Why CAB, 2016, is controversial and being opposed in the North East

Somorendro Khwairakpam *

 Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 : Protest at Khwairamband Keithel, Imphal  :: 03rd October 2019
Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 Protest at Khwairamband Keithel on 3 October 2019 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

While updation of the NRC in Assam was very necessary after the 1951 preparation and while the same work was still very much necessary as per terms of the Assam Accord of 1985 between the Government of India on one side and the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangraam Parishad (AAGSP) on the other hand , which ended the six years long mass movement in the state demanding detection and deportation of illegal immigrants, and while Assam and the other states in the North East region started to raise Foreigners Issue , the Government of India had even gone on parallel to the ongoing demands of the indigenous communities of the region by amending The Indian Citizenship Act of 1955, which also actually scares the people of the region, in 1986, 1992, 2003, 2005 and 2015 making it easier for some religious communities, particularly the Bengali Hindus and others, for getting citizenship in India.

Before the Fifth Amendment of the Citizenship Act of 1955 in 2015, the process of NRC updation in Assam started following an order of the Apex Court of the country in 2013 and since then the court has been closely monitoring. But, in the meanwhile the Government of India by attempting to further amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 in 2016 to make it much easier for illegal migrants to become citizens of the country and dumped into Assam in particular has indirectly threatened the survival of not only the Assamese but all the indigenous communities of the region in general though Assam is said to be most affected.

What is Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), 2016 ?

The Indian Citizenship Amendment Bill was introduced and proposed in the Lok Sabha by the Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh on 19 July 2016 amending the Citizenship Act of 1955.

o The bill grants residence and Citizenship to the illegal migrants belonging to the six religious communities, the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians excluding the Muslims coming from only the three countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
o According to the bill, these migrants who arrived in India on or before 31 December, 2014 cannot be deported or imprisoned.
o The bill also makes the required changes so that people can be made eligible for citizenship.
o The bill relaxes the requirement of residence in India from 11 years to 6 years for these migrants.
o The bill's provisions do not extend to illegal Muslim migrants as of now.

The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 further.

Citizenship Act, 1955

o The Act defines an illegal migrant as a person who enters India without a valid passport or stays in the country after the expiry of the visa permit.
o The Act prohibits illegal migrants from acquiring Indian Citizenship.
o The Act sets some qualification criterion for a person to become a naturalized citizen of the country.
o persons must have resided in India for the last 12 months immediately preceding the application for citizenship o persons must also be residing in India for 11 of the 14 years preceding the 12 month period.

Issues with the Bill Why the Bill is opposed particularly in the North East :

In protest against the bill and opposing the bill, the entire North East region has spelt series of movements though the states have different assertions or reasons to oppose but they have a very common point of reason whether to have got marginalized and extinct.

1. The provisions of the proposed bill apply to only six communities from only three countries.
2. The bill's provisions discriminate other Hindus or Communities of Indian origin in other countries.
3. The Bill raises serious questions over India's Secularism
4. The bill also seemingly violates Article-14 of the Constitution which guarantees equality to all persons, citizens and foreigners.
Differentiating between people along religious lines, especially when it comes to citizenship issues, would be in violation of the constitution.
5. The bill can be termed as "Communally-motivated-humanitarianism".
6. The bill fails to differentiate between migrants and refugees according to the UN definitions and fails to adhere to the provisions of the International migrants and refugees' laws and covenants.
7. The purpose of the introduction to the bill as stated by the Government, is to provide shelter to the vulnerable, religiously persecuted people whose fundamental human rights are put at risk.
But the Government has even failed to know what or who the persecuted people should be known as or termed as. 8. The bill also ignores the Hindus and the other five communities residing in other countries.
Their demands for seeking asylum or shelter in India have fallen on deaf ears.
9. The bill also violates a tenet of India's long standing refugee policy, which informs that refugees should return to their homeland, once the things turn normal again.
10. They are the concerns that the demography of the North East in particular will have changed with the influx of more migrants or refugees from the countries.
11. The bill also goes against the recently finalized updation process of Assam NRC.
12. The Bill, most importantly, undermines the Assam Accord which was signed to deport all the illegal migrants, majority being from Bangladesh, who entered Assam after 1971.

