India is declaring millions of its citizens to be foreigners

Jul 11, 2019

IT IS HOTTER than Prague. It does not have the Czech capital’s cobbled squares or narrow streets but instead tin-roofed houses and paddies hemmed with palms and mango trees. Yet Franz Kafka would have felt quite at home in Assam. Since 2016 this hilly tea-growing state in India’s north-eastern corner has been compiling a National Register of Citizens (NRC). Billed as a scientific method for sorting pukka Indians from a suspected mass of unwanted Bangladeshi intruders, the seemingly banal administrative procedure has instead encoiled millions of people in a cruelly absurdist game.

Rather than find and prosecute illegal immigrants, Assam has instead tasked its 33m people, many of them poor and illiterate, with proving to bureaucrats that they deserve citizenship. Those who fail risk being locked up. Some 1,000 people currently moulder in Assam’s six existing detention centres for “foreigners”. The Indian public has lately been shocked by stories of people, such as a decorated war hero and a 59-year-old widow, who have found themselves jailed for failing to prove their Indian-ness. But the state of Assam is clearly expecting a lot more to come. Ten purpose-built camps are planned.

The current phase of the NRC game is set to stop on July 31st, the deadline for publishing the completed citizens’ register. After that, those...

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