On December 9, 2019, when Lok Sabha was introduced in the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), thousands of people from all walks of life crowded around the streets of Assam to protest spontaneously against what they were up for a design keep their country from destroying their language and identity. Two days later, when the bill was finally turned into law by Parliament, Assam and parts of the northeast were literally on fire. A curfew was imposed, the army was called up and Internet services were stopped. In the meantime, the new amendment has taken hold of the national discourse as the controversial law has raised many questions about constitutional violations and India's commitment to secularism.
The main goal of the CAB is said to be the granting of citizenship to minority refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian beliefs. Refugees who qualify according to the above criteria and entered India on or before December 31, 2014 can apply for citizenship. In addition, any legal proceedings pending against such applicants for illegal immigrants are now being closed.
An internal partition?
India has a long history of protecting refugees who have been atrocities elsewhere, but the CAB has drawn strong resistance by excluding Muslims from its environment. "The bill is not only discriminatory, it also destroys the foundations of our constitution," said Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, chairman of the Congress Legislative Party (CLP), at Lok Sabha. "This is a step towards the formation of a Hindu Rashtra", As presented by RSS and BJP."
For its part, the BJP is trying hard to implement the bill as part of India's moral obligation to provide protection to non-Muslim minorities from the three countries with a Muslim majority. Oddly enough, the law does not say that it is only open to refugees who have been persecuted for religious reasons. This contradicts his argument that Muslims do not need protection under the law as they are unlikely to be subject to religious persecution in these countries. The BJP-led NDA government's response was bold based on its numbers in the House of Representatives. Defense of Interior Minister Amit Shah against the Hindus in Lok Sabha included controversy over how Congress agreed in 1947 on religious division and how the numbers were given to account for the apparently dangerous decline of the Hindus population of 84 percent in 1951 to 79 percent now and the increase in Muslim population from 9.8 percent to 14.23 percent now, no matter what percentage of the population you want to start with.
IN THE LEADERSHIP: Amit Shah, Minister of the Interior of the Union, is coming to Parliament for the taxi debate on 9 December. (Pankaj Nangia / Mail Today)
Social scientists and experts from the refugee settlement are not convinced of these arguments and have condemned the bill. "The CAB not only violates the equality provisions of the Indian constitution, it is also a violation of secularism as the basic structure of the constitution," said Surya Deva, associate professor at the School of Law at City University in Hong Kong and an advisor to the UN Human Rights Council ,
Shah also tries to justify the CAB by distinguishing between illegal infiltrators and refugees. Victims of religious persecution from the above six religions are treated as refugees, while anyone else who enters India illegally is considered an infiltrator, a logic that has confused many.
Questions are also raised about the need for another specific law for refugees from only these three countries. Refugees from neighboring countries (with the exception of Myanmar) can apply for protection directly from the government and receive documents from the Foreigner Regional Registration Officers (FRROs). Non-neighboring countries and Myanmar fall under the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which evaluates each individual asylum application. The government is currently allowing refugees, including Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, with UNHCR ID to apply for a long-term visa that the government issues on a case-by-case basis.
India is one of the few countries in the world where there is neither national refugee protection nor an immigration policy. There are some laws governing refugees, including the 1939 Foreign Registration Law; Foreigners Act, 1946, and Passport Act, 1967. India is also not a signatory to UN agreements, so it is under no obligation to grant the rights they set. In essence, it makes decisions about issuing long-term visas for refugees on an ad hoc basis.
According to the latest UNHCR estimates (2017), India has 200,000 refugees, making it the 25th largest host country. India is home to a diverse Mix-Tibet approach that came in 1959; Bangladesh 1971; Chakmas in 1963 and again in the 1970s; Tamils from Sri Lanka in 1983 and 1989 and again in 1995; and Afghan refugees from the 80s.
Political leaders from southern India criticized the CAB particularly critically because they had not included any refugees from Sri Lanka. "You are dealing with Pakistan, with Bangladesh, but you do not realize that you are not just the interior minister for North India," said DMK Dayanidhi Maran.
Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims are also a sticking point. The center has denied them relief, and several BJP leaders have demonstrated that the Rohingya pose a threat to national security. Even Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia do not allow them entry. The government's central argument here is that there are several countries that Muslims can go to, but India is the only country for Hindus.
