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Crisis in the northeast

  • Published at 06:30 pm August 1st, 2018
A controversial move
A controversial move Photo: REUTERS

Is mass deportation on the horizon?

The latest draft of the National Register of Citizens, published in the Indian state of Assam on July 30, has the potential to create the largest stateless population in the world. 

An estimated 4 million people have been left out of the list, putting them at risk of losing their right to Indian citizenship. 

The excluded comprise of a majority of Muslims and a minority of Hindus, while the common factor among them is that they are speakers of the Bengali language. 

A possible deportation of persons with a common ethnic, linguistic, or religious identity can be classified as ethnic cleansing. The governments of Bangladesh and India should work to prevent such a phenomenon from occurring. 

The two neighbouring countries share democratic values derived from their respective constitutions. 

Judicial options

The controversial move in Assam will undoubtedly concern Bangladesh, and is an irritant to a decade of blossoming of relations between Dhaka and Delhi. 

For Bangladesh, stateless people are not a new phenomenon. In 2008, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh granted citizenship to an estimated 300,000 stateless persons in the stranded Pakistani community. 

Currently, Bangladesh is hosting over 1 million stateless persons from Myanmar. The Rohingya refugees are, at present, the largest stateless population in the world. 

One would hope that Indian democracy can overcome the travesty in Assam with its resilience.

The latest draft of the citizens’ register is a blight on Indian humanitarian history, which in the past saw shelter given to the Dalai Lama in 1959 and Bangladeshis in 1971. 

The Indian judiciary, as a pillar of democracy, can take heed of the precedent set by its Bangladeshi counterpart in 2008. An independent judiciary in India can resolve the matter through recognizing or naturalizing excluded persons as citizens.

In the event of a mass deportation from India, Bangladesh can explore the prospect of pursuing a settlement with India at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Previously, the two countries resolved their maritime boundary dispute at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. 

Umran Chowdhury is a student of the Sorbonne-Assas International Law School.