Assam has been in the midst of turmoil throughout 2019 trying to figure out who is a citizen and who is not, all aimed to protect the rights of the indigenous, share scarce resources judiciously and preserve the identity and culture of the people who actually belong to the land.
From the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to the CAB again, the struggle has been unrelenting with the BJP trying to impose its brute majority for political reasons and many indigenous organisations representing various tribes uniting to firewall the national narrative and bulldozing the regional one.
After a failed attempted in January this year, although it easily crossed the obstacle in Lok Sabha but was not placed in the Rajya Sabha as the majority was an issue for the BJP in the Upper House, the bill is again set for a comeback in Parliament in Narendra Modi's second innings as prime minister. The Union Cabinet approved the bill including a few caveats on 4 December which weren't there before and it is to be placed in Lok Sabha on Monday, followed by its presentation to Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
North East erupts again
Soon after this announcement, many indigenous organisations were back on the streets across Assam demanding the immediate withdrawal of the bill. A meeting between All Assam Students' Union (AASU), Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP), Manipur People against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and student bodies of Nagaland with Union Home Minister Amit Shah in the presence of Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal did not fructify into any positivity as the groups were not convinced by the changes introduced in the new bill.
While leaders owing allegiance to the BJP or to the NDA as allies in the North East have expressed strong reservations against the bill, the BJP leaders in Assam, and those of its ally AGP, have completely chickened out in front of the central leadership of the national party. However, a Congress MLA in Assam, Rupjyoti Kurmi, went to the extent of opposing the CAB with a placard written in his own blood in the Assembly.
"Shah, this time, has differentiated on the basis of Immigrants (Expulsion From Assam) Act, 1950 between economic migrants and refugees. This, in fact, is the rationale of the present CAB. This differentiation has given a chance to both parties to present a strong case in the court of law if all it is challenged. However, there is a case going on over the extraordinary published in Gazette of India notification on 8 September, 2015 on which the present Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is based. Technically, the base itself is subjudice," said Supreme Court lawyer and convener, Prabajan Virodhi Mancha, Upamanyu Hazarika.
The extraordinary published in the Gazette of India says: "ln exercise of the powers conferred by section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 (34 of 1920), the Central Government hereby makes the following rules further to amend the Passport (Entry into India) Rules, 1950, namely:-
I. (I) These rules may be called the Passport (Entry into India) Amendment Rules, 2015.
(2) They shall come into force on the date of their publication in the Official Gazette.
2. In the Passport (Entry into India) Rules, 1950, in rule 4, in sub-rule (I), after clause (h), the following
clause shall be inserted, namely:-
"(ha) persons belonging to minority communities in Bangladesh and Pakistan, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who were compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution and entered into India on or before the 31 st December, 2014-
(i) without valid documents including passport or other travel documents; or
(ii) with valid documents including passport or other travel document and the validity of any of such documents has expired:
Provided that provision of this clause shall take effect from the date of publication of this notification in the Official Gazette."
It has been construed that those who will be granted citizenship via CAB are those who have either faced "religious persecution or fear of religious persecution" in their parent country. Although the notification talks about "Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians", it is the Bangladeshi Hindus who are residing in Assam without any valid documents who will benefit primarily.
How oppressed are the Hindu Bangladeshis in their country of origin?
In a report for the US Department of Justice, Bangladesh: Treatment of Religious Minorities in August 2016, it has been said: "Bangladesh’s Constitution declares secularism as a fundamental principle of the Constitution and Islam as an official state religion. The Constitution protects religious freedom and ensures equal status and equal rights in the practice of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and other religions. Human rights groups, however, have criticised the Bangladeshi government’s failure to adequately respond to incidents of social persecution, which has accentuated the problems that minorities face in the country. Past reports from 2013 and 2014 indicate that the government has failed to investigate or attempt to prevent acts of violence against minorities."
It will be a travesty of history to deny the oppression that Hindus faced in Bangladesh.
However, in the same report, another aspect is also given equal importance which is usually overlooked.
Article 2-A of the Constitution of Bangladesh "stipulates that '[t]he state religion of the Republic is Islam, but the State shall ensure equal status and equal right in the practice of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and other religions.]'"
There are obstacles but in the same report it has been mentioned that "the government is trying to implement a law that seeks to provide redress to Hindus who had their lands confiscated in the past".
In a piece in Dhaka Tribune, Farzana Mahmood writes, "The state does not practice religious hierarchy and Bangladesh is historically a society that does not place emphasis on distinctions, as evidenced by the caste system that dictates nearly every aspect of life for a Hindu in India."
In a Human Rights Watch report published this year called India Events of 2018 a damning observation on India's treatment of minorities was taken.
