Nearly four million residents of the north-eastern border state of Assam are at risk of losing their citizenship, the Al-Jazeera has reported.
The dispute, according to official sources, stems from the conflict over whether the people in question were in India before the formation of the bordering nation, Bangladesh or not.
According to Al-Jazeera, the government has published a register of citizens, and to be included, people must prove they came to India by March 24, 1971, two days before Bangladesh declared independence after which hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to India, many of them settling in Assam.
A vast majority of Bengali-speaking Muslims have been categorized as "doubtful voters," who will not find their names in the majority-Hindu nation's National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the northeastern border state of Assam, Reuters has reported.
"If the government has decided to brand us, foreigners, what can we do?" said a 60-year-old man from the minority. "NRC is trying to finish us off. Our people have died here, but we will not leave this place."
The citizenship test is the culmination of years of often violent agitations by Assamese demanding the removal of outsiders they accuse of taking jobs and cornering resources in the state of 33 million, known for its tea estates and oil fields.
Work on the citizens’ register has accelerated under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “The NRC is extremely important to make the Assamese people feel protected,” said Santanu Bharali, the legal adviser to the BJP chief minister of Assam. “It’s a moral victory. The ethnic Assamese always maintained the presence of foreigners and this will prove that.”
BJP is eying the 2019 national election with a full stride on the Hindu-first campaign, playing to its core base with divisive programs such as the citizenship test in Assam, which has become a hotbed of ethnic and religious tensions.
While Modi and his BJP government plan to remove those they deem "foreigners" from Assam state, local officials are assuring those recently designated as foreigners will not be immediately deported.