In-depth read. Written by Vanya Doval – a grade 8 student
The Citizenship(Amendment) Bill, 2019, popularly known as CAB is a bill amending the Citizenship Act of 1955 to make illegal immigrants from six minority communities: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh (who might have faced religious persecution in their countries),eligible for Indian citizenshipas long as they were in India on or before 31st of December 2014. The amendment bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha (where BJP lacks a majority) by 125 votes to 105 on 11thof December 2019,two days after it had cleared the Lok Sabha. It was given the assent of President Ram Nath Kovind on the 13th of December and made a law.
The original Citizenship Act of 1955 states that any illegal immigrant can be deported/ jailed and can only apply for Indian citizenship only if they have lived and worked in India for at least 11 years. The amended bill, however, allows an exception for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians if they can prove that they are from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh. It states that these immigrants will now have to live and work for only 6 years to be eligible for citizenship by naturalization (the process by which a non-citizen acquires the citizenship or nationality of that country). The bill, however, exempts certain areas in the north-east region from this provision.
This effectively means that Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram along with almost entire Meghalaya and small parts of Assam and Tripura would stay out of the purview of the CAB. It also says people holding Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards- an immigration status allowing the holder (of foreign citizenship but Indian origin) to live and work in India indefinitely – can lose their status if they violate any law or commit a major offense.
The question that’s been nagging everyone is – what exactly is the controversy that sparked protests so violent that paramilitary forces had to be deployed? The first thing to be conscious about is that Assam becoming the theatre of violent protest is different from the opposition’s gripe. They have the same sentiment but vastly different reasons.
The Opposition staunchly opposes CAB because of the exclusion of Muslim immigrants. They feel it is discriminatory and violates the secular principals enshrined in our constitution. For them, it is just another part of BJP’s Hindutva agenda. Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram tweeted ,”No one the government would take responsibility for the content of the CAB or its constitutionality. The intent of the Bill is to tell the Muslims ‘you are not equal human beings with equal rights’ ” AAP has gone as far to say that this is BJP’s attempt to end democracy. Simply put ,the Opposition parties seem to be okay with the Amendment Bill if the government brings Muslim migrants in the ambit of the legislation for citizenship.
The Assamese people, however, want no-one – neither Hindus nor Muslims if they are illegal immigrants. Except in Bengali speakers’ dominated regions, people in other parts of Assam fear CAB will lead to lakhs of Hindus from Bangladesh to swamp indigenous communities, burdening their resources and threatening their language,culture and tradition. Protesters say that Assam bore the brunt of immigrants from 1951 to 1971 and therefore it is unfair to impose more on them.The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 sets December 31, 2014 as the cut-off date for recognising the illegal immigrants as eligible refugees to acquire Indian citizenship. This, the protesters say, is a violation of the Assam Accord of 1985.
In 1979, in the Mangaldoi Lok Sabha bypoll, people noticed an unusual rise in voters and suspected it was due to influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. This led to massive and violent agitation in which over 885 people died over 6 years. The stir ended when the Rajiv Gandhi centre government signed the Assam Accord . Under the Assam Accord the cut-off date was set to March 25 , 1971 and by extending that date to 2014 the Centre has broken the trust of the Assamese people.
CAB’s cut-off date (31st December 2014 ) was decided on the basis of the National Registry of Citizens that was finalised earlier this year. The National Registry of Citizens was a promise made in the Assam Accord to identify and deport foreigners by making a register of all the legal Indian citizens of the state.This list was updated recently by comparing it to the original NRC of 1951 and by the time it was published it became clear that the majority of those denied citizenship were Hindus or indigenous tribes.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill enables the Hindu illegal immigrants from former East Pakistan and later Bangladesh to seek Indian citizenship thereby thwarting the demand of the protesters to deport all illegal migrants who entered India after the cut-off date of ’71. Protesters argue that CAB will make NRC redundant and bestow citizenship upon illegal migrants.
So, while the government is offering citizenship to Hindus among the 19 lakh illegal immigrants, the Opposition is ready to grant citizenship to all 19 lakh illegal immigrants who were left out of the NRC. The protesters of course don’t want a single person who was declared a non-citizen of India in the NRC exercise to be made an Indian citizen.
While Assam is in a crazy frenzy of violent protests, the Asom Gana Parishad says not to worry as Clause 6 of the Assam Accord will insulate Assam from the adverse effects of CAB. Clause 6 of the Assam Accord relates to constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.
The second issue that arises is the coverage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The CAB bill introduced in 2016 was to be enforceable in the entire country however CAB 2019 leaves out the areas mentioned in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and also those requiring Inner Line Permit (ILP) for outsiders to visit. The Inner Line Permit (ILP) is a system introduced for border areas by the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation in 1873. People outside such declared areas can visit the places only if they have a permit. They cannot settle in such areas even with ILP. The system is now being used to protect certain areas from the purview of CAB.
This leaves the areas that are not protected under the SSC open to implementation of CAB in Assam and Tripura. The hills of Tripura are protected under the Sixth Schedule. The rest, which is not, is in protest. Thousands of people hit the streets,mobs set fire to buses tried to attack officials and breach the Raj Bhawan, activists threw rocks at the police and became barbarous to the extent that the Centre had to deploy 5,000 paramilitary troops and the Assam Rifles to use tear gas to disperse crowds. Two people were killed in the crossfire between the police and the protesters, many were seriously injured including police officers and hundreds were arrested. Indefinite curfew has been imposed on 26 districts of Assam (7 of the 33 are protected under Sixth Schedule) and mobile/internet services have been discontinued .Assamese Students protesting at India Gate in Delhi said their next step is to move the Supreme Court.
The issue has also gained international attention. Congressman André Carson, one of three Muslim members currently serving in the US Congress, claimed that the CAB is a bid of the Modi government to reduce Muslims in India to second-class citizens.
“One of India’s great strengths is its Constitution. As a fellow democracy, we respect India’s institutions, but are concerned about the implications of the CAB Bill. We hope the government will abide by its constitutional commitments, including on religious freedom ,” Sam Brownback, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, said in a tweet. United States, United Kingdom and Canada have issued travel advisories asking their citizens to exercise caution while travelling to the region for any purpose.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India was also cancelled after an annual summit between the Prime Minister’s of the two countries , scheduled to be held in Guwahati , was postponed amid rising violence.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm in his tweet ,”I want to assure my brothers and sisters of Assam on the passing of #CAB I want to assure them- no one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow.” However , it is unlikely that the protesters will read the tweet with internet/mobile services down , as twitter savagely pointed out.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do what you think in your heart to be right- for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. Let’s just hope that India does the thing that aligns with its strong moral compass.