By : Dr.Aniruddha Babar
PhD, MA, LLM, DHRL
Asst. Professor of Political Science, Tetso College, Dimapur
“The forest was shrinking but the trees kept voting for the axe as its handle was made of wood and they thought it was one of them.”
~ Turkish Proverb
The RajyaSabha on Wednesday 11th December, 2019 passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill with a majority of 125 MPs voting in favour and 105 voting against it. It was thought to be a close contest; however abstinence of number of political parties from participating in the voting played a significant role. There were around 16 members who did not vote in the House. This included two from BJP MPs, one from INC MP, three from Shiv Sena MPs and two from NCP, IND, and BSP each. Apart from them, one MP each from the AITC, SP, JD(S) and TRS parties did not attend the CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT BILL2019 proceedings. History will remember the names of those who have voted for this HISTORIC Bill and those who preferred to remain silent when the flag of secularism and voice of democracy locked in captivity.
For the first time in the constitutional, parliamentary and political history of India, now, the law makes religion a criterion for the granting of citizenship to migrants and refugees by excluding Muslims – regardless of whether they face persecution in their own countries – from its provisions. The ‘exclusionary’ politics which the ruling government has played in legal arena – by making ‘politically suitable’ amendments in Foreigners and Passport Act in 2015 became a part of grand conspiracy to give yet another ‘Unconstitutional Shock’ to India in the form of Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 which has now become a Law after an assent of the Hon’ble President of India. The present government and auxiliary communal forces have been playing with the sentiments as well as the constitutional fabric of this nation through parliamentary routes and other means & modes since 2014 sometimes in the name of Demonetisation, GST, Art.370, Love Jihaad, TripleTalaak, Gharwapsi Movement, Black Money (KaaalaaaDhannnn) or sometimes in the name of NRC and CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT.
The major attraction of this Bill is that it grants super-fast track Indian citizenship rights to non-Muslim communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – Hindus, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs while suppressing the voices and concerns of the people from the north east region which is going to be affected the most by this Act.In the past, whenever people faced persecution, which happened with Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka, when genocide happened in countries like Uganda, when Pondicherry, Goa were liberated, all these people who were the victims of their history were granted Indian citizenship on pure humanitarian ground. However, religion was never made a legal ground for giving citizenship as it not only violates the foundation of constitution but also threatens the values that India has cherished for thousands of years. Moreover, a historical fact must be acknowledgedthat the states which has been formed on the basis of religion that ‘by nature’ discriminate against minorities, and now a time has come for the government to assure that this will not happen in India. Now the common belief has been building up that the very basic nature of CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT 2019 which has now become a law will reflect its communal character with all its might and turn this glorious, free nation into some sort of Religious Republic where mejoritarianism would be the norm.At the outset it must be understood that the People from the northeast does not understand religious dynamics. They do not know its n bits about Hindu-Muslim ‘thing’; a notion that mainlanders have developed. They are straight people. However, this Act strive to inject the ideas of ‘Religious Binaries’ in the free, uncontaminated, pureculture of people who doesn’t believe in ‘religious fetishism’, ‘exhibitionism’, ‘discrimination’ and does not weigh nationalism and patriotism on the scale of ‘Religion’.
Moreover, there is a reason to believe that the entire CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT affair has also gone parallel to fix the holes created by the failed NRC exercise. Question arises as to how it will differentiate between ‘illegal immigrants’ from those who claim to have been persecuted religiously. “In the case of those Hindus who have been excluded from the NRC, they have submitted legacy data saying they are residents of India. However, ironically it seems this Act wants to tell them, ‘no you are from Bangladesh’ and then make them legally entitled for the grant of citizenship? People of all religions and also those who are non-religious have the right to live as an Indian citizen. There is a conspiracy to tear down democratic fabric and constitutional values of justice, equality, liberty and fraternity upon which this nation has been founded, and establish dictatorship and make India a religious state. It is said that, one bad idea can often lead to many others, similarly one mistake and omission if goes unchecked paves the way for another. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) left us with 1.9 million people classified as ‘illegal immigrants’ — though they still have a right of appeal. Over 50 per cent of these ‘illegal immigrants’ are Hindus and, who; in the central government’s plan of action, immediately need to be saved from the threat of statelessness. Hence, the CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT, 2019 has become an urgent political necessity for the government not only to save the Hindus but also to ‘catch’ a golden opportunity to become a saviour of millions of poor, rejected, dejected, helpless, scared people. Now since CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT 2019 has been given Red Carpet Treatment in parliament, the millions of Hindus who’ve landed in the NRC trap can, after due process,will be granted Indian citizenship however Muslims will still be prosecuted in the Foreigners Tribunals. These thoughts lingering in the minds of the people of northeast are enough to disturb people especially the indigenous people who are already fighting daily battles on different fronts for survival. The quadratic equation of CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT 2019 needs to be understood in summation with NRC discourse.
