by Promod Puri
Is it a crime not to have citizenship? Or more precisely, having no formal documents to prove one’s identity of being a citizen of the country where one was born and lived. Yes, it is indeed a crime for thousands of poor and needy Muslims in Assam who are not the “citizens” of India because they do not possess the documents. Several thousand of them classified in Assam state as non-citizens for lack of proper citizenship documentation or essential references by various government agencies.
When getting into the National Register of Citizenship net, these are the people who end up in the detention centrers in Assam. Even for many of them who have proof of belonging to the country, the authorities considered their papers dubious or outright rejected their claims.
These unfortunate “non-citizens” citizens are impoverished, illiterate, and historically belong to marginalized communities. They have neither the money nor the support or resources to challenge foreigners’ labels. The government has detained 1,30,000 people as “foreign nationals.” That makes them stateless as no foreign country, like neighboring Bangladesh, accepts them as their citizens. When these poor souls are either repatriated to another country or accepted as legal Indian citizens, they would remain in the six detention centers built in the state of Assam, where they live in the most inhumane and distressing conditions.