Australia

Indian citizenship fears 'baseless': India's High Commissioner

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India's top diplomat to Australia has talked to SBS News about the country's controversial National Register of Citizens.

Fears that India will strip four million people in Assam of citizenship are "baseless",  the High Commissioner of India to Australia Ajay M Gondane said on Thursday. 

It came only days after the release of a draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) in India which has been met with criticism inside and outside the country.

Ajay M Gondane talks to SBS News.
Ajay M Gondane talks to SBS News.
SBS News

The draft NRC included only those able to prove they were in the northeastern state of Assam before 1971, when millions fled Bangladesh's war of independence into the state. 

Some rights groups criticised the government's move, saying the removal of people from citizenship rolls was similar to Myanmar's removal of rights and protections for its Rohingya community in 1982.

READ MORE: ILLEGAL MIGRANTS OR INDIAN CITIZENS? ASSAM'S CONTROVERSIAL REGISTER

But Mr Gondane dismissed any comparison to the Rohingya and told SBS News such fears were "baseless".

"What has been released recently is a draft and there is a long due process which has to be followed... So gradually this will be refined," he said.

SBS News
SBS News

"In [the] case of those who have been left out from the register, [they] have got several layers of appeals available to them."

Mr Gondane said India's "human rights organisations and judicial structure are far too strong to give rise to [these] doubts".

He added that it was every person's right in India to "challenge the government" if they see fit.

"Our judicial system is very, very strong and it is totally separate from the executive," he said.

Women wait in queue to verify their names on National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft in Assam.
Women wait in queue to verify their names on National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft in Assam.
AAP

He echoed some of the points made on Monday by Shailesh, the registrar general of India.

"No genuine Indian citizens need to worry as there will be ample opportunities given to them to enlist their names in the final NRC," he told a news conference in Assam's biggest city Guwahati.

He said those wishing to appeal could do so under "well-laid-down procedures" starting August 30. The definitive NRC is due to be finalised in December.

But some human rights groups have said the procedures may not be enough.

Avaaz, a US-based rights group, said Monday there was no effective appeal body and those left out would not have enough time to present their case.

"It's just Muslims who will likely have to go through a complicated, unfair appeal with no right to counsel, ending in no hope of staying if they lose," Ricken Patel, the executive director of Avaaz, said in a statement.

- Additional reporting: AFP

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