Issued July 17, 2018, updated January 17, 2019, renewed August 18, 2019
Genocide Watch has issued a Genocide Watch for Assam State, India, where millions of Bengali Muslims face losing citizenship status. A Genocide Watch is declared when early warning signs indicate that a genocidal process is underway.
Over seven million people in Assam State, mostly Muslims of Bengali descent, may lose their Indian citizenship and risk imprisonment in special “foreigner detention centers.” A process is now underway to “verify” the citizenship of all 32 million inhabitants of Assam state, which requires each person to affirmatively prove that they are Indian and not an “illegal migrant.” Beginning in colonial times, millions of ethnically Bengali Muslims settled in Assam. The 2011 Indian census put their number at 10.6 million in Assam state.
At the urging of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist central government, Assam is updating its master list of “citizens.” Those classified as Indian citizens will receive new Indian identity cards, symbolizing their classification. Anyone not on the final “citizen” list will be presumptively declared a “foreigner,” subject to statelessness and indefinite detention.
Assam’s Muslims are especially likely to be excluded from the “citizen” list as part of a decades-long pattern of discrimination. The word “foreigners” is a common term of dehumanization used to exclude targeted groups from citizenship and the exercise of their fundamental civil and human rights. The Home Minister of India has repeatedly referred to the Bengali Muslims as “termites.” Anti-Muslim propaganda has polarized the Assam population.
Assam’s Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, has requested additional Indian government troops and police to arrest “foreigners.” The Assam state is constructing ten new “foreigner” detention centers to add to the six prisons already in existence.
These are the classification, symbolization, discrimination, dehumanization, organization, and polarization stages of the genocidal process.
Like the Rohingya of Rakhine State in Myanmar, Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam have faced constant discrimination. Assamese ethno-nationalist independence movements culminated in the Nellie massacre of between 1,800 and 3,000 ethnically Bengali Muslims in 1983.
At least 4.8 million citizenship applicants, mostly poor Muslims, do not have documentation -- which in many cases is missing after several generations. Another 2.9 million Muslim women can only provide a marriage certificate from their local government, which the authorities often dismiss as inadequate. The proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill would offer relief to some “foreigners,” but not to Muslims, blatant evidence of discrimination, which should be struck down by the Indian Supreme Court.
Anyone left off the “citizen” list will automatically be classified as an illegal “foreigner.” The Chief Minister of Assam has declared that “[t]he people who are declared foreigners will be barred from all constitutional rights, including fundamental and electoral.”
Muslims classified as “illegal foreigners” can challenge their classification before Indian government administrators and, ultimately, special “foreigners’ tribunals” – but they will be denied due process and will have no right to legal counsel. Those adjudged to be “foreigners” will be imprisoned in special “foreigner” detention centers.
This is a classic case of denial of citizenship in order to deprive a minority ethnic and religious group of its rights. It could become a prelude to another genocide like Myanmar’s genocide against its Rohingya Muslims. The parallels to the build-up to the Rohingya genocide are shocking.
Genocide Watch is issuing this Genocide Watch as an Early Warning of potential genocide. In Genocide Watch’s Ten Stages of Genocide the situation of Bengali Muslims in India’s Assam State is now at Stage Seven: Preparation. When Bengali Muslims in Assam are imprisoned in “foreigner” detention centers, the situation will move to Stage Eight: Persecution, the stage immediately preceding full genocide.
In July 2018, Genocide Watch petitioned the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, who is overseeing the citizenship verification process, to order that lists of citizens and “non-citizens” be classified as State Secrets never to be released to the public. Despite this warning, the lists have been made public. Numerous suicides have ensued.
Roundups of “foreigners” are likely to ignite genocidal massacres and a massive refugee crisis. If India imprisons Bengali Muslims in Assam, it will be violating its obligations under the UN Refugee Conventions. If it expels them from India, it will be perpetrating “forced displacement,” a crime against humanity. If genocidal massacres occur, India will violate its obligations to prevent genocide under the Genocide Convention.
Genocide Watch calls upon the UN Secretary General, the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and key UN member states to warn India not to strip citizenship from, imprison, and forcibly displace millions of Bengali Muslims, many of whom have lived their entire lives in Assam state, India.