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Here’s How Strict India’s Citizenship Test Can Really Be

To be recognized as Indian citizens, all residents of Assam have had to produce documents proving that they or their families lived in the country before March 24, 1971.

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In India's Citizenship Test, a Spelling Error Can Ruin a Family. VOA
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Riyazul Islam says he had to produce family documents going back to 1951 to prove he was of India and not an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant. But a draft list of citizens released in July excluded him and his mother, among a total of about 4 million people left off.

A wiry 33-year-old living in the northeastern state of Assam, Islam says he and his mother have no further documents left to prove they are Indians, although his father and many others in his family have been included in the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

“If my father is an Indian citizen how come I am not?” said Islam in an interview in the small Assam town of Dhubri, close to the border with Muslim-majority Bangladesh. “What more proof do they need?”

Anguish like this is now commonplace in Assam, where the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi accelerated work on the citizen’s list after coming to power in the state two years ago, promising to act against immigrants accused of stealing jobs and resources from locals.

The government has not given details of the four million excluded from the list. But most are believed to be minority Bengali-speaking Muslims living in the state, which has a total population of 33 million, mostly Assamese-speaking Hindus.

Many of those excluded are illiterate and poor, and some are victims of a spelling error in their names or a mistake in their age in documents offered for proof of citizenship, according to a review of their documents by Reuters.

Opposition parties say Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is denying citizenship to Muslims through the Assam list, and demonstrating its Hindu nationalist credentials with an eye on a general election due by May.

The BJP’s Assam spokesman, Bijan Mahajan said there was no religion-based motive behind the citizenship drive.

“(This is) being opposed for political mileage whereas at ground zero there is absolutely no tension,” he said.

However, Arun Jaitley, one of Modi’s senior-most cabinet colleagues, said in a Facebook post this month that the NRC was necessary because the growth in the Hindu population of Assam had been overtaken by that of Muslims.

Ethnic Assamese have been agitating against outsiders in the state for decades. In 1983, about 2,000 people were chased down and killed by machete-armed mobs intent on hounding out Muslim immigrants. It has not been clearly established which group was behind the carnage.

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The government has not given details of the four million excluded from the list. Flickr

The Assam NRC draft has excluded many Hindus too, but last weekend BJP chief Amit Shah assured citizenship to all non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan by framing a new law.

It is not clear what will happen to those excluded from the final list of citizens, due to be published by the end of the year. But lawyers say they may end up in detention camps, or at the very least be denied citizenship rights and government subsidies.

They could also be struck off voter rolls, which will be an important factor in at least half a dozen Assam constituencies in a general election.

Spelling Errors

In Dhubri, a farming town on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra River upstream from the Bangladesh border, those who did not make it to the list were fearful of discussing it in public.

But inside their homes, several of those excluded showed a Reuters reporter tattered pieces of paper, including birth, school and marriage certificates dating back years and preserved carefully in plastic envelopes.

Such government-issued documents in the countryside often contain spelling or numerical errors, as the illiterate depend on others to write down details. Getting birth certificates made was also not common until recent years in many parts of the country.

Such mistakes can lead to loss of citizenship, said Aman Wadud, a lawyer who has handled dozens of cases of illegal immigration at Assam’s foreigner tribunals.

“With Muslims, there is a problem of title (surnames),” said Wadud. “Because most of the accused are illiterate they don’t use a constant title. Ali, Ahmed, Hussain are used interchangeably.”

He showed Reuters a tribunal judgment on a resident named Tajab Ali, who submitted a series of voters lists as proof of his citizenship going back to 1966. He said his name had been wrongly recorded as Tajap Ali instead of Tajab Ali in the 1985 voters list, and his father’s name wrongly recorded as Surman Ali Munshi instead of Surman Ali. There were also discrepancies in his age.

The tribunal said Ali submitted an affidavit “declaring various names of himself, his projected father, and mother. But an affidavit being only a self-declaration, it has no evidentiary value.”

Sajida Bibi, Islam’s mother, also fell victim to a wrongly entered name.

One of the documents she submitted to prove citizenship and shown to Reuters by the family, was an affidavit saying her name had been wrongly recorded as “Sabahan Bibi” in the 1951 citizenship registry, the first one drawn up in the state after India’s independence in 1947. The affidavit also said she was named as “Sahajadi Begum” in her school certificate, and that she changed her name to “Sajida Bibi” from “Sajida Begum” after her marriage.

She swore in the affidavit that all three were the same person here. The tribunal did not accept the affidavit.

Reuters reviewed copies of at least two other recent tribunal judgements in which people had been declared foreigners because of name and age-related errors and in which affidavits were not accepted.

