To those unaware, the Citizenship Amendment Bill (2016) amends the Citizenship Act (1955) to offer Indian citizenship eligibility to the ‘illegal’ migrants belonging to six non-Muslim communities – the Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis, and the Buddhists from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. As outrageous as it may sound, the CAB, 2016, further relaxes the citizenship eligibility criterion by bringing down the number of years required to reside within Indian territory from 11 to just 6 years!
Now for those who are still unbothered, know that it affects not only Assam or the North-Eastern states but all of India. The culture of silence is such a dominant norm of society today, that even those who are educated and aware of the demographic impact of the bill, are indifferent to the matter, and unfortunately, even fewer are putting any genuine effort into understanding the bill. There are countless logically sound reasons that can be put forth to refute the bill in its entirety.
The bill is wrongful and discriminatory to the religious sentiments of the people. In particular, to those religious communities who have been excluded from the eligibility criteria such as the Muslims. This is the kind of vote-bank politics whose aftermath is always disastrous. With anything like this evil abomination in effect, there will only be chaos and never-ending riots.
If this takes the reader (even for a slight second), back to 1979, then I would be grateful if you remember the sacrifice of the 855 young Assamese (mostly students) in a movement that lasted 6 tragic years.
For those who have never heard of the Assam Agitation or the Assam Movement (1979-85), it was initiated by the All Assam Students Union and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad to urge the then government to expel the settlers from Bangladesh and to prevent further infiltration.
The Assam Accord was signed on September 15, 1985, to provide for constitutional, legislative, administrative safeguards in order to protect, preserve, promote the social, linguistic, and cultural heritage of the Assamese people. The CAB, 2016, is therefore humiliating and disrespectful to the sacrifices and to the Accord itself, signed in the presence of then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
When we talk about Assam specifically, the people have always been united under the linguistic banner and not under religious ones. What makes us Assamese is our dialect, our language, and not our religion. We share something sacred, when we identify ourselves with this identity, wherever in the world we might be.
While some parts of the country are still fighting in the name of religious atrocities, we do not let religion become an issue of contestation. However, the government with its pathetic and disgusting vote-bank politics has instigated communal conflicts in not just Assam but the whole of North-East. If the bill sees the light of day, then there will never be peace in the North-Eastern states, and this part of the country will then be declared disturbed just like Kashmir.
I’ll try to explain this by pointing out the fate of the indigenous people of the neighboring state of Tripura, where the influx of immigrants from Bangladesh in the post-1971 era has quite nearly wiped out the local culture from the face of the Earth. The tragic part is that these locals, the indigenous Tripuri communities have started to feel the need to demand a separate state after having been reduced to marginalized sections in the ‘once their own’ state of Tripura.
Assam faces a similar threat, as statistics show how the native Assamese have been reduced to 48.38% out of the total population in the state (and this is of 2011 which means that a more recent record would make it worse). Obviously, this counts for emigration too, but this is drastic considering the fact until 1991, the percentage of natives was 57.81 (which is still very low).
This is happening because post-1971, there has been an unprecedented rise of immigrants, which was the primary reason for Assam Agitation of 1979. Despite all facts, the government is still ignorant of the terrible state of affairs this bill holds for the North-East in future, as they only care about winning the forthcoming elections. I feel uncomfortable to even bring up the disturbing history of Barak Valley. An ignorant eye has always been turned towards these conflicts, despite all the bloodshed.
Lastly, our constitution states that citizenship is based upon birthright and blood. It has no mention of basing citizenship on religious identity. As it is clearly unconstitutional, it can be easily discarded through a challenge in the Supreme Court. But, crooked as this or any government is, they will either find a way to pass the bill through Article 123 which gives the President power to issue an ordinance to bring into effect any legislative bill when both Houses of Parliament are not in session, or else bring about more amendments and bills to torment the people of North-East.
The reason why we are raising our voice is so that the ruling power whoever it might be does not go about toying with our emotions as and when they please. If we let this go about in silence, then it will be a huge setback to the very ideals of democracy we take pride in.
Does it lie with the poor electoral choices we make as individuals? To illustrate the bigger picture here, the core issue is with our upbringing in a society that prohibits us from raising our voice even in the world’s largest democracy. With the kind of rulers we have in power at the present day, there won’t be much left of democracy and civility if we continue to uphold this culture of silence.
The problem, therefore, lies with this ignorance and indifference about everything, even if that means not standing up for the rights of one’s own. Today, the North-East faces this crisis, but this silence will encourage those in power to bring about new immoral laws to another part of the country, and so on.
Furthermore, the unfortunate part is that this bill has received support from parts of the country. Most haven’t even understood what this bill means for us or for them. They cannot grasp the ground reality and are showing support based on a linguistic or religious divide.
It is beyond tragic to see the degree of conflict arising between some Bengalis and some Assamese. What needs to be understood by everyone – those opposing as well as supporting the bill – is that the countrywide protests opposing the bill are directed towards the ‘illegal’ immigrants from outside India and not against fellow Indian citizens.
One simple thing needs to be understood above all, that is, whether you are a Bengali or an Assamese, a Hindu or a Muslim, you are an Indian regardless. As citizens of this country, and as those even slightly concerned of their constitutional safeguards, we must stand together against ‘legalization’ of ‘illegal’ occupancy in our homeland, and we must unite now more than ever, in order to preserve whatever remains of our cultural heritage.
So, what can be done? One can read about the bill in detail and research the facts, if the reader under any circumstance does not believe a word I’ve written, or if one desires to know more about the forever neglected voices. Thus, foremost is to understand and feel the emotional trauma that we and our fellow North-Easterners are going through.
Read about the protests and disturbance across the North-East that is left untouched by the national media coverage, still happening as I finish this sentence. Tweet to the national media publications to open their eyes to the farthest corners of this country, write, sing, compose to spread the word.
If you are unable to march alongside your fellow Assamese and North-Easterners in protests and gatherings, then share on social media whatever you feel is right, at least to let the country know what’s happening away from the center in Delhi.
And lastly to those Assamese who still cannot fathom what awaits us, remember you have a job now, a home; but soon you may not even have a bed to sleep on!