Villagers check their names in the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) at an NRC center in Buraburi village, in Morigaon district, in the northeastern Indian stat of Assam, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. India has published the final citizenship list in the Indian state of Assam, excluding nearly two million people amid fears they could be rendered stateless. The list, known as the National Register of Citizens (NRC), intends to identify legal residents and weed out illegal immigrants from the state. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

Citizenship list in Indian state leaves out almost 2 million

August 31, 2019 - 3:28 am

NEW DELHI (AP) — India on Saturday published the final citizenship list in the state of Assam that excluded nearly 2 million people amid fears they could be rendered stateless.

The list, known as the National Register of Citizens, intends to identify legal residents and weed out illegal immigrants from the state.

A total of 31.1 million people were included in the list, leaving out 1.9 million people, according to a statement from the Assam government.

The controversial list has ended the wait of millions of Assam residents who will now find out whether they are Indians or "foreigners." Critics have viewed the exercise as an attempt to deport millions of minority Muslims, many of whom have entered India from neighboring Bangladesh.

"The entire process of NRC update has been meticulously carried out in an objective and transparent manner," said a statement issued by the registry authorities.

A steady trickle of people lined up to check their names on the final citizenship list in Buraburi village outside one of the many offices that have been set up across Assam for residents to verify the status of their citizenship applications.

Mijanur Rahman, a 47-year-old farmer, found himself, his 21-year-old son, and two of his daughters aged 16 and 14 included in the list. However, his wife and his other three daughters — all under the age of 10 — were excluded.

"I am really worried. We will see what the government does now. Maybe they will offer some help," a teary eyed Rahman told The Associated Press.

Dipali Das, 42, clad in a saree, also found herself, her husband and her four married daughters in the list. But Das is unhappy because her 23-year-old son, Rahul Das, has been excluded. She said she will put in an application for his inclusion.

Binoy Bhushan Sarkar, a frail man in his late 70s, said he has been voting since the age of 21, including in recent national elections. He was confused after finding his name in the online list but not in the hard copies that are available for public viewing.

"I don't know what to do," he said.

Meanwhile, Sayera Begum, a 60-year-old woman in the northern district of Sonitpur, jumped into a well after she heard rumors that her name was not in the list.

"She was dragged out of the well and taken to the hospital. But she died," Mukesh Agarwal, a senior Assam police official, told the AP. It was not possible to immediately verify whether her name was excluded from the list.

The citizens' list in Assam was updated after 68 years, ending four years of work and a 4-decade-old demand seeking detection of illegal immigrants.

The list is unique to Assam and was first prepared in 1951. It includes those whose names appeared in the 1951 document and their descendants. The list also includes those who had been on India's electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, or in any other document approved by the central government.

The government said it carried out the mammoth exercise to detect and deport undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh. But the final publication of the citizenship list has stoked fear of loss of citizenship and long periods of detention.

It is unclear what happens next.

The central and state governments, however, have clarified those left out of the final citizenship list won't be declared foreigners.

The options of those left out of the list include appealing to the Foreigner Tribunals within 120 days of Saturday's announcement. The tribunals must decide on the cases within six months. If an appeal fails, the consequences include punishment in detention centers that are currently being set up by the government.

A draft citizenship list that was published last year excluded more than 4 million people, after which many either fled the state or even took their lives in exasperation.

India's powerful Home Minister Amit Shah has earlier called Bangladeshi migrants "infiltrators" and "termites."

The Hindu nationalist-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which fully backs the citizenship project in Assam, has often vowed to roll out a similar plan nationwide.

Earlier this summer, India's Supreme Court criticized the central government and Assam's state government, saying thousands of people who had been declared foreigners over the years had disappeared.

Assam, with a population of 33 million people, is in a state of high alert and additional security forces have been deployed in anticipation of possible violence following the publication of the list. There were no reports of unrest immediately after the list was made public.

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Associated Press journalist Rishi Lekhi in Assam contributed to this report.

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