“Not Against Muslims”

Much of the over 2,500-mile-long border between India and Bangladesh is porous, through which hundreds of thousands of people fled from Bangladesh during its India-backed war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

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A man, whose name is left off of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft, stands in a line to collect forms to file appeals at an NRC Sewa Kendra (NSK) in Guwahati. VOA

To be recognized as Indian citizens, all residents of Assam have had to produce documents proving that they or their families lived in the country before March 24, 1971.

New Delhi said in 2016 that around 20 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants were living in India. Activists who filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2009 to expel such immigrants alleged over 4 million of them had been included in Assam’s 2006 voter list.

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“For 38 years, we’ve been fighting to protect the language, culture and identity of our indigenous people in our own motherland,” said Samujjal Bhattacharya, an adviser to the All Assam Students Union (AASU), an organization that has spearheaded the campaign against illegal immigrants.

But Bhattacharya said the NRC was not biased against any community.

“It’s not against Muslims, it is not against Hindus, it is not against Bengalis,” Bhattacharya said. “It’s against illegal Bangladeshis. It is a question of citizens and non-citizens.” (VOA)

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WhatsApp Announces 20 Teams To Curb Fake News Globally

In India, WhatsApp has partnered with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders in several states on how to address misinformation

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WhatsApp selects 20 teams to curb fake news globally, including India. Pixabay

Facebook-owned WhatsApp on Tuesday announced that it has selected 20 research teams worldwide – including experts from India and those of Indian origin — who will work towards how misinformation spreads and what additional steps the mobile messaging platform could take to curb fake news.

Shakuntala Banaji from London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Anushi Agrawal and Nihal Passanha from Bengaluru-based media and arts collective “Maraa” and Ramnath Bhat from LSE have been selected for the paper titled “WhatsApp Vigilantes? WhatsApp messages and mob violence in India”.

The research examines the ways in which WhatsApp users understand and find solutions to the spate of “WhatsApp lynchings” that has killed over 30 people so far.

The Indian government has also directed WhatsApp to take necessary remedial measures to prevent proliferation of fake and, at times, motivated/sensational messages on its platform.

Among others selected were Vineet Kumar from Ranchi-headquartered Cyber Peace Foundation (principal investigator), Amrita Choudhary, President of the Delhi-based non-profit Cyber Café Association of India (CCAOI) and Anand Raje from Cyber Peace Foundation.

They will work as a team on the paper titled “Digital literacy and impact of misinformation on emerging digital societies”.

P.N. Vasanti from Centre for Media Studies in New Delhi woll work withS. Shyam Sundar, The Pennsylvania State University (Principal Investigator) to examine the role of content modality in vulnerability to misinformation, under the topic titled “Seeing is Believing: Is Video Modality More Powerful in Spreading Fake News?”

WhatsApp had issued a call for papers in July this year and received proposals from over 600 research teams around the world.

“Each of the 20 research teams will receive up to $50,000 for their project (for a total of $1 million),” WhatsApp said in a statement.

Lipika Kamra from O.P. Jindal Global University and Philippa Williams from the Queen Mary University of London (Principal Investigator) will examine the role of WhatsApp in everyday political conversations in India, in the context of India’s social media ecosystem.

According to Mrinalini Rao, lead researcher at WhatsApp, the platform cares deeply about the safety of its over 1.5 billion monthly active users globally and over 200 million users in India.

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WhatsApp on a smartphone device. Pixabay

“We appreciate the opportunity to learn from these international experts about how we can continue to help address the impact of misinformation,” Rao said.

“These studies will help us build upon recent changes we have made within WhatsApp and support broad education campaigns to help keep people safe,” she added.

The recipients are from countries including Brazil, India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Singapore, Spain, the UK and US.

WhatsApp said it is hosting them in California this week so they can hear from product leaders about how it builds its product.

“Given the nature of private messaging – where 90 per cent of the messages sent are between two people and group sizes are strictly limited – our focus remains on educating and empowering users and proactively tackling abuse,” said the company.

WhatsApp recently implemented a “forward label” to inform users when they received a message that was not originally written by their friend or loved one. To tackle abuse, WhatApp has also set a limit on how many forwards can be sent.

In India, WhatsApp has partnered with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders in several states on how to address misinformation.

Also Read- Facebook Blocks Accounts Engaged in Malicious Activities

“We are also running ads in several languages — in print, online, and on over 100 radio stations — amounting to the largest public education campaign on misinformation anywhere in the world,” the company noted.

Sayan Banerjee from University of Essex, Srinjoy Bose from University of New South Wales and Robert A. Johns from University of Essex will study “Misinformation in Diverse Societies, Political Behaviour & Good Governance”.

Santosh Vijaykumar from Northumbria University, Arun Nair from Health Systems Research India Initiative and Venkat Chilukuri, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology are part of the team that will study “Misinformation Vulnerabilities among Elderly during Disease Outbreaks”. (IANS)