In September earlier this year, many of us received a video depicting the violent murder of 33-year-old Moinul Haque during an eviction drive in the Darrang district of Assam. Many of us who saw the video were forced to reflect on what could make a man hate a stranger enough to act with such shocking violence. For some others, it was the nonchalance of some uniformed participants in the violence that struck home. The video became another landmark in a long history of ethnic contestation over land in Assam, which shares a 163-mile border with Bangladesh. Over the years, as the region went through several tumults, including the partition of Bengal in 1905, the partion of India in 1947, and the genocide in East Pakistan followed by the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the narrative took root that “indigenous” Assamese were losing their land to “migrants from Bangladesh”. It became the political foundation for the Assam movement during the early 1980s, the creation of a legal procedure to detect illegal immigrants and expel them from the state of Assam, and later, the creation of a National Register of Citizens for Assam, associated tribunals with the power to determine the validity of a person's citizenship, and detention centres to hold the people who failed these tests. The BJP came to power in the state in 2016 and intensified efforts to weed out so-called illegal immigrants. These efforts have disproportionately affected Muslims. According to government data, nearly 87,000 people were declared foreigners in Assam between 2015 and 2020. As of April of 2021, 1,36,173 cases were pending in the Foreigners Tribunals.
This is the background in which Aman Wadud practices law. In many parts of the world, the people who most urgently need legal services are not able to access them. The people whose citizenship has been questioned in the Foreigners Tribunals of Assam are among them and Aman Wadud, as a lawyer and co-founder of the Justice and Liberty Initiative, provides these services pro bono or free of charge.
Rohini Mohan, “‘Worse than a death sentence’: Inside Assam’s sham trials that could strip millions of citizenship”, Vice News (July 29, 2019)
Siddhartha Deb, “How India disenfranchises Muslims”, The New York Times (September 15, 2021)
“Prove your Grandfather is Indian: Ground Reportage on NRC”, Bangalore International Centre on YouTube (November 20, 2019)
Jagat Sohail and Apoorv Avram, "'Invaders', 'Terrorists' and Now, 'Illegal Immigrants': Hindutva’s Reframing of Exclusion", The Wire (February 7, 2020)
Rahul Karmakar, “When you can’t find foreigners, you manufacture them: Human rights lawyer Aman Wadud”, The Hindu (June 27, 2020)