According to the Guardian, “Two years ago, Assam, a lush state bordering Bhutan and Bangladesh, embarked on a vast exercise: to identify every resident who could demonstrate roots in the state before March 1971… and deport anyone who couldn’t.” This could affect as many as 14 million residents. Officials have said the final list could be even more, raising severe anxiety across Assam, and warnings that India may be about to “manufacture tens of thousands of stateless people.” Reports indicate that this mass deportation would greatly affect the local Muslim population, many of whom came from Bangladesh but don’t have proper immigration papers.
“In the past two decades, loads of Muslims from Bangladesh have settled around us,” says Pankaj Saha, a local retailer from the Dhubri district. “Twenty years ago, Hindus formed 75% of my town’s population. Today, the Muslims are in majority.” For centuries, until the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, people flowed freely across the territory between Assam and Bangladesh. In the decades after, migrants have continued crossing, albeit in smaller numbers.
The prospect of being arrested and spending years in a detention camp is highly distressing, particularly to the Muslim population. “There is enormous fear and apprehension in the community,” says Aman Wadud, an immigrant rights lawyer.
Officials from Bangladesh say they are not aware of any citizens living illegally in Assam, and that India has never raised the prospect of mass deportations from the state. “Bangladesh will never accept these people,” says Mr. Wadud. “I can’t imagine what will happen to them. They will become stateless people with no rights whatsoever.”