All Assamese Muslims are Bangladeshi immigrants

Society in turmoilThe dispute over India's naturalization law

Since a nationwide curfew has been in effect across India to slow the spread of the coronavirus on the Indian subcontinent, protests against the controversial citizenship law have also fallen silent. In Delhi, the police cleared the roadblocks by opponents of the law. Muslim women in particular had paralyzed an entire district since the beginning of the year. The demonstrators from Shaheen Bagh were something like the figurehead of the resistance against the discrimination against Muslims through the new naturalization law.

Even in Assam, the northeastern state, where the protest against the Citizenship Amendmend Act began, it is now quiet. The corona virus has meant that the streets in the province have been swept empty. Work has also ceased on construction sites across the country. Before the "lockdown", as the nationwide curfew in India is called, Parubi Begum went to the big construction site next to her village every day, where she works as a worker for her family.

Millions of names are missing from the citizenship register

Parubi Begum is a young woman from Golpara, in the northern Indian state of Assam. Behind the high wall, which shields the huge site from outside views, there are several unfinished buildings. Soon up to 3,000 people will be accommodated here: men, women and children who could not provide any evidence that they or their ancestors lived in Assam before 1971. 3,000 is probably just the beginning: When the state's new citizenship register was published late last year, the names of two million people were not on the list.

(AFP / Prakash Singh) Suddenly illegal
The Indian state of Assam has created a civil register. Several million people are missing from this list - the majority of them Muslims. Their Indian citizenship could now be withdrawn, which makes deportation easier.

Parubi's name was also missing. She therefore fears that she will build her own prison here. If the state tribunal, which is supposed to review the complaints against the citizenship register, does not recognize your documents, then you will probably end up in this "Detention Center", as the detention centers for illegals in Assam are called.

"I'm really afraid that I'll end up in this detention center for the rest of my life. But I just don't know how to prove that I come from here. I showed them my tax card, my registration certificate, my registration as a voter, what else should I do? "

Some fear that they are building their own prison - construction site of a "Detention Center" for illegal immigrants in Goalpara (imago / David Talukdar)

She is by no means the only one in her village who has to fight for her citizenship, complains the mid-30-year-old woman. There are at least five or six others in the same situation. But she is the only one in her family. Her father was recognized, her husband too, even her children. Only her own name was not on the list.

"What kind of system is that when the children's name is on the list and the mother's name isn't? That can't be true."

"Tribunals to declare as many as possible illegal"

Such cases are not uncommon, complains the human rights lawyer Masood Zaman. Often there is only one letter reversal in the name directories, and the authorities employees would not recognize the certificates presented. With serious consequences for those affected.

"The tribunals were set up with the aim of declaring as many people as possible to be illegal. In most cases, those affected were not even heard.

Sometimes the father's name was misspelled in a birth certificate or one of several first names was omitted from an electoral roll. In the case of Muslim names, the Indian authorities sometimes did not take into account that many Muslims use the suffix Haji after their pilgrimage to Mecca. Massoud Zaman believes that he himself could still run into problems. He said he had a clear advantage over most of the poor and uneducated people in the region.

"I come from the upper class here in Assam. My father is a retired chief engineer and used to work for a state authority, and I am a lawyer. But even if I had to prove my citizenship now, it would not be so easy. Because people were already there Removed from the list due to minor discrepancies in my name. My name is Massoud Zaman. On the electoral roll, however, I am listed with Massoud Akhtar Zaman. My father's name is Abdul Zatar, but in some documents he has been called Abdul Haji Zatar since he was in Mecca. The tribunal could use that as evidence that I am not Indian. "

Problems affect a noticeably large number of Muslims, says the opposition

Hundreds of thousands have been living with fear of deportation or internment for months. Deportation is actually out of the question. The neighboring country of Bangladesh does not see it accepting people from Assam just because India claims that their Indian citizenship cannot be proven. But the government in New Delhi, led by the Hindu nationalist party BJP, generally regards all those people whose ancestry cannot be clearly established as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Particularly members of the indigenous population of Assam and a noticeably high number of Muslims have problems with the proof of citizenship, complains Aminul Islam, from the "All India United Democratic Front", the largest opposition party in Assam. The entire policy of the ruling BJP party is directed against the Muslims in India, complains the energetic opposition politician.

"Muslims ruled India for more than 800 years, and then the colonial era came when the British ruled. The Hindus today want to take revenge on both the Muslims and the Christians."

As early as the 1970s, the Hindus in Assam feared an increase in the Muslim population. Today most of the Muslims live in the northeastern tip of India - after Kashmir. Abdul Mannan, an emeritus professor of statistics at the University of Guwahati, the capital of Assam, has evaluated the population registers of the past decades and published the results in his book entitled "Infiltration".

"The Muslim population has grown at an above-average rate. There is no doubt about that. But the official documents clearly show that this did not happen through immigration from outside, but through natural increase. The census documents, which have been published over the years by the Government releases show that Muslims have significantly more children than other population groups. "

Sentiment against "immigrants"

Displeasure grows among the original Assamese. They perceive the growth of the Muslim or non-Assamese population groups and fear that they will become a minority in the region. They feel betrayed by the government in Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised during the election campaign that the "Bangladeshis", as the Muslims are generally referred to here, would be sent home. Over the past few months there have been repeated street blockades and other protests in Guwahati.

"This is our country. The law makes us a minority in our own country. The native population in Assam now only makes up 31 percent. Soon everything here will belong to the immigrants."

"The inhabitants of Tripura are already a minority in their own country, among the many Bangladeshis there. The same will happen in Assam. We will never accept that, under any circumstances."

