Suicides Follow India’s Drive to Push Out Illegal Immigrants, Allegedly Targeting Muslims

Bengali-speaking Hindus protest against alleged discrimination in the National Register of Citizens in the Udalguri district of Assam in northeastern India in September 2018. RNS photo by Vishal Arora

More than a dozen residents of the northeast Indian state of Assam have killed themselves amid fears of imprisonment or deportation as the government carries out a massive exercise to drive out people it says are in the country illegally, especially Muslims from neighboring Bangladesh.

Local media reports have linked at least 16 suicides to the ongoing process to update citizenship records in Assam, which borders Bangladesh, home to the world’s fourth-largest Muslim population.

A local group claims as many as 32 people have killed themselves over the issue since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won the state election in May 2016 and began updating a list of citizens created nearly 70 years ago.

More than 4 million people were excluded from a final draft of the National Register of Citizens, released in July. Those not on the list must prove their citizenship at foreigners tribunals or risk imprisonment and deportation.

In one of the most recent cases of suicide, Samsul Haque, a 46-year-old daily wage laborer, took his own life on Nov. 14, distressed because his wife, Maleka Khatun, was not on the list, The Telegraph in India reported.

Haque was a Bengali-speaking Muslim, but most of the people who have killed themselves allegedly over the issue of citizenship were Bengali-speaking Hindus, according to media reports on the 16 suicides.

Jaymati Das, right, the widow of suicide victim Gopal Das, with family from the Assam state of northeast India. RNS photo by Vishal Arora

Gopal Das, a 65-year-old Hindu man from Assam’s Udalguri district, consumed poison to end his life on June 12, as he and many of his family members didn’t find their names on an earlier draft of the list, recalled his wife, Jaymati Das.

“He was arranging some papers that evening and looked worried,” she said. “He took a glass, poured something in it and went to the jungle nearby. His body was found the next morning.”

While some local parties have for years portrayed Bengali-speaking residents, both Muslims and Hindus, as “outsiders,” the BJP appears to be focusing solely on Muslims as a threat to the interests of the “original” residents of Assam.

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Source: Religion News Service