Lok Sabha has approved a bill that would grant residency and citizenship rights to Hindus, Jains, Parsis and several other non-Muslim religious groups who migrated without documents from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The legislation, which still needs the approval of the upper house, has sparked a spate of protests in most of North-eastern states of India where nearly forty lakhs people, stigmatised of being foreigners, were effectively stripped of their citizenship last year..
Home Minister Rajnath Singh in his reply told the Parliament “They can’t go any other place except India and the beneficiaries of the bill are free to reside in any part of the country.” BJP has deliberately brought the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, whose single objective is to create a wedge between communities. This Bill is out and out anti-Muslim and an attempt by Prime Minister Modi to boost his Hindu vote base ahead of the General election due by May this year.
Currently, in Assam the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is being updated which is first time since 1951 – as part of a government campaign to identify undocumented immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. As many as 29 lakh women, most of whom are Muslims and nearly 45 lakh others are part of about 13 million people who were omitted from the first draft which NRC released last year on December 31st. The bill sparked a second day of protests in the northeastern state of Assam, Protesters there are angry not because the bill excludes Muslims, but because it would grant citizenship to unauthorised Hindus who failed to prove their citizenship and hence were excluded from the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) published last July. The final NRC list will be published on June 30.
The authenticity of documents submitted by more than 7 million people, including 2.9 million married women, is now being verified by authorities to decide whether they are Indian citizens or immigrants. Initially, there were 19 million people declared as legal citizens out of the total population of 32 million. The Supreme Court of India has fixed June 30 as the deadline to verify the documents but according to the human rights activists officials are busy creating unnecessary hurdles in the verification process.
According to Rejaul Karim Sarkar, President of All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU), even women who used the Panchayat certificates are subjected to harassment.
He also added “It may be mandatory for the communities to fill up the form for the NRC updation, the verification process for Muslims and Bengali Hindus have been particularly made very difficult”. However, the state’s indigenous communities are exempted from such cumbersome documentation process.
There is large apprehension among Muslim population of Assam that their names might be dropped from the NRC list, which is slated to be published next month. Meanwhile, NRC is not likely to decide on the fate of more than 300,000 people and their family members who have either been declared foreigners or have cases pending against them in the Foreigners Tribunal or the special courts. As per government record a total of 245,057 cases are pending in FTs, while 90,206 people have been declared foreigners.
There was an amendment to the Citizenship Act in 2003 which said that the criteria for a person born in India to become a citizen, it is compulsory to have both his parents to be the legal Indian citizens. However, activists fear that more than ten thousand people who do not find their names in the NRC list might be put in the detention centres and ultimately may become stateless- similar to what happened to the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
The Human Rights Group active in the state have already declared the citizenship bill as unconstitutional since it targets specific groups. The ruling BJP is aware that the bill in all likelihood would be turned down by the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament, where BJP doesn’t enjoy the majority.
Almost every north eastern state has sizeable Muslim migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh who entered Assam illegally over the years. It is unfortunate that now the BJP government is trying to frame a law seeking to confer citizenship to Hindus from neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The situation calls for the detection and subsequent deportation of all illegal migrants, irrespective of their religion.
BJP is trying to emulate the Israeli model of resettling the Jews in the predominantly Palestinian occupied territory after the six day war in 1967. Following the 1967 war, Israel continues to expand its remaining settlements as well as settling new areas, despite pressure from the international community to desist. The Citizenship Bill will have far-reaching effect as far as the northeastern region is concerned. It will make it another hot spot like Kashmir which the nation can least afford.
The Asom Gana Parishad or Assam People’s Party, which is BJP’s ally in Assam, quit the coalition government on Tuesday in protest against the new bill. The AGP President Atul Bora later said “We have always opposed the entry and presence of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Our party was formed in 1985 with this promise of freeing Assam from illegal migrants from Bangladesh and we, therefore, cannot remain an ally of the BJP after this move by the BJP government.” In the coming weeks, we are likely to encounter lot of protests from those who have been residing in the state for decades and suddenly find themselves in a no man land.
Considering the opposition by Congress and other like minded parties in the Parliament, it won’t be easy for the BJP to get the Bill cleared. Till then, we hope that sanity prevails among the ranks of ruling coalition of NDA which may make them to drop this contentious and highly discriminatory Bill.