BJP's former ally Shiv Sena shares this view, but warns that "if it is a CAB policy under the guise of the CAB, it is not in the country's best interests." Sena’s fear is shared by constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap, who points out that it is the voting policy that drives support and opposition to the bill. "Both sides are politically advantageous, not legal," he says.
The law is likely to be challenged before the Supreme Court. Kashyap says there are arguments for and against. "Article 14 emphasizes equality before the law, but there have been several Supreme Court rulings that have determined that this principle of equality can be reasonably classified. In fact, all fundamental rights are appropriately classified Challenge Apex Court … their future will depend on whether the court accepts the classification in this bill as reasonable enough, "he says.
The battle for Bengal
The BJP has both ideological and electoral reasons to campaign for the CAB. The RSS and BJP have long made public their commitment to grant citizenship to Hindu immigrants. It was also part of the campaign rhetoric of 2014 and 2019. However, the short-term goal seems to be the Hindu “refugee voters” in West Bengal, who are represented in considerable numbers in almost 70 of the state's 294 assembly segments, and in Assam, where they play a crucial role play in the Barak, win for yourself valley and in several constituencies in the Brahmaputra valley.
The recent BJP Bypoll losses in three constituencies in West Bengal after an outstanding performance in the Lok Sabha elections in May, in which 18 of 42 seats were won, are due to concerns, particularly among Bangladeshi immigrants, about the nationwide national civil register (NRC) exists) proposed by the government of the Union. While the NRC aims to uncover illegal infiltrators, the Supreme Court-monitored NRC in neighboring Assam, where nearly 500,000 of the Hindu Bengalis who are excluded from the list are suspected, has caused panic in the West Bengal community.
The BJP has already rejected the NRC in Assam. In fact, the CAB is now seen as the party's attempt to alleviate such concerns among Hindu immigrants in the state, an important part of its electoral base in 2019. In neighboring Bengal, the BJP has asked district associations to open a door-door campaign to reduce anxiety in the CAB. The party's MPs in the state were also drafted for the task.
Assam congressman Gaurav Gogoi claims the CAB is nothing more than an exercise to distract from the failure of the NRC in the state where many of the 1.9 million excluded people are real Indians. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, who tore up a copy of the law in parliament and is one of his harshest critics, says it aims to make Muslims stateless. "Look at the CAB through the NRC lens. Of the 1.9 million in the Assam NRC, 540,000 are Bengali Hindus. After passing the CAB, the proceedings against it will be stopped; they will only continue against the remaining Muslims." Owaisi.
The CAB is certainly meeting a long-standing demand by the Hindu refugees from West Bengal, especially from the Matua community, which entered Bangladesh from 1971 in India. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the matuas helped the saffron brigade secure 9 to 10 seats, which could be translated into almost 70 assembly segments. They were an important political force behind Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the Trinamool Congress, in the 2011 general election when she overthrew the government on the left front of the state after 34 years. No wonder Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his Lok Sabha campaign in West Bengal at the Matua fortress in Thakurnagar, 70 km north of Calcutta. The CAB also helps the BJP to consolidate the choice of Hindu immigrants, as they are protected from the proposed NRC. Assam's finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma made no attempt to hide the BJP's strategy at the India Today East Conclave in Kolkata. "You can take the NRC and CAB as a combined package for West Bengal and Assam," he said.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam's Finance Minister: "You can take the NRC and the CAB as a combined package for West Bengal and Assam"
The TMC is also working out its strategy. Prime Minister Mamata Banerjee has already stated that she will not allow the NRC or the CAB in the state. TMC leaders believe that this position will help the party in 120 seats, which have a significant minority and refugee population. "The NRC is a lollipop and the CAB is a larger one. This bill is against India and Bengal. It will tear Bengal's soul apart by distinguishing people with the same culture and language." TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee said in the locomotive Sabha.
Why Assam is Burning
While the Bengal are afraid of being religiously divided, people in the northeast are protesting because they suspect the bill will result in Bengali hegemony in the region. Although the bill covers refugees from three nations, it is limited to illegal Bengali-Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in the northeast who have settled in large numbers throughout the region. The entire region had broken out in protest when the bill was first introduced in Lok Sabha in 2016 (the first Modi government was unable to pass the bill in Rajya Sabha and it fell into disrepair).
