Citizenship Amendment Bill: Fear Psychosis of Northeast
Again, Northeast is on the barge of being turmoil after the Home Minister Amit Shah declared that the Government at the Centre will re-introduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 (CAB) and this time it will be passed in the Parliament. The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (KMSS), led by activist Akhil Gogoi, has already taken to street against the CAB. On 11th October 2019, a large number of KMSS supporters along with other organizations took out the protest in Guwahati as a part of awareness campaign against the CAB. The security forces detained several protesters along with KMSS leaders while they protested. Akhil Gogoi has already apprised that KMSS and 70 other organizations of the regions have started awareness campaign against the bill highlighting its dangerous effect on the demography of the Northeast states specially on Assam. They started to distribute leaflet going house to house. Addressing a press conference Akhil Gogoi said, BJP and the RSS want to give citizenship to Hindus of foreign countries to make India a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ with the help of CAB. And we will not let them do it. In Kolkata on 1st October 2019 addressing a seminar Amit Shah said, “Before preparing NRC in the country, CAB will be passed in Rajya Sabha by BJP led Government at the centre. We will give citizenship to all refugees including Matuas who have been thrown out from different countries. Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Christians will never be forced to leave the country. He added, I have come here to assure that after the CAB is passed, refugees will have same rights as us. After giving citizenship to them, NRC will be brought in Bengal. We will throw out all infiltrators from the country”. “By giving this type of statement, Amit Shah has crossed the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ of the dignity of his post. Inner meaning of his sayings is that they need NRC only for detecting infiltrators from Muslim community. Definitely it is palpable attempt to reach out Hindu voters of Bengal”, said Dr. Mukul Hazrika, a social activist. Meanwhile on 22nd April, 2019 Amit Shah also said, infiltrators from Bangladesh are a national problem. Therefore, BJP Government will implement NRC in the entire nation.
Reaction In Northeast
Reacting to the comment of the Union Home Minister and BJP President Amit Shah the president of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) Dipankar Kumar Nath said on 3rd October 2019, “Time and again we have made it clear that Assam and other Northeast states are not dumping ground for Bangladeshis. Because of BJP’s comfortable strength in the Parliament the Government at Centre is repressing the wish and aspiration of the people of the Assam and entire Northeast. The government wants to impose the CAB on us. But the people of the Northeast will defy them in bringing the bill”. He added, the cut-off date is the mid-night of 24th March 1971 which does not discriminate between Hindus and Muslims. If the government imposes the CAB on Assam and Northeast, it will have to face the grudge of the people of the region. AASU General Secretary Lurin Jyoti Gogoi said, AASU would never accept violation of the Assam Accord.
On 4th Conclave of the Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) recently held in Guwahati, the Chief Ministers of the Northeast warned Amit Shah of demographic change of NE region if the bill is re-introduced. “It will adversely affect the interest of the region” said Chief Minister of Mizoram Zoramthanga opposing the bill. The Chief Minister of Meghalaya Cornad Sangma said, the entire Northeast will be worst affected by the CAB. Some people may migrate to Meghalaya once the bill is enacted. It will affect the Inner-line Permit (ILP) or other laws of the region. Strongly opposing the Bill Neiphiu Rio, Chief Minister of Nagaland said all the Northeast states have already resolved rejecting the CAB.
A unanimous resolution opposing the CAB was passed by the NE Forum for Indigenous People (NEFIP) in its meeting held in Kohima on 25th September 2019. On 3rd October 2019 Manipur People Against Citizenship Amendment bill (MANPAC), a conglomerate of several civil bodies of the state, organized a protest march against the CAB. The march was started by forming human chain and with loud ringing of bells. During the protest march, slogans against the CAB were chanted. On the same day the supporters, volunteers and members representing various Naga Tribes, Gaon Burah Association, women organization, All Nagaland College Students’ Union, Law college students and the people of Arunachal Pradesh also demonstrated protest march against CAB. NGO-Co-Ordinated Committees in Mizoram had asked people to wear black shawls as mark of protest against the CAB during visit in the state of Amit Shah. Union Home Minister visited Mizoram on 6th October 2019.
Facing stiff protest from the Northeast state against the bill the Home Minister is now trying to create rift in the unity of the region by playing divisive card. During his recent visit in the state of Mizoram Amit Shah apprised the State Chief Minister Zuramthanga that special clause to ensure Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh are not affected would be incorporated in the bill before it is re-introduce in the parliament. That is why activist Akhil Gogoi has rightly expressed his apprehension that the bill coming with new form would be more detrimental for the people of Assam and the Assamese would have to bear entire burden of Hindu Bangladeshis.