Assam Accord :

* It was signed in 1985 between GOI on one side and AASU and All Assam Gana Sangraam Parishad (AAGAP) on the other to end a six years long mass movement demanding detection and deportation of illegal immigrants.
* Migrants were mostly from Bangladesh, who threatened the culture, identity and economic future of the indigenous people of Assam.
* According to the Accord :-
o All those who entered Assam between 1951 and 1961 were to be given full citizenship including the right to vote.
o Those between 1961 and 1971 were to be denied voting rights for 10 years but would enloy all other rights of citizenship.
o Those who came after 1971 were to be deported under the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 1964.
Protests in the North East states in particular have shown common as well as some different reasons for opposing and to oppose the bill.

Assam versions:

As stated by Samujjal Bhattacharya, Chief Adviser of AASU, the state of Assam is to be most affected because while a large number of Bangladeshi Hindus have already illegally entered the state in the past several decades, more would come and seek to stay, in the process causing further damage to the state's demography and reduce the Assamese and other indigenous communities into a minority. The main ally of the NDA, the AGP has also shown their unhappiness and threatened to end their ties with the BJP. Everyone has said that the Assam Accord would be meaningless if the bill is passed.

The accord says all migrants or foreigners who entered the state after March, 1971 to be deported. Organisations of 30 Indigenous communities including the AASU and KMSS have been protesting across the state. The KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi even warned in a rally on 27 January, 2018 that Assam will secede from India if the bill is passed. Even the CM Sarbananda Sonowal stated that he might resign if the interest of Assam was not protected.

In Mizoram, on 23 January 2019, more then thirty thousand people responded to a call by students and NGOs because of the fear that the Budhist Chakmas might have been given citizenship by the passing of the bill. The Mizo Student Body, the MZZ has warned that if CAB is passed, it will affect the integrity of the Country.

The Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) Government decided to oppose the bill at any poll. The CM Conard Sangma had asked the then HM Rajnath Singh to reconsider the bill as it could prove Law & Order problems not only for Meghalaya but also for NE India.

In Nagaland, the Nagaland Tribes' Council (NTC) and NSF have opposed the bill as they see it as a threat to the political future of the NE Tribals.

Manipur has also protested fearing it would become the dumping ground of foreigners including the refugees. Four students were injured on 24 January, 2019, when they stormed the BJP MP Bhabananda's house at Imphal. The CM N. Biren Singh had requested the HM Amit Shah to keep Manipur out of the amendment bill.

In Tripura, at least fifty persons were injured during a 12 hours shutdown jointly called by three Tribal parties against the bill and the Tripura Indigenous Tribal Parties Forum (TITPF) has warned to launch several agitations. The Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) had considered to end ties with the BJP because of the bill.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the GOI had already relocated the Budhist Chakmas being anxious to avoid conflicts between the Mizos and the Chakmas. There lies still a fear about the possibility of having made the roughly 100,000 and so Chakmas , Tibetans and Hajongs as citizens in the state.

Concluding :

While the entire North East is being affected by the Citizenship Act, giving further concession of six years from 11 for residence is against the wish of the region and the amendment that also based on religion is also against the tenets of secularism. A system, therefore, of checking the powers of the Central Government in making Acts and Rules is required. CAB, 2016 has been meant to invite all the six communities.

Inviting and bothering about people from other countries and ignoring people at home or own citizens and others beyond the three countries are a total discrimination on the later. The GOI and the Political Parties in Delhi are therefore yet to think twice to stop marginalizing the North East people and to cause a permanent legislation for their self protection.

* Somorendro Khwairakpam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is the Author of the book, "The Indo-Manipuri Conflict and The Perspective on the Territorial Issue of Manipur" and can be reached at ceaoeastcon(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on November 19 2019.

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