Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019
The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 is legislation which will amend the Citizenship Act of 1955. It proposes granting Indian citizenship to the persecuted minorities, such as Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis fleeing Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The legislation seeks to make it easier for non-Muslim refugees and illegal immigrants from the 3 Islamic majority nations, to gain Indian citizenship. It applies to groups who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014. A large section in the North-East is opposing the bill.
Under The Citizenship Act, 1955, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, as well as for 11 of the previous 14 years. The amendment relaxes the second requirement from 11 years to 6 years, as a specific condition, for applicants belonging to these six religions, and the three countries above.
This was a political promise made by BJP before the 2014 elections to grant citizenship to the refugees. These are stateless people who were persecuted in these three countries. In the northwestern part, it includes people in the states like Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and other part is in the NE. People who had come from erstwhile East Pakistan, and Bangladesh; Bengali Hindus who faced persecution after the creation of Bangladesh. These people are either on long term visas or just settled as illegal immigrants. The problematic part of the latest bill is that it is based on religion.
The media reports consistently portray this bill as one that will give citizenship to only non-muslims. They have gone by definition of minority, mainly non-muslim minority, in those three nations, but not included Muslim minorities like Ahmadis in Pakistan. Article 14 states that “all should be treated equally alike “. In India, we don’t have a refugee law. A procedure based on inputs of security agencies is used. I will not comment on whether it violates the constitution or not; it is the Supreme Court who will decide.
It was not necessary to bring it in at this time. It makes us question the government; was the NRC experiment a failure? NRC and CAB are related; NRC is the process of excluding citizens on the basis of their legacy data. The cut-off date for CAB is December 31, 2014.
Let’s take an example:
A Bangladeshi Hindu family, who had fled Bangladesh and couldn’t prove that they had fled before March 25, 1971. They now get a chance to apply for citizenship.
This issue is a crucial and emotional issue as West Bengal goes to polls in 2021. It has created fear among the people of Assam, Tripura etc. as people settling down post-partition, because of violence in East-Pakistan, in Tripura, outnumbered the indigenous community. Also, the KOKBOROK of a local language is gone now. Did you Know? The parents of the incumbent CM of Tripura, Shri Biplab Deb, had migrated to India as refugees in 1967?
The communities in the North-east vary between thousand and lakhs. Some tribals have ethnic fears. It is a very explosive issue. It needs to be handled with great care in the NE.
There is a political incentive in this whole issue, and perhaps a particular vote bank is being catered to.
Assam is now witnessing massive protests over NRC and CAB, since the Assam movement in the 1980s, when even I was not born. That was the peak of the Assam movement. We never saw mass mobilisation like that since 1982 — disturbances across Brahmaputra valley of Assam, from Dibrugarh to Bongaigaon. The army sent to many places in Tripura and Assam to tackle troubles.
Assam has the most mixed population, divided into linguistic, ethnic and religious lines. This population is split among Bengali speakers, Assamese speakers and Bodos (Tribals). Then we have a religious split 61% Hindus and 34% Muslims. The problem in Assam arises as a fundamental contradiction between the RSS-BJP construct of the foreigner’s issue, and the Assam movement construct of the foreigner’s point.
The Assam movement was against Bengalis who came from East-Pakistan. They said that they distort our ethnicity, culture and power. There was no distinction between Hindus and Muslims infiltrators. For Assamese people, the concern is about what is “indigeneous” and “non-indigeneous”. Once the government allows this bill, the Assamese fear that foreigners will now move to the Brahmaputra valley because the tribal areas of Assam and other NE states are protected by ILP and 6th schedule. It takes their political power in the region, and this is finally, the complete negation of what they have said during the Assam movement.
In my opinion, the main motive of the BJP government is to cater votes from Bengali Hindus in both West Bengal and Assam. It will put the entire North- East under restrictions and protections similar to that of Jammu & Kashmir. The 5 Cr. Population of NE will now be in quarantine, of which 3.6 Cr. is in Assam.
Having spent the one and a half year here, I have tasted the culture of Assam. I was not born here, but now, I have experienced the true essence of Assam. I can’t imagine; how can you amend the law only by sitting there in Delhi without knowing the right ground report?
The government should ask the other states, which are in a better situation, to handle the illegal immigrants. They should not indulge in any violence against the Assamese, as they are the social capital, and are fighting democratically for their rights. The problem must be solved through dialogue as soon as possible.
Another aspect is that Clause 6 of the Assam Accord should have been implemented first, then we should have accepted the CAB.
Clause 6 of the accord talks about providing constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people. It reads: ‘Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.’
“Joi Aai Axom(Glory to the Mother Assam)”