The Indian government will soon ask its 870 million voting-age citizens for documentation that they are legal citizens with ancestral ties to India.
On Nov. 20, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah announced a plan to expand the National Registry of Citizens, a four-year documentation effort that recently concluded in India’s northeastern state of Assam, to the entire country. Shah claims that the effort will help identify illegal immigrants in a “nondiscriminatory” fashion.
The news was met with some dismay. After Assam finished tallying its 30.5 million people in August, about 1.9 million were declared “foreign.” Some were Bangladeshi immigrants living in Assam illegally. Others were refugees who migrated to India after Bangladesh’s independence war in 1971. Most were women, members of oppressed castes, religious minorities or poor.
Even some people with paper ID were rejected from the register because of misspelled names or incorrect formats.
As a historian who studies identity and exclusion in India, I know that when governments try to determine who belongs and who does not, the most marginal are inevitably left out.
Roy, Haimanti, "India’s Plan to Identify ‘Illegal Immigrants’ Could Get Some Muslims Declared ‘Foreign’" (2019). History Faculty Publications. 147.