The names of about four million people in India’s Assam state are not included in the final draft list of citizens published by authorities on Monday.
The draft list, called the National Register of Citizens (NRC), was announced on Monday by the Registrar General of India (RGI) in the state capital Guwahati.
An RGI official said that out of the 32.9 million population of the state, which shares borders with Bangladesh and Bhutan, 28.9 million names were included in the final draft of the NRC.
In the first list announced on December 31 of 2017, 19 million people were designated as legal citizens.
The NRC has been updated after nearly seven decades as part of a campaign to identify undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh, but critics say those who are not included on the list may be rendered stateless.
The list can be checked online or by visiting one of the 2,500 NRC Seva Kendras (service centres) set up across the state. The results can also be accessed via SMS on request.
All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) General Secretary Aminul Islam said his party was shocked to see the number of people left off the list.
“It’s quite a huge number. We are shocked,” said Islam from the AIUDF party, which fights for the rights of people of Bengali origin in the state.
“There are several objections. The update process was being done under the supervision of the Supreme Court but it was unfortunate to see the intervention of the state government on several occasions. We will approach the court later,” Islam told Al Jazeera.
“But for the time being, we appeal to the people to maintain peace and harmony.”
Time for corrections
Rajnath Singh, India’s interior minister, said those whose names are not included on the list should not worry.
“Even if someone didn’t find their names in the final NRC, they can go to the foreigners’ tribunals,” Singh told local media. “All individuals will be given a fair chance.”
On Sunday, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda also said there would be time to file objections to the list.
“They will get adequate opportunities to file claims and objections pertaining to their rights,” he wrote on Twitter.
NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela had earlier told Al Jazeera that people can apply for corrections from August 30 to September 28.
“If their names are not in the final draft, it doesn’t mean that these people are illegal,” Hajela said.
“This is just a draft and I’m telling you that these people will be given ample opportunities for claims and objections. So, there is no reason to fear.”
Security has been put on high alert, with section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code imposed in seven of the state’s 33 districts. Under section 144, the assembly of more than four people is prohibited.
Some 300 NRC Seva Kendras (service centres) have been marked as sensitive across Assam, while 55,000 members of the police forces have been called into action.
More than 22,000 additional paramilitary personnel have also been deployed across the northeastern state.
The country’s Supreme Court – which supervised the entire process – had initially set June 30 as the deadline to publish the final list. But this was postponed to July 30, as the massive exercise could not be completed.
Unique to Assam state, the NRC document was first prepared in 1951 to distinguish Indian citizens from undocumented immigrants from then-East Pakistan (which later became Bangladesh in 1971).
The cutoff date to be eligible for Indian citizenship is March 24, 1971, as per the Assam Accord signed in 1985.
The people or their descendants whose names appeared in the NRC 1951, or in any of the electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, or in any of the other recognised official documents issued up until midnight of the same day are eligible to be included in the final draft.
Assam has witnessed prolonged protests against so-called foreigners, which includes both Hindus and Muslims.
The arrival of millions of refugees in 1971 – when Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan after a bloody civil war – brought the issue of these so-called foreigners in national focus.
It ignited Assam’s biggest and deadliest anti-foreigner agitation from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. The Assam Accord, which signed between the government and the protesters, was able to bring a consensus on the eligibility criteria for citizenship.
Will the draft NRC list resolve the citizenship issue?
Activists and experts say the NRC process is not likely to solve the contentious citizenship issue as tens of thousands of people who have been marked as “Doubtful” or “D” voters, their descendants and those with pending cases in the Foreigners’ Tribunal are not being considered by the NRC authorities.
India’s Election Commission introduced the concept of “D” voters in 1997 under which a person’s citizenship rights are stripped.
There are around 125,000 “D” voters and more than 131,000 cases pending in the Foreigners’ Tribunal.
In many cases, earlier documented by Al Jazeera, people have faced harassment and discrimination, with several individuals falsely marked “D” voters or declared foreigners.
Clerical errors or confusion over the legality of documents added suspense to the wait for the final list.
Earlier this month, NRC Coordinator Hajela said that 150,000 people will be dropped from the first list as anomalies were found in their documents. More than 48,000 of them are women from rural areas.
Under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, which came to power in the state in 2016, some 15,000 people were declared foreigners last year alone – which means more than 1,000 a month.
Around 90,000 people were declared foreigners between 1985-2016.[source: Al Jazeera]