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Why is the Citizenship Amendment Bill Evoking Protests in NE?

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The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 on got approved on 8th January by India‘s Lower House of Parliament that would grant residency and citizenship rights to undocumented non-Muslim immigrants. Why has this Bill suddenly come under the lens?

The North-East people have been protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 for the past couple of weeks. Before we get behind the reasons for it, let’s try to find out what is the entire fuss is all about.

The aforementioned bill, which has been introduced in the Lok Sabha aims to amend the existing Citizenship Act of 1955. It says that people who have illegally migrated and are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Parsis, Jains, and Buddhists from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, are automatically eligible for citizenship and will be granted residence. It provides citizenship to those who have been forced to leave their countries and take shelter in India because of religious persecution or fears of persecution. The Bill also says that those migrants who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014, cannot be deported or imprisoned.

Under this amendment, the wait time for citizenship is also reduced. The bill reduces the time to 6 years from 11 years for citizenship for the people from different religions and the countries.

Now, what is the Citizenship Act of 1955? According to it, an illegal immigrant is identified as the one who enters the country without proper travel documents and it also includes those people who do possess valid documents but stay beyond their permitted time period. They are prohibited from acquiring Indian citizenship.

The Assam Accord of 1985 is also an important part of this entire issue. The people of Assam, led by the All Assam Students’ Union, demanded the identification and deportation of the illegal immigrants. Also, illegal migrants who had entered Assam from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971, were to be deported. This accord was an agreement between the central government of India and the students’ union. The NRC (National Register of Citizens) update exercise that started last year was conducted in line with the Assam AccordThis ongoing NRC-updating process will be badly affected if the bill gets passed. So, once the NRC exercise would be done all the people who turn out to be verified illegal immigrants will be deported back.

Now, you may ask the reason behind all these hunger strikes and effigy-burning.  All the North-Eastern states either share the border or are in close proximity to Bangladesh. Most of the immigration to India happens from Bangladesh. This substantial rise in the number of immigrants became a serious issue for the indigenous people of the North-East.  And so, many different tribal regions made laws that restricted the immigrants or any non-tribals for that matter, from buying land or staying in their land indefinitely.

Secondly, the Bill only mentions granting residence and citizenship to Hindu immigrants and not Muslim immigrants. This raises serious questions about India’s claim of being a secular state. It violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality to all persons, citizens and foreigners. Differentiating between the people along religious lines, especially when it comes to citizenship issues, would be in violation of the Constitution. 

At this point, you can’t even believe that the government wants to protect the persecuted. This is evident in the way the central government handled Rohingya Muslims.

There is another loophole in this. According to a Wire Article, there is confusing terminology associated with the bill. First, the bill seems to term minority religious people as migrants, when the matter isn’t as simple as one would imagine. A significant of them are refugees, not migrants. The word migration refers to the voluntary movement of people from one place to another, primarily for the purpose of better economic prospects. On the other hand, seeking refuge is an act of involuntary, often enforced shifting of people from one place (or nation) to another, due to situations like war, ethnic cleansing, etc. The concerns of the refugees are mainly based on human rights and safety, not economic advantages. The purpose of the introduction of the Bill, as stated by the government, is to provide shelter to vulnerable, religiously-persecuted people whose fundamental human rights are at risk. But here, the correct terminology is most important, because the laws and policies for migrants and refugees are completely different.

The thing we need to keep in mind before we take into account everything, giving asylum to refugees on humanitarian grounds and providing permanent citizenship to them are two very different things. The government needs to think wisely on such a sensitive issue.

-Disha Saxena

[email protected]

-Image Credits: The Sentinel


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