The Citizenship Amendment Bill (2019) was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8, 2019. The passing of the Bill has been preceded and followed by widespread protests in Assam and all the North Eastern states. The Bill is unlikely to be passed by the Rajya Sabha, as the majority of political parties, excluding the BJP, are opposed to its provisions.
The Citizenship Act, 1955 (CA, 1955), as it stands now, grants citizenship by naturalization, to any foreign citizen who has valid documents for stay in India, and has lived in the country for the past 11 years. The amendment proposes to reduce this period to six years for Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsees, Buddhists and Jains from three countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh on grounds of religious persecution in their home countries. It excludes Muslims, Jews, Bahais, atheists from these countries. It also excludes all people who face persecution in other countries apart from the above three, for upholding their right to conscience.
The CA, 1955, as it stands now, declares all foreigners who are in India without valid entry documents, as illegal immigrants, who can be deported to their home countries. Illegal migrants may be imprisoned or deported under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.
In 2015 - 2016, the central government issued two notifications exempting certain groups of illegal migrants from provisions of the 1946 and the 1920 Acts. These groups are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014. The notifications imply that these groups of illegal migrants will not be deported or imprisoned for being in India without valid documents. The proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act will open the way for people classified as illegal migrants belonging to these six religions and three countries to be eligible for citizenship.
These notifications deliberately omitted people of the Muslim faith. People of the Muslim faith categorized as “illegal immigrants” will continue to face the threat of deportation.
The proposed amendment to the citizenship act is diabolical. It is aimed at inflaming passions, and sharpening communal divisions all over the country, particularly in Bengal, Assam, and other states of the North East. It is also aimed at deepening communal divisions in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Colonial rule and the partition of the country along communal lines in 1947 resulted in massive displacement of people between India and Pakistan. Families were brutally divided between the two countries. The CA, 1955 imposed great hurdles on people of the Muslim faith, who had gone to Pakistan in the wake of the communal holocaust, and wanted to return home. The Indian state has treated them as “enemy” people. Till today, divided families face great difficulties to reunite.
In Bengal, Assam and other states of the North East, millions of people, both Hindus and Muslims, have migrated from present day Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), as a result of multiple factors. These include the desire of families to reunite, as well the search for a livelihood.
People belonging to different nationalities, speaking different languages, and practicing different religions have inhabited Assam for generations. During colonial rule, many people from Bihar and Bengal migrated to Assam to work in the plantations. Following the partition of 1947, many people came from East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh) as refugees. The 1971 war with Pakistan which led to the creation of Bangladesh resulted in more refugees into Assam.
The ruling Indian big bourgeoisie has always treated the people of Assam with the colonial imperialist outlook. It has ruthlessly plundered the natural wealth of Assam, its oil resources and forests. Insecurity of livelihood faces majority of youth. The people of Assam, across language, nationality and religion, have ceaselessly fought against this exploitation and oppression, for their national rights.
To smash this struggle of the Assamese people, the Indian state has systematically imposed communalism on the movement, particularly since the 1980’s. It has worked to set the different peoples inhabiting Assam against one another, appearing now to favour the one, and now the other. The ruling class has systematically carried out the lying propaganda that the source of problems facing the Assamese people are migrants from Bangladesh.
The Assam Accord of 1985, which both BJP and Congress swear by, was not aimed at a just solution to the problems facing the people of Assam. It was aimed at liquidating the struggle of the people for their national rights. It ensured that people were perpetually kept divided on the basis of language. A section of the leaders of the Assam movement were coopted by giving them power and privileges. The army and intelligence agencies were used to divide and crush those who refused to be coopted. Terrorist organizations were created by the intelligence agencies to discredit the struggle of the people for their rights.
Since 2014, the Central government headed by the BJP has been pursuing a two pronged approach to further smash the unity of the peoples of Bengal, Assam and other states of the North East.
On one hand, a National Register of Citizens of Assam has been created, and over 40 lakh women, men and children have been declared as “illegal immigrants”. The vast majority of them are Bangla speaking people, both Hindus and Muslims, who have lived in Assam over decades. In Bengal and other states of North East, the BJP has been carrying on a campaign for creating similar registers of citizens to “identify and deport” “illegal immigrants”.
On the other hand, the BJP government has tried to divide the Bengali people, including those classified as illegal immigrants, on communal lines, by promising to grant citizenship rights to the Hindus amongst them. The proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act is aimed at fueling this division.
An extremely grave situation is being created in Bengal, Assam and all of the North East. People are being set against each other on the basis of nationality, religion and language.
Amongst the Assamese and other peoples of the North East, the specter is being invoked of large scale migration of Hindus from Bangladesh. There are an estimated 16 million people of Hindu faith who are citizens of Bangladesh. Enlightened human rights activists and prominent leaders of the religious minorities in Bangladesh have expressed their grave concern at the ramifications of the Indian state passing the proposed amendment. They have expressed the fear that this will be used by reactionary forces in their country to persecute the religious minorities, take over their properties, and drive them into India as refugees.
In its submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) Director stated “As per our records, there are 31,313 persons belonging to minority communities (Hindus: 25,447, Sikhs: 5,807, Christians: 55, Buddhists: 2 and Parsis: 2) who have been granted a long term visa on the basis of their claim of religious persecution in their respective countries and want Indian citizenship. Hence, these persons will be immediate beneficiaries," He further informed the JPC that those classified as “illegal immigrant” who now apply for citizenship by claiming religious persecution as the ground, will not get citizenship without stringent verification by the state. In other words, the government has been fooling the Hindu “illegal immigrants” with the lie that it wants to give them citizenship.
The actual aim of the Citizenship Amendment Bill is not to make it any easier for any significant section of “illegal immigrants” to gain Indian citizenship.
The aim is to further communalise Assam, Bengal, and other North Eastern states and sharpen divisions on the basis of religion, language and nationality. The aim is to further attack the unity and solidarity of our people.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill must be unequivocally condemned and rejected.