The CAB In A Nutshell
The CAB seeks to provide citizenship to the six minority groups namely Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Christians and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. BJP has been trying to give an impression that these minority groups are the victims of religious persecution in their respective country. Interestingly they keep mum on Tamil Hindus of Sri Lanka, Ahmadiyas of Pakistan, Gurkhas of Nepal and the Rohingyas of Rakhine state in Myanmar who are the most persecuted ethnic communities of today’s world.
Amending the Citizenship act of 1955, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was introduced on July 19, 2016 in the Lok shaba to provide citizenship to illegal migrants of six minorities groups who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. But the bill has no provision for Muslim illegal migrants. The bill also reduced the requirement of 11 years’ continuous stay in the country to six years for obtaining citizenships by naturalization.
Who May Acquire Citizenship As Per The Citizenship Act, 1955
As per the Citizenship Act, 1955, the persons may become an Indian citizen if they are born in India or have Indian parentage or have resided in the country over a period of time, etc. It prohibits illegal migrants from acquiring Indian citizenship. According to the citizenship Act, 1955, an illegal migrant is a foreigner who: (i) enters the country without valid travel documents, like a passport and visa, or (ii) enters with valid documents, but stays beyond the permitted time period. Illegal migrants may be imprisoned or deported under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920. The 1946 and the 1920 Acts empower the central government to regulate the entry, exit and residence of foreigners within India.
But in 2015 and 2016, the central government issued two notifications exempting illegal migrants of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan from the provision of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014. This implies that these groups of illegal migrants will not be deported or imprisoned for being in India without valid documents. The Bill also makes amendments to provisions related to Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders. A foreigner may register as an OCI under the 1955 Act if they are of Indian origin (eg. former citizen of India or their descendants) or the spouse of a person of Indian origin. This will entitle them to benefits such as the right to travel to India, and to work and study in the country. The Bill amends the Act to allow cancellation of OCI registration if the person has violated any law.
The CAB Changes The Definition Of Illegal Migrants
The Citizenship Act, 1955 prohibits illegal migrants from acquiring Indian citizenship. The Bill amends the Act to make provision that the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will be no more treated as illegal migrants. So that they can take this benefit, the Central Government have exempted them from the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 by issuing two notifications in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
CAB Violates The Basic Fabric Of The Constitution
a. In the preamble of our constitution, it is mentioned that India is a secular, socialistic and democratic country. This is also ratified by Apex Court of the country. Article 14 ensures equality to all persons, citizens and foreigners. But the bill makes ineligible Muslims, Jews or Atheists from these three countries for Indian Citizenship. The constitution implies that Government cannot differentiate among the people on the basis of religion. But the Bill seeks to make certain group of illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees right to equality.
b. Violation of Assam Accord: CAB has violated 5 no. clause of Assam Accord which was signed between central Government, State government and AASU on 15th August, 1985. As per Assam Accord, cut-off date for detection and deportation of illegal migrants irrespective their caste, religion and language is midnight of 24th March, 1971. In Assam Accord, it was said, foreigners who came Assam on or before March 25, 1971 shall continue to be detected, deleted and expelled in accordance with law. Practical steps will be taken to expel such foreigners immediately. But there is no mention of any cut-off date for the illegal migrants from the said six groups of religious communities in the CAB. However, the two notification issued by the central government in 2015 and 2016 exempted illegal migrants of the Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis Christians from the said three neighouring countries from the provision of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 who illegally entered India on or before 31st December, 2014.
c. The Bill will affect NRC: The Bill seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim minorities persecuted in neighbouring countries. But present Assam NRC does not distinguish migrants on the basis of religion. It is a register of all genuine Indians residing in Assam. It includes the names of those persons along with their descendants who were included in the NRC, 1951, or in any of the Electoral Rolls up to the midnight of 24th March, 1971 or who have any one of the other admissible documents issued up to midnight of 24th March,1971, which would prove their presence in Assam or in any part of India on or before 24th March, 1971.This process is getting completed under the provision of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizen and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules as amended in 2009 and 2010-4A. It will be considered deporting anyone who has entered the State illegally after March 24, 1971, irrespective of their religion. But if the Bill becomes an Act, the non-Muslims need not go through the process of detection, detention and deportation meaning this will be clearly discriminating against Muslims identified as undocumented immigrants. Thus the purpose of NRC in Assam will be worthless which has already cost more than Rs 1500 crores.
