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Is Ethnic Cleansing Coming to India?

Some four million people in Assam state, nearly all of them Bengali Muslims who have lived in India for more than four decades, are at risk of disenfranchisement after being excluded from the National Registry of Citizens. That will help the Hindu nationalist government in the next general election, but not the goal of peace in Assam.

NEW DELHI – Seventy-one years after the partition of India, and 47 years after the former East Pakistan became Bangladesh, one of the legacies of the messy division of the subcontinent has returned to haunt the country. The current crisis over the publication of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the Indian state of Assam has cast doubt on the citizenship – and the future – of some four million people, and threatens to undermine peace in the region.

The departing British partitioned India in 1947 on the basis of religion: they created a Muslim state, Pakistan, out of Muslim-majority provinces in the west and east of India. In 1971, after a brutal and genocidal campaign by the Pakistani army drove some ten million refugees to India, East Pakistan seceded to form Bangladesh.

Once India had defeated Pakistan in that war, most of the refugees returned to the newly independent Bangladesh, though some remained in India, where they assimilated seamlessly. Over the next few years, they were joined by millions of other migrants from Bangladesh, who were fleeing economic hardship and land scarcity in an overcrowded country.

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