The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 (CAB) sparked protests in North-eastern states of India, particularly, Assam. The citizens of the Northeast have strongly opposed the bill. Except in the Bengali speakers’ dominated Barak Valley of Assam, the other people fear that the bill will primarily benefit the illegal Bengali Hindu migrants from Bangladesh infiltrated and spread across the region in large numbers. The people in the state fear that granting citizenship to lakhs of migrants will burden their resources and it is also a threat to their language, culture and tradition.
The bill, however, aims to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims such as Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The bill adds that a person belonging to any of these faiths, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, and have faced religious persecution in the above stated three countries, can apply for Indian citizenship. However, the person who can prove religious persecution will be granted citizenship by the government.
According to the protesters, the bill has a 2014 cut-off date while Assam bore the burden of illegal immigrants from 1951 to 1971. They say that the other states did not bear the brunt of this citizenship bill and they find it unfair to be imposed with more refugees on their state. Meanwhile, the CAB was first introduced in Lok Sabha in 2016 when the first Modi Government could not get the bill passed in the Rajya Sabha and consequently, it lapsed.
When the bill was to be reintroduced in the parliament, Union Home Minister Amit Shah reached out to political parties, organisation and Chief Ministers of the North Eastern states, he assured them that CAB will not hit the Inner Line Permit (ILP) and Schedule VI areas. ILP is applicable to most of the Northeastern states including Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram. Meghalaya is on the verge of getting the ILP. In other words, the revised version of the bill has exempted areas in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, almost all of the Meghalaya and parts of Assam and Tripura.
Reports suggest that in Assam, Karbi Anglong, Dima Haso and Bodoland are protected under the Sixth Schedule. These are just the 7 districts out of the 33 districts of Assam. Well, this is the reason that the protests continue in Assam, especially, the Brahmaputra Valley and Tripura. According to reports, the number of Bengali speakers has been growing steadily in the state while the Assamese speakers have been decreasing. Reports also suggest that many native Assamese have also lost their land, resources and even Vaishnavite monasteries known as Satras encroached by the illegal immigrants.
However, it has been a long-standing demand of the Assamese people to provide legal protection to their land, language, culture and political rights. Due to this reason, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invoked the Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, which assures that the land, language, culture and political rights of the Assamese people will be protected, and that no Hindu Bengali immigrant who will get citizenship under CAB can take away these from them.
Union Minister Amit Shah has also mentioned in the Parliament that Clause 6 will act as a safeguard and protect the interests of the people in Assam.
What is Assam Accord?
In the year, 1979, people in Assam noticed an unusual rise in voters for Mangaldoi Lok Sabha bypoll and suspected it was due to the influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. And, this led to a massive violent agitation killing about 885 people over six years. The commotion ended after the Assam Accord was signed in 1985. The date of detection and deportation of foreigners put by the accord was March 25, 1971. For the other states, it was 1951. And now the CAB has a new cut off date of 2014 and so, the protesters say that it violates the accord.
What is Clause 6 of the Assam Accord?
The Clause 6 of the Assam Accord states to safeguard, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people by providing constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards.
What is Inner Line Permit (ILP)?
In the year 1873, the ILP system was introduced for the border areas by Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation. People who do not belong to such areas can visit such places only if they have a permit. However, they cannot settle in these places even with ILP. It is now being used to protect certain areas from the purview of CAB. Notably, the places notified for protecting tribes under Sixth Schedule Areas of the Constitution too have been placed outside the ambit of the CAB.
What is Sixth Schedule of the Constitution?
The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution consists of provisions for the administration of tribal areas in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, according to Article 244 of the Indian Constitution.
It safeguards the rights of tribal population through the formation of Autonomous District Councils (ADC). ADCs are bodies representing a district to which the Constitution has given varying degrees of autonomy within the state legislature.
The governors of these states are empowered to reorganise boundaries of the tribal areas. In other words, she or he can choose to include or exclude any area, increase or decrease the boundaries and unite two or more autonomous districts into one. They can also alter or change the names of autonomous regions without a separate legislation.
In all, there are 10 areas in the Northeast that are registered as autonomous districts – three in Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram and one in Tripura. These regions are named as district council of (name of district) and regional council of (name of region).
The CAB states that areas under the Sixth Schedule are exempted from its purview. This means non-Muslim refugees from the three countries who are granted Indian citizenship will not have any land or trading rights in the autonomous regions. Hence, the Sixth Schedule plays a primary role in the above stated Northeast regions for safeguarding the rights of tribal population and preventing influx.
This essentially means the migrants can neither reside or settle in the 10 autonomous districts, nor enjoy benefits extended to the tribals, even if they are provided with Indian citizenship. Further, the laws made by ADCs with the powers bestowed upon them by the Sixth Schedule will not be scrapped by the CAB.
What is CAB?
CAB stands for Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019. It, however, amends the Citizenship Act of 1955 to make non-Muslim illegal migrants, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, eligible for Indian citizenship. The non-Muslim faiths include Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The Bill has become an act after the assent on it from president Ramnath Kovind. Under this act, an applicant must have resided in India for atleast 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years, in order to gain citizenship by naturalization. The bill, however, relaxes this 11 year requirement to five year for migrants belonging to the same six religions and three countries mentioned above. It exempts the tribal areas of Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Tripura. It also exempts areas under ILP which includes Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, and Manipur was included in ILP on December 10, 2019. The Bill also includes new provisions for cancellation of the registration of Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) such as registration through fraud, etc.
What is NRC?
NRC stands for National Register of Citizens. It is a register maintained by the Government of India which contains names and certain relevant information for the identification of Indian citizens of the state of Assam. Initially, the register was specifically made for Assam but on November 20, 2019, Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared that the register would be extended to the entire country. The register was first prepared in 1951 and since then it wasn’t updated till date.
According to the protesters in Assam, CAB will make NRC redundant and bestow citizenship on illegal immigrants. While, the Asom Gana Parishad says that Clause 6 of the Assam Accord will protect Assam from CAB’s impact.
The Final NRC has been published on 31 August, 2019 after completion of all the statutory works as per various standard operating procedures. As per a press release by the SCNRC, a total of 3,30,27,661 persons applied to the registering authority of NRC through 68,37,660 application forms and out of which 3,11,21,004 persons were found eligible for inclusio in the final NRC leaving out 19,06,657 persons, who were not included and shall have to approach a Foreigners’ Tribunal with an appeal against non-inclusion if they so desire.