Indigenous Assamese have long complained that they are being swamped in their own homeland by migrants from Bengal, the densely populated region to the south (see Asia section). In colonial times, there was such an influx, since there were no borders to stop poor Bengalis moving north in search of a better life. Assamese nationalists, pointing to Bengalis’ ever higher share of the state’s population, insist the flow of migrants continues to this day, even though the Muslim part of Bengal has become a separate country, Bangladesh.
The law the government is eagerly enforcing requires all residents to prove that they or their forebears were in the state by March 24th 1971. That is a big hurdle for poor farmers and itinerant workers, especially women, many of them illiterate. Suspects can be denounced as non-citizens by anonymous tips, an invitation to abuse. There have been lots of mistakes, such as a decorated war hero who was declared not to be Indian. Roughly 60% of those found not to be citizens at the 100 “foreigners’ tribunals” the state government is setting up were not even present for the proceedings. Some 3.7m of the 4mpeople declared illegal immigrants are challenging their designation. There has been a spate of suicides tied to adverse rulings.