Explained: How The Citizenship Amendment Bill Impacts The NRC And Northeast Politics

The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 introduced by the government in parliament looks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955. The bill has received a lot of flak from all sections of society particularly in the Northeast. It faces strong resistance in the Northeast and even NDA allies are threatening to break ties if the bill becomes an act.

What’s In The Bill

1. Amending the Citizenship Act 1955 and changing the definition of an illegal immigrant. According to the previous act, any person who doesn’t have proper documents will be termed as an illegal immigrant. According to the new act, people of the following religions from three countries will not be treated as an illegal immigrant: Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

2. The previous act had provisions for people living in India to receive citizenship through naturalization. According to the previous act a person must have lived in the country for 11 years preceding the application submission of citizenship. This bill reduces that to 6 years.

3. This bill says that registration of OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) cardholders will be canceled if they violate any law.

This bill has passed in the Lok Sabha but is receiving major criticism across the country especially in the Northeast. The biggest drawback of this bill is that it divides people on the basis of religion which is against the values of our constitution.

Why The Northeast Is Against The Bill

Illegal immigration has been a major issue in the Northeast. The region has witnessed many agitations against illegal immigrants for decades now. The citizenship bill has tried to redefine the definition of illegal immigrant and that has caused a lot of concern in Northeast.

A man at a protest organised by the Northeastern community in Mumbai against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in January this year. (Photo: Himanshu Saikia/Facebook)

The bill tries to discriminate between religions and ignores Muslim minorities in neighboring countries. But, the biggest concern of people in Northeast is that the bill undermines the effect of the Assam Accord signed in 1985. According to the Assam Accord, any person who can’t prove their ancestor’s presence in India before March 24 1971 will be deemed as an illegal immigrant.

The Assam Accord didn’t discriminate on the basis of religion and it ended the 6-year long agitation against illegal immigration in the state of Assam. However, the Citizenship Amendment Bill has tried to change the definition of illegal immigrants and excluded religious minorities from the illegal immigrant list.

Bengali Hindus who migrated from Bangladesh to India constitute a major chunk of illegal immigrants in Assam. According to the new bill however, they will no more be illegal immigrants and can be granted citizenship.

This has caused a lot of distress in Assam as it violates the Assam Accord.  Asom Gana Parishad, an NDA ally in the state has threatened to break ties if the bill is passed. This bill has caused communal divides in Assam to resurface which is not good for the growth of the Northeast.

The Intention Of The Bill

The bill looks to provide a safe home to prosecuted refugees in neighboring countries of India. Many religious minorities in neighboring countries have to face a lot of discrimination and violence due to their identity. The want to provide a safe shelter to them can be understood.

The problem arises when the government ignores Muslim religious minorities like Shias and Ahmadiyyas. Muslim minorities also face a lot of discrimination on the basis of religion. This can raise a question on the intention of the government behind the bill. The ideological leanings can also be seen through this bill. This bill promotes a hardline approach to the problem rather than a humanitarian one.

What Happens To The NRC?

National Register of Citizens is a register containing names of every genuine Indian citizen. It is currently being updated in Assam. The NRC is being updated to identify illegal immigrants and send them back to their country of origin. But this bill changes the scenario now, as the definition of illegal immigrants changes.

Photo: Himanshu Saikia via Facebook.

Bengali Hindus who were declared illegal immigrants by the NRC are now legal by the current clauses of the bill. This nullifies the process of NRC and seriously affects the demographic of the region. This bill does not clear the plan and leaves the future of people undecided.

Confusion regarding the NRC can prove fatal for the process as it is coming to an end. This bill can undo a lot of hard work and can destroy the hopes of the people of Assam. The dilemma has been caused due to this process and what lies ahead is still a big question mark for the people of Assam.

Problems Of The Barak Valley

The two of the most important valleys of Assam, the Brahmaputra valley and Barak valley have always witnessed tensions. Barak Valley has a concentrated population of Bengali refugees and Brahmaputra valley has a population of indigenous Assamese people.

People in the Barak Valley complain that they have been termed infiltrators wrongly. People here are in favor of the bill and want it passed which will make them a citizen of the country. Assam people are afraid that opening the floodgates for refugees will destroy their culture and make them a minority.

The bill has brought back tensions between these two valleys and it will be important that things are resolved as soon as possible. People in Barak Valley are unsure of their future and where they will they go if they are termed an illegal immigrant.

The scene in the Brahmaputra Valley is different as they protest against the bill. All Assam Students Union, a strong student body which led the 6-year agitation in the 1980s and was instrumental in the legislation of Assam Accord says that the agreement is final and there will be no further talk on this issue. They claim that that they don’t want the state to become a dumping ground for foreigners.

What Lies Ahead

The road ahead for the BJP is difficult as pressure builds on them. Allies like AGP have already voiced their concern. Sarbananda Sonowal, CM of Assam who also comes from AASU is in a tough position. Going against the bill puts him against the party line.

Protests have continued in the Northeast and it will be interesting to see how the BJP responds to this. As our country has followed a set of liberal traditions when it comes to refugees, people prosecuted in different countries can find shelter here without threatening the core principle of our civilization.

India has always accepted diverse groups of people and provided help when needed. But, discrimination on the basis of religion has never been a tradition of Indian society and it should not affect who we accept as a refugee.

Every person who wants to find a safe home for themselves can come to this country without the cultural fabric of the land being threatened, because the basic principle of our culture is acceptance.

India can prove to be a leader in the subject of humanity if it can rise above the religious division. No bill which discriminates on the basis of identity should be made into an act by the parliament. Our social fabric has always remained strong and will continue to remain so only if we understand, accept and respect the diversity we have.

On another note, the bill does not make it clear what level of charges will lead to the cancellation of the OCI cardholder registration.

Various other factors and strong resistance has caused a bumpy ride for the government to pass the bill. It now remains as an ideological promise of the ruling government.

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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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