Patna, India – On August 29, a public discover surfaced, signed by the Superintendent of Police of Siwan, a district in India’s northern state of Bihar, asking folks to report “suspected unlawful migrants, particularly Bangladeshis” to the closest police stations.

Three days after the general public discover, the District Justice of the Peace of Kishanganj, one other district of Bihar, issued a letter to the District Public Relations Officer, ordering the event of a mechanism for folks to report “unlawful” migrants and create consciousness across the challenge on “an pressing foundation”.

This was completed to implement an order by the state’s excessive courtroom issued on August 18, which requested the state authorities whether or not it had a concrete plan to construct a detention centre to deal with “suspected unlawful migrants”.

The Patna Excessive Courtroom constructing in Patna, capital of Bihar [File: Amrit Jai Kishan/Al Jazeera]

The Patna Excessive Courtroom order additionally requested the state authorities to place a mechanism in place to permit folks to report suspected “unlawful” migrants, who will be detained and later deported.

In the identical order, the courtroom directed the federal government to run campaigns to sensitise folks to this effort, with a eager emphasis on the state’s border areas, to be carried “vigorously” with assist of the native NGOs and media.

Stressing on the significance of the matter, the bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S Kumar remarked that “deportation of unlawful migrants is of paramount significance and within the nationwide curiosity”.

The courtroom order adopted a petition filed in October final yr on behalf of a Bangladeshi girl, who, in keeping with the petition, was trafficked to India.

When hearings on the case began in December 2020, the courtroom additionally took up the matter of two girls from Bangladesh saved in a authorities remand house within the state capital, Patna. In July this yr, the 2 girls had been deported again to Bangladesh on the courtroom’s order.

In the meantime, the proceedings within the petition filed in October continued, with the courtroom urgent for the development of a detention centre and the difficulty of “unlawful migrants” in Bihar, an obvious reference to Bangladeshis, regardless of the truth that no knowledge or proof counsel an inflow of migrants from Bangladesh to Bihar.

‘Backdoor NRC’?

The courtroom order and the following administrative actions on its implementation have apprehensive the residents of Bihar, particularly its 17 million Muslims.

There are issues that such steps might be a method of implementing a “backdoor NRC” or Nationwide Register of Residents, just like the one within the northeastern state of Assam the place, in 2019, the state revealed an inventory of individuals it thought-about to be residents, rendering some 1.9 million excluded folks just about stateless.

Assam borders Bangladesh and has a sizeable inhabitants of Bengali-speaking Muslims and Hindus.

A lot of these excluded from the listing had been despatched to a detention centre within the Goalpara district, whereas greater than 10 different such centres have been deliberate within the state.

Within the 2019 parliamentary elections, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Get together (BJP) received by a much bigger majority than in 2014, the right-wing celebration promised a nationwide NRC in its election manifesto.

Later that yr, India’s parliament handed the Citizenship Modification Act (CAA), which lays out provisions for granting citizenship to folks from “persecuted” minorities from neighbouring international locations. Muslims had been excluded from the listing.

Critics mentioned the legislation violates India’s secular structure by institutionalising spiritual discrimination for granting Indian citizenship.

Coupled with an ongoing Nationwide Inhabitants Register (NPR) and a proposed NRC, India’s Muslims, who type almost 15 p.c of the nation’s 1.35 billion inhabitants, worry the steps are geared toward marginalising them.

Apprehensive Muslims throughout the nation launched a sequence of protests in numerous cities and cities in late 2019 and early 2020.

A protest towards CAA at Bahadurgunj in Bihar’s Kishanganj district [File: Tanzil Asif/Al Jazeera]

For the reason that coronavirus pandemic erupted, an additional framing of guidelines for the CAA and plans of a nationwide NRC have been placed on maintain.

Aman Wadud, lawyer and a Fulbright scholar within the US who has offered authorized help to folks excluded from the NRC, agreed with the fears that the Bihar authorities could also be planning a “backdoor NRC”.

“NRC is about proving your citizenship. If Bihar begins asking residents to show their citizenship on suspicion, the objective of an NRC is served, to harass and prosecute residents within the garb of detecting ‘unlawful migrants’,” Wadud advised Al Jazeera.

Whereas the primary opposition events in Bihar have largely remained silent on the difficulty, two marginal events – the All India Muslim Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and the Communist Get together of India (Marxist-Leninist) or CPI-ML have opposed the current developments.

