India on Monday released a final draft of a list of its citizens in the northeastern state of Assam, leaving some 4 million people on edge to prove their Indian nationality.
India says hundreds of thousands of people have illegally entered the country from neighboring Bangladesh over decades and settled down in the northeast. Bangladesh rejects the claim.
The application process for inclusion in India's national register started in 2015. Of 32.9 million applicants, the names of 28.9 million have been approved and included in the draft, Sailesh, India's registrar general, told reporters in Gauhati, the capital of Assam state.
Sailesh, who uses one name, said more than 4 million left out can file appeals by Sept. 30 and prove their Indian nationality by providing documents. Until then, no one will be declared an illegal migrant.
"Adequate and ample scope will be given to people for making objections. No genuine Indian citizen should have any fear," said Sailesh.
Allegations of illegal movement of people from India's porous border with Bangladesh have triggered sectarian tensions between the state's indigenous population and Bengali-speaking Muslims. Hundreds of Bengali-speaking Muslims whose nationality is suspect are living in half a dozen detention camps in Assam state.
People were asked to provide documents proving that they or their family members lived in India before March 24, 1971, but excluded those who arrived during and after the 1971 war leading to Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan.
The final national register containing the names of only Indian nationals after weeding out illegal migrants will be published after the disputed claims are settled.
"Nowhere else in India have we carried out such an exercise to have a list of (Indian) nationals," said National Register of Citizens Coordinator Prateek Hajela.