In all parts of the country, here in New Delhi, there were protests against the planned citizenship law (picture alliance / Photoshot / Javed Dar)

Tripura is a small state, right on the border with Bangladesh. Like Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland, this region once belonged to Assam. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the structurally weak regions became their own federal states. The Muslims who were everywhere then moved to Assam, says Aminul Islam.

"It was all a great Assam once. But then Meghalaya and the other regions with the majority indigenous population became their own states. The Muslims who lived there were afraid that, given the many privileges for the indigenous population, their own rights would no longer be lost And so they came to Assam. And at the same time the Assamese became less and less because the members of the numerous ethnic and indigenous groups indicated in the referendum that they were not Assamese, but belonged to this or that group their own language and their own culture. "

"A threat to our identity"

Nevertheless, there is a widespread opinion among the majority population in Assam that the Muslims entered the country illegally and must accordingly disappear from there. That is why there was particularly strong resistance in Assam to the new citizenship law, which the Indian ruling party BJP had passed through parliament with a majority at the end of December.

According to the "Citizenship Amendment Act", Hindus who are persecuted for religious reasons in the neighboring Islamic countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are to receive Indian citizenship. The Assamese see this as a break with the Assam Accord and fear further waves of Hindu immigration from Bangladesh.

It makes no difference whether they are Muslims or Hindus, says Samujal Bhattacharya, of the "All Assam Students Union", a student association that has been fighting against immigration to Assam for decades. "Hindus or Muslims, that is not the question here. An illegal immigrant is an illegal immigrant, whether that is a Muslim or a Hindu. India belongs to the Indians and Assam here in the northeast is part of India. These illegal Bangladeshis are one Threat to our identity and our culture here in the northeast. "

Last year, the prison camps in Assam called the United Nations into action. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi appealed to the Indian government to revise the citizenship law again.

"We have expressed concern about the situation of the people in Assam who have to prove their citizenship. This process could result in some of these people becoming stateless in the end. The Indian government has assured us, however, that it is a There is an orderly procedure with which those affected, whose documents were initially rejected, can lodge an objection. "

Criticism from all over India and from the UN

The new Indian citizenship law has not only troubled the Assamese. There were protests across India against the government's plans to naturalize Hindus from neighboring countries. The law, which has already been passed by both Houses of Parliament but has yet to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, aims to grant Indian citizenship to refugees who are religiously persecuted in the Islamic neighbors Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Muslims are explicitly exempt from the law because, according to the argument of the Indian government, they are not threatened with persecution for religious reasons.

The "Citizenship Amendment Act" violates the principle of equality, complains critics, and violates the constitution of the Republic of India. This is because citizenship is granted on the basis of religious affiliation and the secular character of the Republic of India is dissolved. The United Nations also expressed criticism. The new Indian citizenship law is discriminatory in its approach, according to the spokesman for the UN human rights organization OHCHR, Jeremy Laurence:

"The change in the law provides citizenship for religious minorities and specifically mentions Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsees and Christians who are persecuted in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Muslims expressly do not receive this protection. This means equality before the law violated, which is guaranteed in the Indian Constitution, and at the same time violates international conventions on human and civil rights and the elimination of racial discrimination, all of which India has signed.

US President Donald Trump on a state visit to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (AP / Alex Brandon)

The protests against the citizenship law escalated in mid-February, during the state visit of US President Donald Trump in Delhi. At that time, Corona had not yet reached the Indian subcontinent. Hindu nationalist thugs attacked Muslims protesting against the citizenship law. A leading politician of the Hindu nationalist ruling party BJP had previously asked the police to break up the street blockades of the demonstrators, otherwise - literally - the people would take matters into their own hands.

Facade of a mosque after the riots in February 2020 (picture alliance / IMAGESLIVE / ZUMA Wire / Muzamil Mattoo)

Burned out mosques, destroyed and looted shops and houses, more than 40 dead and over 200 injured - that was the result of the serious riots in the Indian capital. The attackers acted with incredible brutality, said doctors who treated the injured in the hospitals. Doctor M.A. Anwar, the attending physician at Al-Hind Hospital, which is close to the Muslim residential area attacked, explains:

"I feel like humanity has died today. When people are killed in such brutal ways, society has lost its spiritual balance. I never thought that even ambulances could be prevented from getting through to the injured. Even in the." War makes that possible. "

Old nationalist tradition has grown stronger

The dispute over the Citizenship Act has revealed the division in Indian society. The conflict between Hindus and Muslims, which the hardliners in the Hindu nationalist ruling party BJP have been fueling for years, erupted on this issue.

Sangeeta Sharma, a young woman who campaigned for government policies under the banner of the BJP, blamed Muslims for the violence.

“Demonstrate and block the streets - Hindus don't do that. Why are we Hindus always criticized? This is our country. I think they should finally delete the word secular from our constitution.

The dispute over the secular character of the Republic of India dates back to before independence more than 70 years ago. As early as the 1920s, the Indian politician Vinayak Damodar Savarkar developed the so-called Hindutwa, a Hindu nationalist ideology on which the ruling party BJP of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is based today. According to this, only those who regard India as their holy fatherland are considered to be full-fledged Indians - father land & holy land.

Accordingly, both Muslims and Christians cannot be Indians. They are viewed as strangers by the followers of the Hindutwa, descendants of foreign conquerors, such as the Mughals, who ruled India from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and the British, whose colonial rule subsequently lasted until the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947.

A culture war is raging in India

Leading politicians of the BJP accuse the first prime minister of independent India, Nawarharlal Nehru, to have missed the chance for a purely Hindu state when he, together with Mahatma Gandhi, campaigned for a pluralistic India in independence to which all ethnic and religious minorities on the Indian subcontinent should have their place.

Ever since the BJP came to power, the party's hardliners have been trying to correct what they call this historic mistake. The many people in Assam who are threatened with possible internment in one of the resulting prison camps are something like collateral damage to the culture war that is raging in India.