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Posted by Rohan

The North-Eastern people are protesting vehemently and in no way are ready to compromise on the issue of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016.

In order to know the reasons why, we have to learn what the bill is all about and what the history of migration in the north-eastern region has been like.

Let’s begin with talking about the bill first.

The aforementioned bill is designed to bring changes to the existing Citizenship Act of 1955. It suggests that all the people who are illegal immigrants but are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Jains, and Buddhists from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, are automatically eligible for citizenship.

Under this amendment, the wait time for citizenship by naturalisation is also reduced. As of now it is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for the 11 of the previous 14 years. The bill reduces the time to 6 years for the people from the religions and the countries mentioned above.

This has immediately raised a huge concern for the states of India in the North-East because all the North-Eastern states either share the border or are in close proximity to the country of Bangladesh, the country from where most of the immigration to India, illegal or otherwise, has happened. The initial big waves of immigration started to happen during the partition period. At that time there was not much of unrest as people empathised with the immigrants as they were seen as victims of the partition.

Also read: 5 Prominent Indigenous People’s Movements That Hit Back At The State

But the immigration didn’t slow down. Years on, due to the lack of properly sealed and strictly guarded borders, the people kept on coming from Bangladesh, with the hope of a better life in India. This alarming rise in the number of immigrants became a big concern for the indigenous people of the North-East. For this reason, many of the different tribal regions solidified their position by making laws that restricted the outsiders or any non-tribals from buying land or staying in their land indefinitely. But the plains of Assam remained an open space as historically they have always been melting pots. In Tripura, the indigenous Tripuri people lost their numerical majority to the larger numbers of the Bengalis. But still could solidify a compromised position with the TTAADC or The Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council.

The Citizenship Bill talks about giving citizenship to even the recently arrived citizens which is in violation of the Assam Accord.

The most pivotal moment in the history of this issue was the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985. This happened after six years of agitation and protests in the state. The people of Assam, led by the All Assam Students’ Union, demanded the identification and deportation of the illegal immigrants. This accord was an agreement between the central government of India and the students’ union. The NRC update exercise that started last year was conducted in line with the Assam Accord. The NRC or
National Register of Citizens was prepared after the first census of India was taken in 1951.

Last year, the update for the NRC began for only Assam. All the residents had to submit proof that their families were residing here (in Assam) before the date 24th March, 1971. This date was decided because the people who came from Bangladesh between January 1, 1966 and March 24, 1971, registered themselves with Foreigner Regional Registration Office and were declared by the Foreigner Tribunal as Indian citizens.

So the purpose of it all was that, once the NRC exercise would be done all the people who turn out to be verified illegal immigrants be deported back. But then the passing of the Citizenship Bill brought all the problem.

The Citizenship Bill talks about giving citizenship to even the recently arrived citizens. But this is in violation of the Assam Accord where the cut-off date is, as mentioned already, 24th March, 1971. This gives legitimacy to more immigrants, so the more people to accommodate.

Secondly, the bill talks about safeguarding the ‘Hindu Bangladeshis’ and not the ‘Muslim Bangladeshis’. The Assam Accord wanted the identification and deportation of foreigners to be done irrespective of religion. Also it is seen as a violation of the secular principle of the Indian Constitution. There are communities like the Ahmadiya Muslims and the Shia Muslims who are victims of violent discrimination in the three countries mentioned in the initial part of this article. The bill should have definitely had a space for them but it doesn’t. Also it doesn’t take into account atheists, agnostics, and other micro demographic segments. Hence this bill is dubbed as absolutely ill formed and unconstitutional.

The bill talks about safeguarding the ‘Hindu Bangladeshis’ and not the ‘Muslim Bangladeshis’.

The third point is the one that is most controversial and is stirring up most of the unrest and mistrust with the government. Some politicians say that no new immigrants will be given citizenship but only to them will it be granted who came here before December 31st, 2014. But the greater word is that the turning of this bill into a law will allow all religious minorities currently residing in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh to enter India. The ruling BJP leaders at both the central and the state level are neither denying nor accepting this statement. Instead they are coming up with other laws to divert and distract the people’s attention.

The Assam government is ‘getting ready’ to grant ST status to six communities, which had been long pending, only now. In Meghalaya, the state chief minister has registered his opposition to the matter and has said that if the bill is not scrapped or if Meghalaya is not exempted from it, they will be breaking their alliance with the NDA government. The same is the case with other NE states too, except for Assam and Tripura.

In Assam, the main party at power is BJP and the chief minister is from BJP. They are instead more actively engaged in making the bill a reality. This is seen as betrayal by the people of Assam, especially the indigenous people of Assam. Assam already has a large population of Bengalis. If more Bengalis happen to come in they will be become the largest linguistic group in Assam and it will likely bring an end to the cultural and socio-political presence of the Assamese society in the Brahmaputra valley.

Also read: The Assam Registry And India’s Pursuit Of The Hindu Rashtra

The Barak valley has already acquired a Bengali character. In Tripura, except for the autonomous district, the Tripuris have lost all major seats of power. Even on protesting the police are behaving very violently with the indigenous people. The chief ministers are almost always Bengali. If more are to come in, the indigenous Tripuris will be further relegated to the side-lines. So the most they fear above everything is getting out numbered as it can have consequences. Sudden increase in population will put serious pressure on land and other resources.


Rohan is a resident of Assam and is currently studying Linguistics at the University of Delhi. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Featured Image Source: The Pioneer

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