In the Indian citizenship test a spelling mistake can ruin a family

Riyazul Islam says he had to produce family documents that went back to 1951 to prove that he was an Indian and not illegal Bengali immigrant. But a draft list of citizens released in July closed him and his mother, among a total of about 4 million people held up.

A pensive 33-year-old who lives in the northeastern state of Assam, Islam says that he and his mother no longer have any documents to prove that they are Indians, although his father and many others in his family are included in the national Register of Citizens (NRC).

"If my father is an Indian citizen, how is it that I am not?" said Islam in an interview in the small Assam town of Dhubri, close to the border with the Muslim majority Bangladesh. "What more proof do they need?"

Fear like this is now commonplace in Assam, where the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi accelerated the work on the citizens list after he came to power in the state two years ago, and promised to act against immigrants accused of stealing jobs and resources from the local population.

The government has not provided details on the four million excluded from the list. But most are supposed to be minority Bengali-speaking Muslims living in the state, which has a total population of 33 million, mostly Assamese-speaking Hindus.

Many of the excluded are illiterate and poor, and some are the victims of a misspelling in their name or an error in their age in documents presented for proof of citizenship, according to a review of their documents by Reuters.

Opposition parties say that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Modi denies citizenship to Muslims through the Assam list and demonstrates its Hindu nationalist credentials with a view to a general election to take place in May.

The Assam spokesperson for BJP, Bijan Mahajan said that there was no religion-based motive behind the citizenship drive.

"(This is) is thwarted for political kilometers while there is absolutely no tension on ground zero," he said.

Arun Jaitley, one of Modi & # 39; s most experienced cabinet colleagues, said in a Facebook message this month that the NRC was necessary because the growth in the Hindu population of Assam was overtaken by that of Muslims .

Ethnic Assamese have been acting against outsiders in the state for decades. In 1983, about 2000 people were being chased and killed by machete-armed gangs with the intention of eradicating Muslim immigrants. It is not clear which group was behind the massacre.

The design of the Assam NRC has also excluded many Hindus, but BJP boss Amit Shah secured citizenship to all non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan last weekend by framing a new law.

It is not clear what will happen to those excluded from the final list of citizens. But lawyers say they can end up in detention camps, or at least denied citizenship rights and government subsidies.

They can also be removed from voter roles, which will be an important factor in at least half a dozen Assam constituencies in a general election.


In Dhubri, a peasant town on the north bank of the Brahmaputra river upstream from the border with Bangladesh, those who did not reach the list were afraid to discuss it in public.

But in their homes some of the excluded showed a Reuters reporter to shreds of torn pieces of paper, including birth, school and marriage certificates that date from the years and carefully stored in plastic casings.

Such government-issued documents often contain spelling or numerical errors because illiterates are dependent on others to write down details. Making birth certificates was also customary in many parts of the country in recent years.

Such mistakes can lead to loss of citizenship, said Aman Wadud, a lawyer who has dealt with dozens of cases of illegal immigration at Assam & # 39; s foreigners' tribunals.

"With Muslims there is a problem with the title (surnames)," Wadud said. "Because most of the accused are illiterate, they do not use a constant title, Ali, Ahmed, Hussain are used interchangeably."

He showed Reuters a tribunal judgment on a resident named Tajab Ali, who handed over a series of electoral rolls as evidence of his citizenship dating back to 1966. He said his name had been mistakenly included as Tajap Ali instead of Tajab Ali in the The voter list of 1985, and the name of his father wrongly included as Surman Ali Munshi instead of Surman Ali. There were also discrepancies in his age.

The tribunal said that Ali has filed an affidavit "declaring different names of himself, his projected father and mother, but an affidavit is only a self-declaration, it has no evidential value."

Sajida Bibi, the mother of Islam, also became the victim of a misnomer.

One of the documents she submitted to prove citizenship and was shown to Reuters by the family was a sworn statement stating that her name had been incorrectly included as "Sabahan Bibi" in the 1951 citizenship register. the first one in the state was drawn up after the independence of India in 1947. The affidavit also said that in her school certificate she was given the name "Sahajadi Begum" and that she changed her name to "Sajida Bibi" from "Sajida Begum" after her marriage.

She swore in the affidavit that they were all three the same person-she. The tribunal did not accept the affidavit.

Reuters reviewed copies of at least two other recent tribunal judgments in which people were declared to be foreigners due to name and age-related errors and in which sworn statements were not accepted.


A large part of the more than 2500 km long border between India and Bangladesh is porous, causing hundreds of thousands of people to flee from Bangladesh during the India-backed war of independence against Pakistan in 1971.

To be recognized as Indian citizens, all residents of Assam had to produce documents showing that they or their families lived in the country before March 24, 1971.

New Delhi said in 2016 that about 20 million illegal Bengali migrants lived in India. Activists who filed a petition with the Supreme Court in 2009 to dislodge such immigrants, claimed more than 4 million of them, were included in the 2006 voter list of Assam.

"For 38 years we have been fighting to protect the language, culture and identity of our indigenous people in our own motherland," said Samujjal Bhattacharya, an adviser to the All Assam Students Union (AASU), an organization that has campaign against illegal immigrants is a spearhead.

But Bhattacharya said that the NRC was not biased against any community whatsoever.

"It is not against Muslims, it is not against Hindus, it is not against Bengal," said Bhattacharya. "It is against the illegal Bengali, it is a question of citizens and non-citizens."

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