Four million people are about to be stateless

In just a few days, some four million people in India could find themselves without a country. If that happens, it would quickly become the largest crisis of stateless people on the planet.

This is happening in Assam, a hilly, landlocked state at the eastern edge of India along the Bangladeshi border. (The famous "Assam" tea comes from there.)

Back in the early 1970s, during Bangladesh's war of independence from Pakistan, millions of Bengali Muslims fled across the border into Assam, dramatically shifting the province's demographics and leading to tensions with Assam's Hindu majority. Nearly half a century later, Assam has the largest Muslim minority of any Indian state except Kashmir.

In the mid-1980's, India's government determined that any refugee who crossed the border into Assam after Bangladesh gained independence in 1971 should be a citizen of Bangladesh, not of India. Since then, successive Indian governments have tried to determine which Assam residents have paperwork that proves they lived in India before that date.

But for many people, finding the right documents – and reading them, in a state where a quarter of the population is illiterate – is challenging, if not impossible.

Last year, the Assam state government finally published a draft National Registry of Citizens (NRC) which lists everyone who is legally resident in Assam. Four million people, mostly Muslims who have been living in India for decades, were not on the list. Those people have until August 31 to prove a pre-1971 claim to residence or they will be deemed illegal.

The Indian government, like all governments, has the right and responsibility to know who is living on its territory and under what circumstances. But there are two big complications in the case of Assam.

First, what happens to these 4 million human beings if India officially marks them as illegal? Bangladesh has said it will not accept the deportation of millions of people who have been living in India for almost 50 years. Many of these 4 million people were born inside India after 1971. Should those people be "returned" to a country they've never known? Assam authorities are reportedly building detention camps that could constitute a horrific human rights violation.

Second, the Assam crackdown looks like the prelude to a broader bid by the national government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to discriminate against India's Muslims.

This spring, the BJP announced that it wants to extend the citizenship registry to the whole country in a bid to remove anyone who isn't a "Buddhist, Hindu, or Sikh." Interior Minister Amit Shah, who headed the BJP in the runup to its sweeping (re)election victory last year, has called Bengali Muslims "termites" and pledged to throw them into the sea.

The BJP is flush with power after the last election – but seeking to marginalize India's 177 million Muslims from what it means to be "Indian" risks destabilizing a precarious balance among faiths and ethnicities in the world's largest democracy.

Scientists, engineers and technologists are turning to nature in search of solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is now being applied in the energy sector, medicine, architecture, communications, transport and agriculture in a bid to make human life on this planet more sustainable and limit the impacts of global warming. New inventions have been inspired by humpback whales, kingfishers and mosquitoes.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

The drumbeat for regulating artificial intelligence (AI) is growing louder. Earlier this week, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, became the latest high-profile Silicon Valley figure to call for governments to put guardrails around technologies that use huge amounts of (sometimes personal) data to teach computers how to identify faces, make decisions about mortgage applications, and myriad other tasks that previously relied on human brainpower.

More

January 27 marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp. But even as some 40 heads of state gathered in Jerusalem this week to commemorate the six million Jews who were killed, a recent Pew survey revealed that many American adults don't know basic facts about the ethnic cleansing of Europe's Jews during the Second World War. Fewer than half of those polled knew how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and close to a third didn't know when it actually happened. Here's a look at some of the numbers.

1: The Greek parliament has elected a woman president for the first time since the country's independence some 200 years ago. A political outsider, Katerina Sakellaropoulou is a high court judge with no known party affiliation. "Our country enters the third decade of the 21st century with more optimism," Greece's prime minister said.

More

A quarantine in China– Local authorities have locked down the city of Wuhan, the source of the outbreak of a new and potentially deadly respiratory virus that, as of Thursday morning, had infected more than 540 people in at least six countries. Other nearby cities were also hit by travel restrictions. Rail and air traffic out of Wuhan has been halted. Public transportation is shut, and local officials are urging everyone to stay put unless they have a special need to travel. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people, many of whom were about to travel for the Chinese New Year. We're watching to see whether these extraordinary measures help stem the outbreak, but also to see how the people affected respond to the clampdown.

More