"Mob violence by extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling BJP against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year (2018) amid rumours that they traded or killed cows for beef," the report said.
There are issues of religious atrocities in the form of mob violence and forced conversions in India. In the same breath, it will be wrong to say that the government is sitting idle and doing nothing for its minority population. There is, in fact, a whole ministry that exists for the welfare of minorities in India.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs has its vision as "Empowering the minority communities and creating an enabling environment for strengthening the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious character of our nation." Its mission is "To improve the socio-economic conditions of the minority communities through affirmative action and inclusive development so that every citizen has equal opportunity to participate actively in building a vibrant nation. To facilitate an equitable share for minority communities in education, employment, economic activities and to ensure their upliftment."
Protect your own first
How much has either Bangladesh or Pakistan come forward to help Indian Muslims when India is going out of its way to rescue Hindus of foreign lands at the cost of hopes and aspirations of its bonafide citizens? Do we have enough resources to take the pressure of extra people?
In July this year, the United Nations Development Programme praised India's fight against extreme poverty. The agency said that in India "there were 271 million fewer people in poverty in 2016 than in 2006", but the war is far from over. Is it not the moral responsibility of the government to save its own first who have been languishing for the last 70 years?
North East Forum for Indigenous People (NEFIP) president Ningthouja Lancha believed that the CAB is a genocidal instrument which will put the entire North East on a suicidal course.
"It is the constitutional obligation of the government to understand the feelings and fulfil the aspirations of its own citizens. By its arrogance and dictatorial stance, the government is alienating the people of the North East. It is a historic opportunity for the Government of India to show its commitment towards the people of the North East by exempting the region from the CAB," Lancha told Firstpost.
He felt that there is no need for the government to step into matters internal to Bangladesh.
"Bangladesh has a population of 14 crore out of which 1.4 crore are Hindus constituting nearly 10 percent. There are 11 Hindu MPs in the Jatiya Sansad and there were two Hindu ministers in Khaleda Zia's Cabinet. Had there been so much atrocity and hatred why would have they been elected in the first place leave alone becoming ministers? Their population density is high with 1,133 people per square kilometre against 170 people per square kilometre in the North East. Why is the government seeking to ruin ours?" the NEFIP president asked.
"The number of people living in hand to mouth condition is already high in India. Why do we need more people? We don't need more people from Bangladesh. Why can't India prioritise to save its native indigenous people? CAB won't affect any other state in the country but only those in the North East. Its ethnicity will be wiped out. North East has always suffered from militancy, military in the form of human rights violations and now they are dumping something illegal. Our indigenous population are the refugees of the future. Implantation of foreign settlers should be stopped immediately," Lancha said.
There are other hosts of difficulties that have been pointed out. The foremost among them is identity.
"How is the government going to take the burden of identity? There is no proper method to identify that these particular set of Bangladeshis have been prosecuted. People will claim themselves to be religiously prosecuted. Where is the proof? The district magistrates or the deputy commissioners of districts in India are not equipped to verify who was actually prosecuted in Bangladesh. The rate of influx will only escalate," the NEFIP chief said.
In April this year, the Supreme Court expressed its ire to the Assam and Central governments for failing to trace 70,000 people who were officially declared as foreigners who went absconding and amalgamated with the local population of Assam.
Assam BJP spokesperson Rupam Goswami said Dhaka does not give the correct picture of what's happening to the Hindus in Bangladesh.
"The people we are referring to have come to India long back [although CAB proposes citizenship for religiously prosecuted minorities barring Muslims (read Hindu Bangladeshis) who are in India up to 31 December, 2014.] People living in Dhaka are all thriving, regardless of their religion. It is in rural Bangladesh that the Hindus are facing atrocities. It is our commitment to rescue those people and it was mentioned in our manifesto. It is the independence of their country that they could not enjoy but had to flee. They are not more than four or five lakh," said Goswami.
When the Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed between prime minister Indira Gandi and her Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 19 March 1972, the estimated Hindu Bangladeshi refugee in India was estimated to be 90 lakh. It is strange that the BJP drastically brought down the figure to five lakh although the party has no scientific explanation for making such an outrageous claim.
"In districts like Darrang, Bongaigaon, Nagaon, Morigaon etc, the Hindu population has decreased but the Bengali-speaking population has increased," the BJP spokesperson said.
What the BJP leader implied is that the population of Bangladeshi Muslims has gone up in these areas which is essentially true. Where the party is silent that is its proposed solution of granting citizenship to illegal Hindu migrants to counter the explosion of the Muslim population. This at the cost of Assamese language and culture that is already facing a threat of extinction.