In the meantime, a number of Indian Muslims started a social media marketing campaign towards the Bihar authorities’s plans, utilizing hashtags equivalent to #BiharRejectNRC.

‘Seemanchal the subsequent flashpoint’

The fears of an Assam-like NRC are extra palpable in Bihar’s Seemanchal area within the north, bordering West Bengal. Seemanchal, which has a big Muslim inhabitants, is certainly one of India’s least-developed areas and susceptible to annual monsoon flooding.

The Patna Excessive Courtroom order mentions Seemanchal as “border areas” which require “sensitisation” on the a part of frequent residents on reporting “unlawful migrants”.

“The best way this space will get ravaged by floods yearly, a significant part of the inhabitants right here has to cast off their belongings, paperwork, the whole lot. If sometime somebody begins submitting complaints towards them, it should flip into a giant downside,” Tanzil Asif, a journalist working a Seemanchal-based information portal, advised Al Jazeera.

Annual floods in Baisi, Purnea district, Seemanchal [File: Tanzil Asif/Al Jazeera]

Adil Hossain, a professor at Azim Premji College in Bengaluru, hails from Uttar Dinajpur district in West Bengal, which borders Bihar’s Kishanganj. He thinks the current developments in Bihar may additional escalate the spiritual faultlines in Seemanchal.

“There was makes an attempt by the BJP in the previous couple of a long time to create an outsider narrative in Seemanchal in regards to the Bengali-speaking Muslims. The CAA-NRC discourse has already added to the fears, now there may be an try and strengthen this narrative in Seemanchal,” Hossain advised Al Jazeera.

Hossain recalled the BJP’s election marketing campaign within the 2020 Bihar polls, the place Yogi Adityanath, a saffron-robed monk chief minister of neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state, promised to expel “unlawful migrants” if their alliance got here to energy.

In its August 18 order, the courtroom referred to the “identification and deportation of the individuals suspected to be unlawful migrants”, a sentence that raises grave questions for Wadud.

“It suggests a scarcity of trial and deportation primarily based on mere suspicion. I feel that is much more harmful than the current legal guidelines of UAPA because it offers arbitrary powers to the police to select any particular person merely on suspicion.”

Opposition events in Bihar protest towards the CAA in Kishanganj district, Bihar [File: Tanzil Asif/Al Jazeera]

Native politician from the opposition Congress celebration, Tauquir Alam, contested the 2015 and 2020 state meeting polls from the Pranpur constituency in Katihar district. Alam believes the BJP is stoking spiritual passions in Bihar by way of what he referred to as “these scare campaigns”.

“This isn’t simply a problem of Bengali audio system, it doesn’t resonate for them (BJP) outdoors Seemanchal. Exterior Seemanchal, in Bihar, they may attempt to make this a communal challenge which can result in the focusing on of Muslims,” Alam advised Al Jazeera.

Final week, Ram Surat Rai, Minister of Income and Land Reforms in Bihar, claimed a lot of “unlawful immigrants” are settling in Seemanchal, including that “one neighborhood” was facilitating their settlement – a transparent reference to the Muslims of the area.

Mujahid Alam, former member of Bihar’s legislative meeting from Kochadaman constituency in Kishanganj and state vice chairman of Janata Dal (United), the celebration in energy within the state in alliance with the BJP, advised Al Jazeera he strongly disagreed with Rai.

“There isn’t a Bangladeshi infiltration right here. All are Indians,” he advised Al Jazeera.

“I’ve been listening to that there’s Bangladeshi infiltration in Seemanchal all my life. If all of us are Bangladeshis, isn’t this a query for the house ministry, intelligence and the safety forces who guard our border?”

Whereas Mujahid Alam mentioned the development of a detention centre was a “compulsion” resulting from first the house ministry’s instructions and now the excessive courtroom order, he reiterated the promise made by Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to not conduct any NRC in Bihar.

When requested if the courtroom order might be misused by the federal government to create an identical course of within the state, he mentioned he’ll be sure that to protest that.

In current months, India has seen a number of hate crimes focusing on Muslims, the place they had been requested by Hindu supremacist mobs to point out their identification paperwork. With the current courtroom order together with the federal government’s instructions, there are fears that they might push in the direction of extra mob vigilantism and violence within the impoverished state.

“After the political disaster in Kashmir and focusing on of Bengali Muslims in Assam, Seemanchal would be the subsequent flashpoint,” educational Hossain warned.