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Ethnonationalism and the Contours of Citizenship: The ‘National Register of Citizens’ in western Assam, India

Authors: Dhananjaya Katju*, Texas A&M University, Nazimuddin Siddique, Independent Researcher
Topics: Ethnic Geography, Political Geography, Asia
Keywords: Ethnonationalism, Citizenship, Identity, Autochthony
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Ethnic identity is an important tool to leverage disproportionate control over political and geographic space. The Bodos (a tribal group) utilize a combination of linguistic, cultural and religious tropes to enhance socio-political dominance within a semi-autonomous political unit (‘Bodoland’) located in the state of Assam in northeast India. Specifically, they question the citizenship of ‘Bengali Muslim’ residents by labeling the latter as ‘foreigners’ from Bangladesh (previously East Bengal) who are illegally residing within Bodoland. In doing so, the Bodos invoke specific ethnic (Bengalis) and religious (Muslim) identities in a manner consistent with similar ethno-regional movements in northeast India that have attempted to cast Bengali Muslims as the socio-political ‘other’. Recently, a legal mechanism known as the ‘National Register of Citizens (NRC)’ has upheld a decades-old demand to grant Indian citizenship to only those who can prove residence prior to March 24, 1971. Many bona fide residents of Assam, particularly the poor and illiterate, do not possess appropriate documentation to prove their citizenship and approximately four million have had their petitions rejected by the NRC. This creates the potential for statelessness and a loss of rights conferred through citizenship. Utilizing a mixed methods approach, our research evaluates the interactive roles of ethnonationalism and ethno-regionalism in generating the contours of citizenship in western Assam.

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