TODAY -

CAA-NRC collision
- The People's Chronicle Editorial :: March 14, 2024 -



IF not for the 'exemption clause' inserted in Section 6B (4) of the principal Act, the roll out of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) from last Monday (March 11) would have led to a series of renewed protests in Manipur and other parts of northeastern region.

When the Act, which amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 to allow grant of Indian citizenship to religious minorities including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jain, Parsis and Christians, who fled from neighbouring Muslim-dominated countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan due to religious persecution, was introduced and passed by the Indian Parliament in 2019, there was widespread protest in the northeastern states as people in this region feel influx of naturalised citizens regardless of their faith would pose threat to the survival-of indigenous population.

However, insertion of the 'exemption clause' in Section 6B (4) which stated, "Nothing in this section shall apply to tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and the area covered under The Inner Line notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873," in the rules and regulations notified by the government of India to pave way for implementation of the controversial legislation has prevented widespread protest in the region this time with the exception of Assam.

Even though northeastern states like Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur, where Inner Line Permit is required for a visit by people from other parts of the country as well as most tribal inhabited areas in the region including Garo Hills in Meghalaya, tribal areas in Tripura and Karbi-Anglong, Dima Hasao and Bodoland Territorial Council areas in Assam, which are governed by autonomous councils created under the Sixth Schedule of Indian Constitution, would be out of the purview of CAA now; opposition to the legislation is still strong in Assam as a large section of the people still feel the threat to the demographic and cultural identity of the state is yet to be addressed. And, there is some valid reason for this.

Apart from its long and violent history of agitations against immigrants from Bangladesh that finally led to signing of the Assam Accord in 1985, Assam is a unique state in the country, where National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercises had been conducted twice, first in 1951, and then in 2019, the same year CAA was passed by the Parliament and given assent by the President.

The purpose of conducting NRC for the second time under Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the rules framed in the Assam Accord following a directive of the Supreme Court was to identify illegal immigrants in the state who migrated from Bangladesh after March 24, 1971, following the war with Pakistan and subsequent waves of immigration driven by economic opportunities and not necessarily due to religious persecutions.

Leaving aside the question of whether the process of updating NRC carried out with close monitoring by a two-judge bench, comprising then CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton Nariman, had achieved the intended objective of preparing a valid and error-free NRC or not as a CAG report had later pointed out large-scale anomalies; it's an undeniable fact that CAA has not only rendered the whole NRC exercise meaningless but also diluted the Assam Accord by making December 31, 2014 as the cut-off date for granting Indian citizenship to religious minorities including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, jain, Parsis and Christians, who fled from neighbouring Muslim-dominated countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan due to religious persecution. Does this mean all the 19.6 lakh people including five to seven lakh Bengali-speaking Hindus and 60,000 Assamese-speaking Hindus, who were left out of the NRC exercise as they could not prove their Indian citizenship would now be eligible to apply for citizenship?

If that is so, then, how ridiculous it would be to see the same people who were running from pillar to post in trying to procure documents to prove their citizenship to the country, now running again to prove themselves as citizens of Pakistan or Bangladesh or Afghanistan.

This would surely be the height of absurdity behind pushing for what the BJP-led government at the centre describes as a "benign piece of legislation" just before the upcoming Parliamentary election all in the name of fulfilling its commitment despite knowing well that it is at odds with the spirit of secularism and rights to equality.



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