In view of the protests, certain areas in the region have been exempted from tax in the revised version of the law. The bill does not apply to Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura tribal areas, as set out in the Sixth Annex to the Constitution, and to the area covered by the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regulation, as defined in the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 , has been notified. In fact, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram, almost all of Meghalaya, as well as parts of Assam and Tripura are exempt from the bill. Shah has announced that ILP will be introduced in Manipur, so that state will also leave the CAB.
While these exceptions have eased tensions in other areas of the northeast, Assam, particularly the Brahmaputra Valley, is still boiling. In Assam, the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao were exempted, while the Bengali-dominated Barak Valley welcomed the CAB. In the Brahmaputra Valley, the BJP poses this as a strategy to protect the state's Hindu identity. "By including Hindu migrants as citizens, we can end the dominance of Muslim immigrants in 17 seats," said Sarma.
But in this narrative, the BJP failed to take into account the continued perception of the threat posed by the Assamese Hindu-Bengali culture. The Assamese have not forgotten how the then British government imposed Bengali as the state language between 1826 and 1872 at the insistence of government officials from West Bengal. Even now there is concern that illegal immigrants who are granted Bengali citizenship may outnumber the locals. This has already happened in Tripura, where Bengali Hindu immigrants from East Bengal now dominate the political sphere and marginalize the local tribal population. For this reason, the BJP's ally in the state, the IPFT (Tripura Indigenous People's Front), has protested the proposed law. Even Tripura's former congressional chairman and royal sprout, Pradyot Manikya Debbarma, who represents the tribes and was a strong supporter of the NRC, has expressed his opposition to the CAB changes.
The linguistic data from the 2011 census have also expanded the fault lines that already exist. According to this, the proportion of Assamese in Assam decreased from 58 percent in 1991 to 48 percent in 2011, while the Bengali speakers recorded an upswing from 22 percent to 30 percent. In the Baraktal, Assamese is not even accepted as the official language.
What contributed to the chaos are campaigns like & # 39; Miyah Poetry & # 39; and & # 39;Chalo Paltai (Let's change) & # 39 ;. A group of educated second-generation immigrant Muslims who speak a Bengali dialect, including Miyah, have started to write poems in it. These poems, which deal with the pain of living as a suspect at the place of their birth, have taken the immigrants' imagination by storm. And if Miyah poets weren't enough, Garga Chatterjee, TMC sympathizer and assistant professor at the Indian Statistics Institute in Kolkata, apparently has one paltai Campaign in which all Bengali-speaking people in Assam are asked to write their mother tongue as Bengali in the next census so that they can together break Assama's dominance in Assam.
To alleviate fears of a Bengali uprising, Assam's Prime Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has claimed that fewer than 200,000 Hindu immigrants in Assam are eligible to apply for citizenship. Almost 150,000 of them are located in the three districts of Barak Valley Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi.
Sarbananda Sonowal, Chief Minister, Assam: "It's just a rumor that fewer than 200,000 Bengali Hindu migrants can get citizenship under the CAB"
His claims do not convince critics of the bill. Even the AASU (All Assam Students & # 39; Union), which once headed the student organization Sonowal, showed him the black flag. What could convince the prime minister to ignore the protests is that the BJP increased its balance sheet in Assam in the last election to the assembly and won three of the four seats. BJP leaders like Sarma use the results to dismiss the massive street protests as the work of interest groups. But Assam has a history of mass movements to protect language, culture, and identity. This can be the beginning of another.
Changes that the new amendment to the 1955 Citizenship Act will bring
1. The 2019 Citizenship Change Act aims to grant citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. A person who belongs to this belief and came to India on or before December 31, 2014 can apply for citizenship.
2. With the CAB now a law, any legal proceedings pending against a "legitimate" illegal immigrant are "dismantled". You cannot be barred from applying for citizenship because a lawsuit against them is pending.
3. Although the act of applying for citizenship under this provision indicates that the person has entered India illegally, no rights / privileges will be withheld until then.
4. Applicants who qualify can acquire naturalization through naturalization if they can reside in India for five years instead of the current 11 years.
5. The new regulation does not apply to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura, as contained in the Sixth Annex to the Constitution and in the states with the ILP regulation (Inner Line Permit). In fact, the law excludes Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, almost the entire Meghalaya, and parts of Assam and Tripura.
6. There is currently no specific provision to cancel the registration of a holder of a foreign citizen of India who violates any provision of the law or any other law. The new law empowers the center to do so.
7. Holders of Indian citizenship are given ample opportunity to comment before a decision is made to cancel their registration.