Assam is leading North East's rage against Citizenship Amendment Bill: Decoding the contentious proposed amendment

What is the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016?

Other things remaining same, anyone who was in India as on 26 November, 1949, automatically become Indian citizens. The other modes of acquiring Indian citizenship are:

  1. By birth (any person born in India on or after 26 January 1950)
  2. Citizenship by descent (any person born outside India to Indian parents on or after 26 January, 1950)
  3. Citizenship by registration (by application)
  4. Citizenship by naturalization (any foreigner who has continuously resided in India for at least 12 years)

Indian citizenship is governed by the Citizenship Act 1955, which has been amended several times in the past—in 1986, 1992, 2003, 2005 and 2015. Another amendment is being proposed now—viz. Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 (CAB)—which is the cause of the present unrest in the northeastern states.

Assam is leading North Easts rage against Citizenship Amendment Bill: Decoding the contentious proposed amendment

College students block National Highway 37 in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, in Dibrugarh on Saturday. PTI

This Bill seeks to grant Indian citizenship by naturalization to people of six religions (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians) from three countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan) if they have been residing in India for at least 12 months immediately preceding the application for citizenship and for six of the 14 years preceding the 12-month period.

At present, a foreigner has to continuously reside in India for 11 of the 14 years preceding the 12-month period to apply for citizenship. So basically, the Bill seeks to relax the 11-year requirement to six years for people of these six religions from three countries.

Moreover, these people from six religions from three countries have been offered immunity from being imprisoned or deported under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, the two main laws under which foreigners are declared illegal, if they were present in India on or before 31 December, 2014.

Why is it creating so much of problem in the North East?

The North East states have a lot of bitter legacy issues with illegal immigration from Bangladesh. With many of the hilly states having a very thin density of population, an exodus of immigrants from Bangladesh would alter and upset the delicate demographics. As a result, the entire indigenous people of North East have come together and taken a stand against this bill.

Tripura is one standout example of how the indigenous people have been rendered a small minority in their own land due to the incessant mass migration of immigrants from Bangladesh. The polity, society, culture and economy is now totally dominated by these migrants.

Why is there trouble in Assam?

In Assam, the demography of the Bangladesh-bordering districts, western Assam and certain other areas have changed significantly since Independence and Partition. The mass migration has come in several waves and continues according to various reports. While Hindu Bangladeshis have migrated to Assam mainly due to fears of religious persecution, Muslim Bangladeshis have migrated mainly due to economic reasons and to carve out living space.

Because of the growing threat of becoming a minority in their own land, there was a six-year-long mass movement in Assam led by the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) against the foreigners from 1979 which resulted in the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985. The AASU agreed to the cut-off year of 1971 to determine who is a foreigner and who is not. It has also resulted in a dichotomy in Indian citizenship laws in India. So the passing of the CAB would a key clause of the Accord. It will also violate the critical understanding that foreigners are foreigners irrespective of the religion they belong to.

The CAB further relaxes the definition of the foreigners from six religions from the three countries while also legalizing their status from ‘illegals’.

What is the status of the Bill now?

For a bill to become a law or an act, it has to be passed by both Houses of Parliament. While the Lok Sabha has already passed it, the Rajya Sabha is expected to take up the Bill when it meets again for 10 days on 31 January, 2019.

What are the political implications?

Key BJP allies in Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram have strongly protested against the CAB while some BJP ruling party members have criticised the Bill in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.

What lies ahead?

With the North East putting up a strong united stand in an unprecedented manner, new regional political forces will be unleashed. If pushed ahead, there is a strong chance that the Bill will be seen as a trampling down of rights in the face of vociferous protests of the sons of the soil.

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Updated Date: Jan 14, 2019 09:48:51 IST

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