Muslims living in the Indian state of Assam who form almost one-third of the state’s population of 33 million have been dubbed as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and called “termites” by Amit Shah, President of the BJP, the Hindu nationalist party ruling India.

“Should they be thrown out or not? Millions of infiltrators have entered our country and are eating the country like termites. Should we not uproot them?” Amit Shah said at a public meeting in the capital New Delhi last week and again repeated the same at an election rally in Gujarat on Friday 21 September.

In a post on Twitter on Monday 24 September, human rights group Amnesty India said it was “horrified” by Shah’s remarks and urged him not to “dehumanise” people.

“Even before the NRC (National Register of Citizens) process is over, it is horrific to hear Amit Shah dubbing Bangladeshi migrants as ‘termites’. Dear Mr Shah, please STOP dehumanising people, irrespective of them being in the NRC list or not,” Amnesty India tweeted.

For the past few months, the NRC, a register of Indian citizens residing in the northeastern state of Assam, has remained a contentious issue for declaring four million of the state’s residents as foreigners.

Andrew Stroehlein, European media director at the US-based Human Rights Watch, said Shah’s statement was “disturbing” and reminded of a “path to genocide”.

“The president of India’s ruling party crosses a disturbing and well-known line. The path to genocide and other mass atrocity crimes is always first paved by powerful politicians using dehumanising language of “termites”, “cockroaches” or “vermin”,” Stroehlein said on Twitter.