Will The Citizenship Amendment Bill Bring Peace Or Turmoil To The Country?

The controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 passed earlier this month in the Lok Sabha, has created a political backlash in Assam and rest of Northeast India. The Bill states that illegal migrants belonging to specified minority communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan will not be treated as illegal migrants under the Act, making them eligible for Indian citizenship. Minority communities falling under this category are Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians and Parsis. This denotes that illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who are Muslims, other minorities who do not belong to the above groups (for example Jews), or atheists who do not recognize themselves with any religious community, will not be eligible for citizenship.

This bill resolves to modify the Citizenship Act, 1955, which did not allow citizenship rights to any category of illegal migrants. The contentious bill appears to be a follow up of the promise made by the BJP before 2014 elections to grant citizenship rights to people belonging to the Hindu community who are persecuted in the neighbouring countries. The 2014 Election Manifesto of BJP stated- “India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here.”

The problem is that this provision infringes on the right to equality assured under Article 14 of the Constitution because it provides biased treatment to illegal migrants just on the basis of their religious belief. The Bill has not yet become law, as it is yet to be passed by the Rajya Sabha.

The bill also mandates that the registration of the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card-holders can be cancelled in case of violation of any law. The OCI is an immigration status authorizing a foreign citizen of Indian origin to live as well as work in India indefinitely. But this bill will only take into account the grant of citizenship to those who migrated to India before December 31, 2014.

Assam’s finance minister Mr. Himanta Biswa Sarma speaking to press on January 9, 2019, said that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is politically neutral and will not impact BJP’s prospects in the state in the general elections. He said that even if it does have an impact on two-three seats, the party (BJP) is ready to take a hit in the larger interest of the country.

Congress MPs hold placards during a protest demanding to stop citizenship amendment bill 2016, during the Winter Session of Parliament, on January 7, 2019.

 

In Assam, during recent years, the BJP as well as its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh have registered remarkable growth. The success of the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha and the 2016 assembly polls can be seen as a confirmation that their ‘Hindutva Agenda’ worked in Assam. Voters in Assam also backed BJP believing the promise made by this national party that they will protect their jati, mati, bheti (community, land, and base).

It was based on this supposed success of ‘Hindutva Agenda’ in Assam that the national BJP/RSS leaders in charge of the state and the convener of BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance Himanta Biswa Sarma, started polarising Assamese society on the Hindu-Muslim link for the 2019 general elections.

Defending the controversial citizenship bill, he said its implementation is necessary for the state to ensure that it does not face a Kashmir-like situation in the future.

Using Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, they have tried to present only the Muslims as ‘illegal immigrants’ and hence try and form a new political alignment between the majority Assamese community and the Bengali Hindus, extensively seen to be supportive of the Bill. The Bengali Hindus have long been a vote bank of the BJP in the state since the beginning.

Innumerable minority communities residing in the neighbouring countries of India have suffered severe persecution because of their religious beliefs, race, ethnicity as well as language. Differential treatment of Tamils in Sri Lanka, Tibetans in China, Hindu Nepalese in Bhutan and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is not hidden from anyone. A virtuously religious classification of nature of persecution in the bill is clearly arbitrary because it violates the fundamental principle of secularism mandated in the Indian Constitution. Indian citizenship law should remain completely secular so that all religious community have a sense of inclusiveness.

As the 2019 elections draw closer, we can expect more electoral tactics devised by the political parties to polarise voters on the basis of religion and community in Assam.

 

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

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