This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Basanta Nirola. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Real Reason People In Assam Are Against The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016

More from Basanta Nirola

It’s been raining in Assam this week, but the protest against the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, makes the situation somewhat warm here. A joint parliamentary committee (JPC) visited Assam from May 7-10, 2018. Earlier, the bill had been introduced in the Lok Sabha after the BJP-led-NDA came to power at the Centre. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, seeks to allow illegal migrants from certain minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship. Simply put, the proposed bill amends the Citizenship Act of 1955.

Consequently, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), the influential students’ body, which also has a platform of 28 student bodies representing various indigenous communities of the state, appealed to the people of the state to stand united against the bill. Even the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which is an ally in the present BJP-led government in Assam and the NDA, has opposed the bill. The AGP leaders have clearly stated that though they are with the government, they cannot agree to this proposed bill.

What The Citizenship Act Of 1955 Says

According to the Citizenship Act, 1955, illegal migrants are prohibited from acquiring Indian citizenship. An illegal immigrant is identified as one who either enters the country without valid travel documents (like passport and visa). The category also includes those people who have the valid travel documents but stay beyond the permitted time period.

On the other hand, the Foreigners Act, 1946, and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, put forth the provision that illegal migrants can be imprisoned or deported. These acts empower the central government to regulate the entry, exit and residence of foreigners within the territory of India.

The Citizenship Act of 1955 is pretty clear about the question of illegal migrants and Indian citizenship. However, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, complicates the issue. (Representative image. Photo by Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

What The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, Says

The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, grants residence and citizenship to illegal migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, Christian or other religious communities coming from neigbouring countries (mostly from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan) According to the bill, those migrants who arrived in India deported who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014, cannot be deported or imprisoned.

The proposed bill also makes the required changes so that these people can be made eligible for citizenship. It also specifies that the minimum number years of residency in India to apply for citizenship should be lessened from at 11 to six years for such people. Interestingly, the bill’s provisions do not seem to extend to illegal Muslim migrants, as of now. Neither does it talk about other minority communities in the neighbouring countries, such as Jews, Bahais etc.

What The Government Is Likely To Say In Favour Of The Bill

According the Assam’s Cabinet minister, Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarmah, “The BJP has a reason to grant citizenship to Hindus who migrated to India from Bangladesh after they were subjected to persecution in the neighbouring country. India is the largest Hindu-inhabited country in the world. So it is natural for harassed Hindus to seek shelter here. Muslims and Christians from countries like Bangladesh can go to other Islamic and Christian countries in the world. But Hindus cannot go to such countries. Thus, the BJP is going to do humanitarian work by providing shelter and citizenship to them.”

Currently too, the ruling party has maintained the same voice in favour of bill. According to the BJP state spokesman, Rupam Goswami: “Our party has been clear since the beginning that Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Christians forced to leave the neighbouring countries should be given shelter in India. The notion that is being spread that crores of Hindus from Bangladesh will land in Assam is unfounded.”

On What Grounds Can The Bill Be Opposed?

The Citizenship Amendment Bill is not sitting right with the Assamese as it violates the Assam Accord of 1985, According to the Assam Accord, illegal migrants who had entered Assam from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971, were to be deported. But this bill sets very different terms, as the voice of several protesters will probably attest. The ongoing NRC-updating process will also be badly affected, if the bill is passed as has been proposed.

Regarding the issue, Samujjal Bhattacharyya, chief advisor of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) said“Assam will be the worst affected because while a large number of Hindus from Bangladesh have already illegally entered the state in the past several decades, more would come and seek to stay here, in the process causing a further damage to the state’s demography and reduce the Assamese and other indigenous communities into a minority.”

A group of citizens, including a group of intellectuals, asked all groups and parties cutting across ideologies to stand united against the Centre’s move. “This Bill will endanger language and culture of Assam and change the state’s demography once for all,”  they had said, in an appeal.

Similarly, the main ally of the NDA in Assam, the Asom Gana Parisad (AGP), has also shown their unhappiness about the bill. They are also severely against of the passage of the bill. Condemning government’s support of the bill, they stated that it would render the Assam Accord meaningless and directly affect the identity of the Assamese and the other indigenous communities of the state.

Other Issues With The Bill

The proposed bill’s provisions apply only to six communities from three countries. It excludes the Muslims, Jews and others communities. This raises serious questions over India’s supposed secularism and also leads to doubts over the argument that this bill has been proposed on humanitarian grounds.

The bill also seemingly violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality to all persons, citizens and foreigners. Differentiating between the people along religious lines, especially when it comes to citizenship issues, would be in violation of the Constitution. In their protests, the activists had also termed the intentions of the bill as ‘communally-motivated humanitarianism’.

It would seem that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, fails to adhere to the provisions of the international refugee law. Here, it’s also important to mention that India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, according to which granting refuge based on humanitarian considerations is arguably a norm of the customary international law.

According to a Wire article, there is confusing terminology associated with the bill. First, the bill seems to term minority religious people as migrants, when the matter isn’t as simple as one would imagine. A significant of these people are refugees, not migrants. The word migration refers to the voluntary movement of people from one place to another, primarily for the purpose of better economic prospects. On the other hand, seeking refuge is an act of involuntary, often enforced shifting of people from one place (or nation) to another, due to situations like war, ethnic cleansing, etc. The concerns of the refugees are mainly based on human rights and safety, not economic advantages. The purpose of the introduction of the Bill, as stated by the government, is to provide shelter to vulnerable, religiously-persecuted people whose fundamental human rights are at risk. But here, the correct terminology is most important, because the laws and policies for migrants and refugees are completely different.

The terminology in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, makes it difficult to distinguish between migrants and refugees, both of whom need different laws and policies. (Representative image)

Again, if we agree with the government that the motive of the government is to protect religiously-persecuted people in neighbouring countries, the question arises as to why the government is ignoring the Muslims. Muslims are also considerably discriminated against and exploited in the neighbouring countries of China, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. But their demands for seeking asylum in India have often fallen on deaf ears. The attitude of the government towards the Rohingya Muslims issues is one of the more recent and blatantly-shocking examples.

The proposed act also violates a tenet of India’s long-standing refugee policy, which mentioned that refugees should return to their homeland, once things turned normal again. The proposed law not only provides citizenship rights to such refugees, but also greatly relaxes the procedure of availing them.

It’s also important to realise that India does not have the resources to absorb anyone and everyone who crosses the border. The demography of the Indian territory is a large one. Population-wise too, India stands in the second position. Therefore, we need to think and plan wisely before opening our borders to every single refugee out there. Needless to say, giving asylum to refugees on humanitarian grounds and providing permanent citizenship to them are two very different things.

For a state like Assam to prosper economically, social and ethnic harmony also have to be maintained. As it is the state has lost several years worth of progress to movements, bandhs and militancy – and these have affected the economy badly. Therefore, the government needs to deal with the bill with maturity and wisdom.


Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Northeast Now
You must be to comment.
  1. Surya Baral

    Quite Knowledgeable…. please do write your views post the passage of the bill…

More from Basanta Nirola

Similar Posts

By Apurv Raj

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

By Ritwik Trivedi

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below