Local integration can't be at the cost of locals
In his essay The local integration and local settlement of refugees: a conceptual and historical analysis, Jeff Crisp points out how nations across the globe are preferring voluntary repatriation as “the most preferred solution” which has been prompted by other considerations. Some of these considerations include:
• increased concern about the negative economic and environmental impact of large-scale refugee populations in countries which are struggling to meet the needs of their own citizens;
• a belief that exiled populations represent a threat to local, national and regional security, especially in situations where bona fide refugees are mixed with armed elements;
• an increasingly restrictive asylum climate, associated with a fear that states are losing their ability to control the movement of people across international borders.
He further says, "As a result of the factors identified above, countries in many parts of the world have become increasingly reluctant to admit large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers. And they are generally disinclined to take any action — such as promoting local integration or local settlement — which might imply the permanent or long-term presence of such people on their territory."
The above considerations make it absolutely clear that the Government of India is ignoring these real threats to the country in its zeal to welcome foreigners as citizens. Whether Hindu or Muslim, admitting more people to the country (read North East) despite protests from citizens is a classic example where the very ethos of a democratic State has been crushed by the world's largest democracy.
Is Greater Bangladesh a clandestine threat in the making?
There is no doubt that Muslim-dominated districts in lower Assam are fast becoming fertile ground for the harbouring of terror. The November arrests of three Islamic State-motivated youths — who planned large-scale violence in Delhi and Assam — only indicates this.
"The population expansion among Hindus is low while it is exploding among Muslims. This high growth of population among Muslims is a direct threat to security as well," says Assam BJP spokesperson Rupam Goswami.
Some sections believe that these incidents including previous ones are part of an evil design to form a Greater Bangladesh by causing systematic and massive demographic change.
It is not clear whether the CAB is an attempt to thwart this design where most of the people approached preferred to remain mum rather than tread in such choppy waters.
Exempting Inner Line Permit areas under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution means nothing
Amit Shah's biggest comfort to all the protesting groups in the North East against CAB is the introduction of the exemption of Inner Line Permit (ILP) areas and areas under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution from the proposed law. These changes only met with more anger from the protesting groups against the government.
According to GK Today, the inner line permit (ILP) system is required by Indian citizens to enter Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram and is issued under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, by the state governments. It is an official travel document issued by the Government of India to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected/restricted area for a limited period.
Article 244(2) provides: “The provisions of the Sixth Schedule shall apply to the administration of the tribal areas in the State of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.” The Karbi Anglong District Council in Assam was formed on 17 November 1951 and the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (earlier known as Karbi Anglong District Council) was constituted on 23 June, 1952 under Article 244(2) read with the Sixth Scheduled to the Constitution of India. The Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council covers the entire area of the Karbi Anglong district of Assam having an area of 10.434 square kilometre with a population of 9,65, 280 (as per 2011 Census).
The Dima Hasao district, which was earlier known as North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council with an area of 4,890 square kilometres, which is 6.24 percent of the total area of the state with a total population of 2,13,529 (as per the 2011 Census), is another area that falls under the Sixth Schedule. The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) which has legislative, administrative, executive and financial powers over 40 policy areas in the Bodoland Territorial Areas Districts comprising four administrative Districts namely Udalguri, Baksa, Chirang and Kokrajhar is also covered by the Sixth Schedule in the state.
"These are nothing but political lollipops from the government in an attempt to dissolve the protests. How is this possible that an individual is an Indian citizen all over India but not in ILP and Sixth Schedule areas? This point is open to legal scrutiny," said Supreme Court lawyer and convener of the Prabajan Virodhi Mancha, Upamanyu Hazarika.
NEFIP president Ningthouja Lancha called the exemption "cosmetic".
"The ILP and the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution have no connection with the CAB. These are all imaginary lines and the borders between states are porous. There are no pillars to mark the boundaries. Once they become citizens, they can cross state borders easily. It is already happening despite ILP. Besides only by payment of as less as Rs 2,000 important documents like PAN card, Aadhaar etc. can be fraudulently collected. The legal system is lax and the prosecution is far from impressive. ILP only regulates entry/exit from illegal migrants but cannot protect permanently," said Lancha.
All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) chief adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya was scathing in his remarks while criticising the government for the proposed CAB.
"How it is that the CAB is bad for ILP and the Sixth Schedule areas but good for Brahmaputra Valley, Barak Valley and the Manipur Valley? The time has come to protect the culture ad identity of the indigenous. It is sad that former AASU leaders (Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Jorhat MP Topon Kumar Gogoi among others) who are now part of the BJP have forgotten what they said as student leaders," said Bhattacharya.
Fear of violation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord
Clause 6 of the Assam Accord states: "Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people."