Amending the Citizenship Act of 1955, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was introduced on July 19, 2016 in the Lok Sabha to provide citizenship to illegal migrants of six minorities groups except Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Here it is mentionable that the BJP made promise in its election manifesto of 2014 General Election to grant citizenship to Hindus of the neibhouring countries who would migrate to India being persecuted in their respective countries. The Bill was passed in Lok Sabha on January 8, 2019 amid the uproar of the opposing parties. But the government abstained from bringing it in Rajya Sabha fearing they could not pass it in Upper House due to lack of their majority in this House. The controversial Bill was supposed to be placed in Upper House on 12th February, 2019. The term of the 16th Lok Sabha ended on 3rd June, 2019. As a last moment effort, BJP tried to pass the Bill in Rajya Sabha and for that purpose they formally contacted main opposition party Congress and wanted to know whether the opposition would allow the CAB to be passed, if the northeast was exempted from the purview of the Bill. The proposal was given that the Home Minister might move an amendment while placing the Bill in Rajya Sabha. But proposal was rejected, because there would still remain fear that it would keep northeast open to illegal infiltration from neighboring Bangladesh. 70 organizations under KMSS and AJYCP, 30 indigenous organizations under AASU, Northeast Students Union (NESU), students’ societies, Civil Societies, Literary bodies, actors, artists, journalists and intellectuals’ societies, all political parties of the Northeast other than BJP and even Sadou Asom Karmachari parishad (All Assam Employees Union) opposed the Bill and raised the voice of protest and dissent against it. Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh assemblies have passed resolution opposing it. Nagaland Assembly has also passed resolution against CAB on February 26, 2019. Even BJP led Manipur government and their Chief Minister has openly expressed disagreement with the stand that was taken by their own party BJP. Moreover, TDP of Andhra Pradesh, left parties, TMC and even allies of NDA like Shiv Sena and JDU openly opposed the CAB and expressed solidarity with the people of the Northeast. Three ministers of AGP resigned from the Sarbananda Sonowal cabinet over CAB. They broke the alliance with BJP and joined anti-CAB agitation, though that was only drama. Because after one month of breaking alliance they reunited with the saffron party and their three ministers again joined the Sonowal cabinet. AGP fought the General Election in alliance with BJP. The people of the region saw series of protests against CAB in the form of Assam bandhs, hartals, road blocks, mass rallies, torchlight processions, hunger strikes, silence procession, burning effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, Finance Minister of the state and other stalwarts of the government and BJP, showing black flags to the Prime Minister, Chief Minister, senior minister of the state Himanta Biswa Sarma etc. under the banner of various organizations of the Northeast specially Assam where all sections of the society including women, students, artists, freedom fighters’ families, martyred families of Assam Agitation, senior citizens, journalists, intellectuals, political and social activists etc. irrespective of caste, religion and language participated. Even the families of martyrs returned the honour that was accorded to them by the government. Protests against CAB spread like wildfire from the streets of the Northeast to Delhi. Veteran filmmaker from Manipur Aribam Syam Sharma returned the Padma Shri as a mark of protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
But BJP was adamant to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. BJP president Amit Shah declared on 17th February, 2019 at Lakhimpur in Assam that they must convert this bill into Act if they could come to power in 2019 again and would make it an election issue.
Plea In The Supreme Court
Challenging the Passport (entry into India) Amendment Rules, 2015, the Foreigners (Amendment) Act and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, some petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court. One of the petitioners, Nagarikatya Ain Songsudhan birodhi Mancha (Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill) has opposed the Passport (Entry into India) Amendment Rules, 2015 and the Foreigners (Amendment) Act and termed these as discriminatory, arbitrary and illegal. The petition also opposed the CAB and termed it “communally motivated humanitarianism”. The Supreme Court has sought response from the Centre and Assam government on the Passport (Entry into India) Amendment Rules and the Foreigners (Amendment) Act.
