‘Migrant illegality’ and Bengali-speaking Muslims in the Assam State of Northeast India, South Asia

Salah Punathil

- completed -

Salah has been working on the theme of migration, citizenship, and violence against Bengali-speaking Muslims in the Assam state of Northeast India. The research examines how the discourse of ‘migrant illegality’ is constituted by the long-term process of ‘Muslim otherness’ enacted in both religious nationalism in India and ethnic sub-nationalisms in post-colonial Assam. By using historical, as well as ethnographic, data, the research also maps and analyzes the antecedents, sites, and experience of vulnerability and violence among Bengali-speaking Muslims. Salah recently completed a research paper on the Muslim camps and experience of violence in Assam. Currently, he focuses on the crisis of migrants after the publication of the NRC (National Register of Citizens), which lists 1.9 million people in Assam as illegal migrants from Bangladesh. It raises the question of the increasing threat of detention and ‘deportability’ of the Muslim population in Assam. The institutional procedures, court documents and narratives of the select cases of ‘detected’, as well as ‘detained’, migrants from ethnographic fieldwork reveals how the absence of formal papers and errors on the family records, kinship relations, and property inheritance among the poor migrant families transforms actual citizens into ‘illegal migrants’ in the bureaucratic maneuvering. His research specifically addresses how prejudice, arbitrariness, and contradictions feed into the bureaucratic process, leading to the intense crisis among family units, as several migrant families have both Indians and alleged ‘Bangladeshis’ in their home today.

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