Thursday, January 10, 2019

Why Assamese people are Opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill,  2016 was introduced to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. It seeks to make illegal migrants who are Hindus,  Sikhs,  Buddhists,  Jains,  Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan,  Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for citizenship. The bill however does not include illegal Muslim migrants .

The bill violate Article 14 of the Constitution of India which gurantees right to equality as it makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. 

The Citizenship Act, 1955 lays down that a person may become an Indian citizen if they are born in India or who has Indian parentage or resided in India over a period of time but the Act prohibits illegal migrants to acquire citizenship of India. 

Who are illegal migrants ?

Illegal migrants are foreigners who enters the country without valid documents like passport and visa or foreigners who enters the country with valid documents but stays beyond the time period. Such illegal migrants may be imprisoned or deported under the Foreigners Act, 1964 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act,  1920.
But the bill will allow such migrants belonging to those six religions and three countries eligible for citizenship without imprisonment or deportation. 

Why Assamese people are Opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 ?

Assamese people are protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and they have a valid ground for it.  The bill contradicts with the Assam Accord, 1985 which clearly states that illegal migrants heading in from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971 would be deported.

The Assam Accord, 1985 is the memorandum of settlement signed between the Government of India and the leaders of the Assam Movement on 15th August,  1985 after six years agitation demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants which was led by All Assam Students' Union (AASU)  in 1979. So according to the accord the illegal migrants from Bangladesh  who have come to Assam after 1971 irrespective of religion have to be identified and deported. As a result the National Register of Citizens (NRC)  application process started in May, 2015 under the supervision of Supreme Court of India to include the names of all the citizens who has been residing in Assam before Match 25, 1971. But if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill will passed, the illegal Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh will be eligible to acquire citizenship of India and remain in Assam forever which will destabilized the demographic and social  structure of the indigenous people of Assam.

Assamese people has their own diverse culture, heritage and languages.  Religion was never the first identity of Assamese community. Increasing number of Muslim people in Assam is not a big issue as NRC will resolve this problem, but legalising Bangladeshi Hindu illegal migrants as citizens of Assam is not a solution to increase the Hindu population in Assam . Muslim in Assam has their own history. Muslims all over the world has a common religious identity but the Assamese Muslims are somewhat different from the Muslims of the other states of India.  Assamese Muslim community basically includes the descendants of Mughal soldiers who were left behind as prisoners of war and who afterwards decided to stay back in Assam. These Muslim people have assimilated with the Assamese Hindu communities and adopted their culture and also maintained their own religious identity in their own traditional way contributing to make the greater Assamese community.

Assamese community doesn't represent only one race but is created by assimilation of indigenous people from different racial background of Assam. But if the bill will passed the illegal migrants from Bangladesh will take permanent shelter in Assam which will increase the number of Bengali people and lead Assamese people to become minority in their own land. Further there is also a fear among Assamese that if the bill will passed, Assam will become a dumping ground for Hindu Bangladeshis.

Assam Accord was the fruit of long agitation of Assamese people, their sacrifices and hard work.  NRC was the result of their long struggle.  But the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 will wash away all their sacrifices and hopes . The bill has endangered the existence of Assamese people and their culture and heritage.

Latest update on the bill:

On 8th January the Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment bill, 2016 but on Rajya Sabha the bill could not be passed as it was the last day of the winter session. There is a speculation  that the government may pass the  bill on February on the interim budget session. 


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