Divisive Policy Of BJP-RSS
From the beginning BJP and RSS are openly supporting the CAB. Their intention is also clear. They want India to keep its door open for the Hindus from anywhere of the world. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself said in Silchar on January 4, 2019 that India will always keep its door open to welcome Hindus willing to come here being the victims of displacement. On February 9, 2019, PM Modi said that by giving protection to persecuted minorities of three neighbuouring countries India was fulfilling its national commitment. In the name of supporting the Bill, the state minister and senior BJP leader of the state Himanta Biswa Sarma is trying to communalize the people of the state. Defending the Bill, he said that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 will save Assam from being it another Kashmir. This Bill will protect the Hindus. And it is necessary to safeguard the identity of the indigenous people of Assam and Northeast as whole. If we fail to do this the people of Jinnah likes of Badrudin Ajmal will become the Chief Minister of Assam. On the other hand, criticizing the people who are opposing CAB, Mr. Sharma said, “they (Anti-Bill Protesters) want us to be slaves of a particular civilization.” Here, by particular civilization, he hints Islamic civilization. Mr. Sharma again and again has been saying that BJP supports the CAB, otherwise another 17 assembly constituencies of the state will go to the hand of Bangladeshi Muslims. In another day, bringing back Rohingya issue, he unnecessarily said, ‘ant-CAB protests have provided an advantageous situation for the Rohingya refugees. Speaking at a panel discussion at the India Today conclave 2019 Himanta Biswa said, “We are just giving citizenship to Hindus. We have given a country to Muslims. We have given Pakistan to them.” What ugly face of BJP is! It proves that BJP wants to provide citizenship on the basis of religion, not persecution. Himanta Biswa forgot that history had given a country to Bengalis in form of Bangladesh. Why will Northeast accept Bangladeshis – whether they be Hindu or Muslim? Cleary, BJP is playing dirty communal and vote bank politics on CAB. Ex-Central Minister Rajen Guhain had also openly commented that Assam needed Bangladeshi Hindus to make balance with Bangladeshi(?) Muslims by whom Assam has already been made full. In prime time Talk Shows of local vernacular news channel it is observed that BJP-RSS men are always talking, Assam Accord has done one crore 25 lakhs Bangladeshi Muslims legalized. Now the question is, how could ministers like Himanta Biswa and Rajen Guhain openly play communal card on the name of supporting CAB who had sworn in the name of constitution to protect its values? Does our constitution bar people like of Badruddin Ajmal to become the Chief Minister of Assam? RSS is also batting for the CAB. Going to support the CAB, they argued that India was divided on the two nation theory of Jinnah. Therefore, India is committed to provide shelter the Hindus from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Moreover, they said that India was bound to accept Hindu refugees coming from Pakistan and Bangladesh as per Nehru-Liaquat Pact which was signed in New Delhi on April 8, 1950. They forgot that validity of Nehru-Liaquat agreement was expired on April 8, 1955. On the other hand, Bangladesh was born on March 25, 1971 on the basis of Bengali nationalism, not religion. Nehru-Liaquat agreement does not imply on Bangladesh and Bangladeshi. Bangladesh has no more been stakeholder of Nehru-Liaquat Pact.
CAB May Alienate Northeast
BJP-led Central and state governments have been giving assurance again and again that CAB will not have any adverse impact on Assam or the Northeast. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal himself said that it will help to strengthen the position of the indigenous people of the state and their culture and heritage. But he abstained from giving explanation as to how the Bill would strengthen the position of Northeast and its language and culture. Due to internal and external migration, the language and culture of the state are under threat. Therefore, these assurances cannot convince the people of Northeast. After the Bill had been passed in Lok Sabha because of frustrated stubborn attitude of Centre, an ex-Chief Minister of Mizoram displayed a banner writing slogan- welcome China, bye bye India. We heard echoes of alienation during time of peak momentum of displeasure on CAB. Some people expressed their dissatisfaction saying if Centre cannot respect the sentiment of the people of the Northeast, it should let them to live on their own way. Sources said that during last few months a sizable numbers of youths of the state had joined ULFA which is a matter of concern. On stubborn attitude of BJP, AASU alleged that the saffron party was trying to alienate the indigenous people of the region. AASU chief adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya expressed apprehension that the Northeast region may face unrest again if the BJP continues to make attempts to strengthen its vote bank by bringing foreign nationals to the region.
Identity at Stake
If CAB becomes Act, undoubtedly it will destroy the identity of the indigenous people of Northeast. The Bill will pose a threat to the language and culture of the region specially to the Assamese language and culture. We have already mentioned that after India and Nepal, Bangladesh is the home of maximum number of Hindus in the world. Now there are more than one crore fifty lakhs Hindus in Bangladesh. There is every possibility of the Assamese people to be minority in near future if a portion of the Hindus lived in Bangladeshi enter Assam taking the opportunity of CAB. The census 2011 reveals that percentage of Assamese speakers in Assam declined to 48.38 of the total population of state in 2011 from 48.80 in 2001and percentage of Bengali Speakers increased to 28.91 in 2011 from 27.54 in 2001. Number of Hindi Speakers increased to 6.73 per cent in 2011as compared to 5.89 in 2001. The number of Bodo Speakers, another indigenous community of the state, also declined to 4.53 percent of the total population in 2011 from 4.86 per cent in 2001. CAB might be pretext for being Assam as a direct route for the Hindus of Bangladesh, as it is a bordering country of the state. If anyway Bengali Speakers become majority, Assam will lose its identities -- its languages, culture, heritages and civilization. Then no constitutional safeguard could protect the existence of the Assamese People. Because man makes laws, laws do not make man.
