TODAY -

The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 and the question of India’s North East
- Adding salt to wounds -

Takhelchangbam Phillip Sharma *

 11 hours general strike  against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016  in Imphal  :: 08th January 2019
General strike against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 in Imphal on 08th January 2019 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam



Difference in identities, cultures and traditions are what actually mark the difference between North Easterners and the mainland Indians. In fact the demographic composition of the North East region is totally different from the rest of India.

Enormous number of communities and tribes are present in the North East region but the total population accounted a significantly low percentage in the overall population of India.

The population of the whole North East region according to 2011 census is approximately 4.5 Cores. State like Uttar Pradesh has nearly 20 crores population. Bihar has roughly 10 crores population while Maharashtra has nearly 11.5 crores population according to 2011 census report.

Analysing these small data of population clearly speaks about how small the Northeast population as a whole is comparing to the rest of India. Due to many constraints the region has not been able to integrate fully in the mainstream domain.

The economic condition of the states are also in a bad shape and are living mostly on the grants given by government from time to time. Nonetheless, the difference that is there is always the first priority to protect.

It is justified by the fact of not being a part of India from the beginning or the way how these states have been incorporated into Indian Union. Nevertheless, things are not right from the start.

Leaving out the issue of secessionist movement in the region the identity crisis is another crucial problem faced by the people of the North East. The identity of various communities is under threat of extinction for quite a long time now.

The case of Tripura clearly sets an example to this. The indigenous Tripuri has already been a minority in their place of origin. The fear psychosis of the same has been visible in almost all the States of the North East.

Keeping this in light the States are in constant bargaining with the central government, making demands to safeguard the identities and to grant more rights. Mention may be made out that States have put up laws to check the influx of the immigrants (for instance the Assam Accord 1985, ILP in some States).

Amidst all these the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 comes as much of a shock as a surprise. Simply the Bill will allow the acquirement of Indian citizenship to non Muslims population from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who had come to India before 31st December 2014 (6 years stay mandatory).

More precisely the bill seeks to amend the citizenship Act of 1955 to favour granting of citizenship to minority Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who came to India due to religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

There are various aspects of the proposed bill to ponder upon in discussing the bill but the concern here is not to deal with all the aspects rather to see why people in the North Eastern region have a great apprehension of the bill.

A rather controversial aspect of the bill is that it conditioned the criteria of becoming citizenship solely on the basis of religion. Two days bandh against the proposed Bill rocked the North Eastern states on 8th and 9th January 2019.

Why the Bill needs to be opposed is because of the fact that the Bill is controversial in nature and clearly carries the ambition of extracting political gain out of it.

Secondly, the Bill is discriminatory. The Bill might not have a major impact in the demographic set up of the mainland population but the Bill will be very detrimental to the question of the North East identity as a whole.

Simply in layman term the Bill will upset the demographic composition of the entire North Eastern States. Beyond the identity question there is a big shadow of employment crisis looming large underneath the proposed Bill. As job crisis has already been a problem, the additional injection of more people will be like adding fuel to fire.

It won’t be wrong to interpret that this Bill is a clear attempt to wipe out indigenous communities from its own place of existence. This is a serious moment and also a high time for all the pressure groups and CSOs to intervene seriously. More importantly political parties should abandon thinking about political gain and should start acting on the real interest of the people.


* Takhelchangbam Phillip Sharma wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a Research Scholar in Jawarharlal Nehru University, Delhi and can be reached at phillipdats(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on January 12, 2019.



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