The Citizenship Amendment Bill was proposed in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016, amending the Citizenship Act of 1955. If this Bill is passed in Parliament, illegal migrants from certain minority communities coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan will be eligible for Indian citizenship. Not just that, the illegality is tolerated if you are a Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian religious community but not if you are a Muslim. While the country has witnessed religion and caste politics before, and increasingly in the recent past, is this not a blatant violation of the secular republic that India is? Is this not straining the nerves of the citizens to a breaking point?
Moreover, these so-called migrants gain permanent citizenship after 6 years of residency in India instead of 11 years - as was mentioned in the Citizenship Act (1955).
In the Citizenship Act of 1995 there are 5 prescribed ways of acquiring citizenship: by birth, by descent, be registration, by naturalization or by incorporation of the territory. Why then is the government mandating a change now on the basis of religion much against the wish of not just the severely affected state of Assam but the sentiments of larger Indian population.
Is India buying votes from its neighbouring countries?
Gathering our inputs from several sources, we tried to demystify the several issues that have been boiling for as long as India gained its independence. Like poverty, like unemployment, why has no government been able to address the issue of administration either? And with the NRC still not finalized and seems increasingly unending and undoable with the debacle of leaving out 40 lakh people in 2018, with the Assam Accord not honoured despite the long war that the citizens of Assam waged and with the Citizenship bill being threatened by unacceptable amendments, where does Assam stand with any sense of security.
To garner a well-rounded opinion, we spoke to the students at JNU and Dr. Kaustubh Deka, professor of political science at Dibrugarh University, as well as representative of the Liberal Democratic Party of Assam to understand the entire decomposing and crumbling state of affairs.
Guna Gogoi, member of the LDP, explains, 'NRC is a very important document for the people of Assam. Way back in 1979 a movement was started by All Assam Students Union (AASU) and Asom Gana Sangram Parishad (AGSP) when they found that a lot of illegal foreigners were included on the electoral list right after the by-elections. The sudden death of the sitting MP, Hiralal Patwari, in 1978 necessitated by-elections in the Mangaldoi constituency. Student unions demanded the rechecking of the electoral rolls for suspected migrants. Their suspicions were confirmed in other places as well and the Assam agitation begun demanding detection, deletion of names from the electoral list and deportation to Bangladesh of the illegal migrants. This agitation continued for 6 years and about 855 people lost their lives during the agitation. Eventually, in 1985 on the 15nth of August, Assam Accord was signed between central government on one hand and ASSU and AGSP on the other. It was agreed upon as part of the accord that 1971 will be taken as the base year for confirming citizenship. Whoever had migrated to India before 1966 would be granted citizenship, but those that entered between 1966 to 1971 will need to apply for citizenship if they were to be naturalized in the state of India.'
These agreed clauses of the Assam Accord were to be fulfilled by the successive governments but no government, till date, exhibited any particular interest in implementing the accord in its essence. Consequently, the agitation and the resentment continued till the BJP government, before coming to power in the 2014 election campaign, while addressing the people of Barrack valley (predominantly Bengali speaking population) promised citizenship to illegal Hindu immigrants of Bangladesh. At the same time, BJP took a different stand for the Brahmaputra valley. They promised to secure Assam's 'Jati Mati Bheti', that is, Assam's identity, land, and culture and while saying so in 2016, they introduced the amendment bill to the contrary.
Assam agitated since 1951
Assam, therefore, has been at unrest since Indian independence and even today the people of Assam are agitating against the bill as this nullifies the Assam Accord and it grants citizenship on the basis of religion - a new practice seeing no precedent anywhere in India, and in principle, violates the constitution.
The indigenous people of Assam fear being outnumbered by this unending infiltration of non-Assamese speaking population that dilutes the only criteria that Assam has for its citizens and not religion, and hence religion-based naturalisation is not even a practical solution for Assam while being unacceptable on ethical grounds.
It opens a Pandora's box of questions that government is evading, such as, what happens to those left out of the NRC list? Are they deported or would they continue to live in a stateless manner? Why is the BJP-led government pushing for it now? What is Congress' stand on the whole issue? If this is an electoral gimmick, what about the Muslim vote in the rest of the country? Watch our next episode of 'What's Ailing Assam' as we attempt to answer some of these questions.