Religious Persecution In Bangladesh (?)
BJP said, the Hindus of Bangladesh are victims of religious persecution in the hands of the radical element. Therefore, it is duty of India to provide them shelter here. But the issue of religious persecution of the minorities was not raised by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his meeting with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The meeting between the Prime Ministers of both the countries were held in 2017. But the issue of religious persecution of minorities in Bangladesh was not raised by Modi in the meeting. Issue of illegal migrants from Bangladesh to India, which was one of the poll promises of the BJP, both in the 2014 general election and 2o16 Assembly election in Assam was not discussed. Instead of that, Modi appreciated Hasina for her impressive effort to accelerate socio-economic development in Bangladesh and the step taken to strengthen democratic values. Moreover, India has not raised the issue of religious persecution of the minorities communities in Bangladesh before United Nations Human Rights Council so that the issue can be addressed in international level. Actually in the name of according Indian citizenships to the above so-called persecuted six groups of Minorities, BJP wants to strengthen Hindu Vote-Bank and to implement their Hindutva agenda to make India a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. We know that presence of Christians, Buddhists, Parsis in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are ignorable. It is also known fact that Hindus of Bangladesh under present regime of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina are safer and secured than the minorities of many other countries of the globe and their socio-economic and political position is far better than before. Moreover, world witnesses that no untoward incidents like Gujarat and Nellie massacres or Bhagalpur riot have ever happened on Hindus in Bangladesh. We should keep it in mind that Bangladesh is world’s third largest Hindu populated country after India and Nepal.
Can Infiltrators Be Termed Refugees?
Can Hindu Bangladeshis who illegally infiltrated to Assam be termed refugees? Who is called refugees? A person who is forced to flee their county because of persecution, war or violence can be termed refugee. War and ethnic, racial and religious violence are main causes for refugees fleeing their countries. Hindu Bangladeshis who infiltrated to Assam could not prove themselves that they are forced to flee their country because of being victims of religious persecution. That is why no Bangladeshi national who came to Assam formally claimed that he was forced to flee to India because of religious persecution. To claim shelter or citizenship or even to seek long-term visa, a person has to declare himself to be a foreign national. Most of them entered Assam and have included their names in the NRC. And it would now be difficult for them to apply either for citizenship or long-term visa. If they do so, first they have to admit that they are Bangladeshi nationals. In such situation, they would be prosecuted for providing wrong information to include their names in the NRC.
Illusion Over Muslim Population
BJP-RSS has raised hue and cry against ‘Bangladeshi Muslims’ at all forum they get. Several senior ministers of Sonowal cabinet, state BJP spokespersons, state RSS leaders and state BJP leaders have alleged that there are more than one crore Bangladeshi Muslims in Assam who have been staying illegally. According to them, more than 40 Assembly constituencies of the state are now under their control. They swallowed the language, culture and civilization of Assamese people. Bangladeshi Muslims encroach forest lands, tribal belt, grassing lands, reserve lands and even the lands of Satras. Are there lakhs and lakhs of Bangladeshi Muslims in Assam? Final NRC, which was published on 31st August 2019, tells a different story. Figures of 1951 Census show that in 1951 there was total number of population 80,27,272 in Assam and numbers of Muslim populations was 19,95,978 out of this. Census 2011 states, total population of Assam increased to 3,11,69,272 from 80,27,272 of 1951 at 388.31% growth rate and Muslim population increased to 1,06,66,125 in 2011 at 534.38% growth rate. In 1951 India’s total population was 36,10,88,090 and out of this 3,53,86,633 was Muslims. In 2011 total population of India increased to 121,01,93,422 at 335.15% growth rate and Muslim population increased to 17,22,10,524 from 3,53,86,633 of 1951 at 506% growth rate. If Muslim population of Assam had increased at 506% national growth rate of Muslim population, in 2011 Muslim population of the state would have been 1,00,99,649 which tell that excess Muslim population in state are only 5,66,476. Then, why are BJP-RSS creating illusion over Muslim population of the state? During the communal riots of 1948-1950, some 5,00,000 to 6,00,000 Indian Muslims were compelled to leave Assam for erstwhile East Pakistan for the safety and security of their life leaving behind all their belongings - majority of them came back to the state Nehru-Liaquat Pact of April 8, 1950 only after the completion of 1951 census.
(The Red River and the Blue Hills written by Hem Barua).