“Muslims in Maharashtra are scared”: Social activist Irfan Engineer on the impact of NRC

14 October 2019
Courtesy Irfan Engineer
Courtesy Irfan Engineer

On 31 August this year, the National Register of Citizens authority published the final list of citizens in Assam, excluding over 19 lakh people whose legal status remains disputed. The NRC data showed a higher proportion of exclusions in Assam’s Hindu majority areas than its border districts with Bangladesh, predominantly occupied by Muslims of Bengali descent, prompting the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party government to denounce the project. Meanwhile, the home minister Amit Shah has stated that Hindus need not worry about being excluded from the NRC because they will be granted citizenship when the central BJP government passes the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The bill proposes to grant citizenship to six non-Muslim communities from India’s three neighbouring countries—in effect, the government is targeting Assam’s Bengal-origin Muslims, who have long been viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The Bengal-origin Muslim community has historically been targeted by right-wing political parties looking to consolidate Hindu votes. In the mid 1990s in Mumbai, the then Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had called for the deportation of “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants” residing in several slum pockets of the city. The Sena had made several allegations about the number of Bangladeshis living illegally in Mumbai—including estimates as high as four crore.

In October, Aathira Konikkara, a reporting fellow at The Caravan, spoke to Irfan Engineer the director of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, a civil-society organisation in Mumbai. Engineer was part of an activist-led fact-finding committee that surveyed Mumbai’s Bengali-dominated pockets during the height of the 1990s deportation drive. In June this year, Engineer also visited Assam on fact-finding surveys to meet the communities impacted by the NRC updation exercise.

Aathira Konikkara is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: NRC Assam Bengali Muslims Shiv Sena Bal Thackeray