India's registrar general said Monday that some 4 million people who failed to produce valid documents had been excluded from a draft list of citizens in the northeastern state of Assam.
Residents were asked to prove that they or their families lived in the country before March 1971, when a wave of people fleeing conflict in neighboring Bangladesh settled in the border state.
Of the more than 32 million people who applied to be recognized on the register of Indian citizens, 4,007,707 were rejected, registrar general Sailesh told reporters in the state's capital, Gauhati.
Fears for minorities
Hundreds of thousands of people from Bangladesh fled to India during the Bangladesh war of independence from Pakistan between March and December, 1971. Most of them settled in Assam.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party, which came to power in the state in 2016, says the new citizenship test aims to protect ethnic Assamese and crack down on illegal migration. But critics claim the measure is part of a wider campaign to target the country's Muslim minority.
Sailesh, who goes by one name, said the draft citizens register was not meant to drive people out, and that those left off the list will have until the end of September to file an appeal.
"Adequate and ample scope will be given to people for making objections. No genuine Indian citizen should have any fear," said Sailesh.
Avaaz, a US-based rights group, raised doubts on Monday about whether those left out would have enough time to present their case.
"It's just Muslims who will likely have to go through a complicated, unfair appeal with no right to counsel, ending in no hope of staying if they lose," Ricken Patel, the group's executive director, said in a statement.
Tensions between Assam's indigenous tribes and Bengali-speaking Muslims have led to outbreaks of deadly violence in the past. In 1983, more than 2,000 suspected Muslim migrants were massacred by a mob in the village of Nellie.
To prevent further unrest, thousands of paramilitary forces were deployed to the state ahead of the release of the draft list.
The final national register of Indian nationals will be published after any disputed claims are settled.
nm/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP)