The Hindu nationalist government is moving to strip legal status from millions of Muslim residents.

Assam, a state in northeastern India, is home to 32 million people. The majority are Assamese-speaking Hindus, but about a third are Muslims, many of whom speak Bengali, the main language of neighboring Bangladesh. When the second draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam was released on July 30, four million primarily Muslim and Bengali-speaking residents were left off the list. If confirmed, their exclusion could put them at risk of atrocities and lead to dire consequences for Indian democracy.

A flawed process

The original NRC process was carried out in 1951 to create a consolidated list of Indian citizens. It was “rerun” only in Assam, from 2014 to 2016, to separate “illegal immigrants” from legitimate residents and citizens. In order to be included, residents had to prove that their names (or the names of their ancestors) were on the 1951 NRC or in any electoral rolls up to midnight on March 24, 1971 (the eve of the war in which Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan). Applicants whose names are not on these lists could alternatively produce any of 12 other types of documents dated up to March 24, 1971, including land records, citizenship certificates, and refugee registrations.

Accessing this sort of historical documentation is not feasible for many poor communities in which illiteracy is common and displacement has been a fact of life for generations. Furthermore, civil society groups have found that the NRC process is “not free of error or bias.” Four UN human…