"The Centre should give us a permanent solution which is acceptable to us. Why has the government shifted the cut off date to 31 December 2014? Clause 6 of the Assam Accord covers the period from 1951 to 24 March, 1971. Why was it extended to 31 December, 2014? Why is the government violating the Assam Accord to impose an additional burden of illegal population of another 43 years? For its political gains, the government is bulldozing every legal document," the AASU chief adviser said.
The BJP, however, refuses to accept that the proposed CAB is in contravention of the Assam Accord.
"The most dangerous amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955 was done in 1986 when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister. This was soon after the Assam Accord was signed in August 1985," says Assam BJP spokesperson Rupam Goswami.
The Amendment says: "From 1st July, 1987 ie the date of enforcement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 1986, every person born in India on or after 26th January, 1950 but before the commencement of the act and on or after such commencement and either of whose parents a citizen in India at the time of his birth, shall be citizen of India by birth."
It again says that for "a person born outside India, (a) on or after 26th January, 1950, but before the commencement of the Citizenship ( Amendment ) act, 1992, shall be a citizen of India by descent if his father is a citizen of India at the time of his birth; or (b) On or after such commencement, shall be a citizen of India by descent if either of his parents is a citizen of India at the time of his birth."
Assam Pradesh Congress Committee, general secretary, Diganta Chaudhary refuted the charges saying that the amendment was made to accommodate the provisions of the Assam Accord.
The BJP says that sending foreigners back to their home country, particularly Bangladesh, is a problem.
"Deportation is a huge issue. India has no extradition treaty with Bangladesh. It is also tough to prove that a certain individual is from Bangladesh," Goswami said.
Since it is hard to detect Bangladeshis, is it justified that India gives up and chooses to accept illegal migrants as citizens which are a direct threat to its own citizens on multiple levels. As a matter of fact, the Congress government's record in the deportation of Bangladeshi nationals is far better than the BJP governments under Prime Minister Narendra Modi as per replies given to Parliament by NDA ministers.
According to a Business Standard report, "These replies state that 88,792 Bangladeshi nationals were deported between 2005 and 2013 (during UPA rule). The replies also said that from 2014 to 2017, 1,822 Bangladeshi nationals were deported during the NDA rule."
The BJP spokesperson also sought to target AASU on the cut off date.
"Assam had to bear the burden till 24 March, 1971 because AASU accepted the cut-off date way back in 1985. The failure of proper implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord is the fault of the Congress and AGP governments that were in power before," Goswami said while maintaining silence why the cut off was even extended further right up to 31 December, 2014 by the present BJP government at the Centre.
That Assam chose to stay outside ILP when it got chance before was perhaps also a historical mistake.
While BJP is in all praise for its ally Asom Gana Parishad, a regional outfit with little political relevance and no backbone, it was ruthless in its criticism of former chief minister and AGP leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta who has defied party lines to openly oppose CAB.
"AGP has understood the political reality. Mahanta is the same individual who had Abdul Muhib Mazumdar, the architect of the IMDT Act, as a minister in his cabinet," the BJP spokesperson said. It can be mentioned that Mahanta headed an AGP government.
Battle is not before, but after it becomes a law
With the BJP commanding a majority in both Houses of Parliament, it is unlikely that CAB will be prevented from becoming an Act.
"There is a legal flaw in the CAB. How can it specifically exclude one particular religion? It has violated the very premise of equality and secularity of the Indian Constitution. We cannot forget that India is a secular republic," says Chaudhary.
His reference was to Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which states "Equality before law The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth."
"The BJP strategy is not known yet if it pushes for passing the Bill in Parliament or sends it to a Select Committee. Congress will strategise accordingly. Our party is already on the streets and protesting inside and outside Parliament. BJP has the numbers but we have the people with us," the Congress general secretary said.
Fight of the new generations
With a large number of students coming out in Assam against CAB, the struggle against the proposed law has truly shifted to a younger generation. It is for them to decide which way they want to go.
In another context, BJP's Rupam Goswami said, "The Assamese are politically threatened" but perhaps he will personally agree even linguistically and culturally as well.
"I have faith in the younger generation. During the Assam Agitation, their parents came out to preserve our land, culture and tradition. Both the agitation and academics will go on simultaneously. Studies are equally important. The AASU has the support of 30 other organisations including NESO (North East Students Organisation). The spirit of the protest is consuming rural and urban areas across the state. We have called for a shutdown of the entire North East on 10 December," said Bhattacharya.
AASU general secretary Lurin Jyoti Gogoi straightaway dumped the CAB.
"We won't accept CAB in whatsoever form. Our agitation will continue till it's scrapped. We are not tired and won't be. জয় আই অসম (Jai Aai Axom) is not on our lips, but in our blood," said Gogoi.
The fight against CAB is certainly not over, it has just started.
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Updated Date: Dec 09, 2019 10:41:33 IST