The unconstitutional ACT like CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT, 2019 which the ruling government has staunchly advocated and got it passed through the parliamentary scrutiny stating that it will bring light in the life of millions of persecuted minority communities from 6 notified religions and 3 countries is actually silent about ‘religious persecution’. The CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT which now has become Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, No. 47 of 2019 dt. 12th December, 2019 which has been published in official Gazette of India do not have term ‘persecution’or ‘persecuted communities’ or ‘religious persecution’ (It must be pointed out here that the CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT does not use the category religious minorities anywhere in its text. The Act only gives reference to the notifications dated September 7, 2015 and July 18, 2016 to the Passports Act and the Foreigners Act, which mention the term ‘religious persecution’.)nor have any further provisions regarding identification, verification of ‘persecuted person’. There is no definition of ‘Persecution’, ‘Persecuted Person’, ‘Refugee’, ‘Immigrant’ (in the context of current Amendment) in the Act. There is no procedure given in the Act as to how a person could prove himself as someone who has been a victim of Religious persecution in a country (among 3 notified countries) he fled away from. The insidious Bill which has now become an Act seems to have been drafted hurriedly without giving any weightage to the core ‘jurisprudential elements’ and the ‘principles of statute drafting’. In this context, now a simple question arises as to why ruling government felt a need, what kind of emergency situation they perceived which compelled them to draft, present and pass the Bill hurriedly? Have they been trying to cover up the failures of their political endeavours? Have they been trying to divert the mass attention from the core problems of ‘unemployment, economic recession, new education policy, privatisation of education, drastic disinvestment, end of scholarships, slow implementation of Mandal Commission, reduction in budget provision for school and higher education? Fee hikes? Lateral entry in Civil Services?Or, are they trying to divert mass attention from the mass agitation and protests against ‘Electronic Voting Machine’?
Primarily unconstitutional bill like CAB which in itself, by nature is unconstitutional should not have been brought before the parliament for debate. Such a Bill becoming the law of land over the graves of the voices of millions in northeast India is a blatant violation of the preamble of the constitution which begins with…”.WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA….” The very basic idea of India, the people of it, unity in diversity, constitutional government, centre-state relationship, public welfare, religious freedom, social justice, secularism, liberty, freedom of speechetc; have brought in question by this monstrous exercise of CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT, 2019.This Law is also a direct threat to Art. 371(A), 371 (B), 371 ( c ), 371 (F), 371 (G), 371 (H), as it defeats the very purpose for which the special constitutional status has been granted to the states in northeast. No state in northeast, if nod to Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, whether it comes under its purview or not, will be able to protect itself from inevitable demographic and political changes along with invisible socio-political-cultural undercurrents that this new amendment will bring. This amendment will also bring direct attack on the resources of society which already exist in scarcity. Moreover, in the context of the political realities of the northeast India, it may be understood that the Peace-making attempts, possibilities of political solutions, new experiments and models in governance; all will be affected by this new development the impact of which will be beyond measure and imagination of today’s generation of people of northeast India.
In reference to Constitutional Jurisprudence Article 14 which is at the centre of the discourse on CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT is not confined to the citizens of India alone. It gives benefits of equality to any person within the territory of India even to a foreigner. This Amendment undoubtedly wants to create a class of refugees. Moreover, ‘Reasonable Classification’ has been a defence which has been taken by the advocates of the Amendment Act. However, the issue is not what the classification is, but how the classification has been made. Since the amendment speaks about the categories of people, then that must be justified by the state in the context of the rationale of the law, nexus of provisions in question with the object of the law, intelligible differentia,and the spirit of the constitution of India. The classification of people can only be valid in the eyes of law if it is rational. Classification based on religion, language, geography, community or beliefs can never be reasonable classification. If classification is based on the individual needs to have different citizenship then it can be considered as a reasonable classification. However, a person belong to particular community and state has material evidence that the presence of the person might pose threat to the national security then in such a condition state can deny citizenship to such a person, which is valid and acceptable in the eyes of law but state cannot reject citizenship merely on the basis of a particular religion that the applicant for citizenship belong to. This act goes against the fundamental tenets of the constitution; it is not just a question secularism but that of a Justice, equality, liberty and constructive liberalism as well. By adopting this regressive provision, I do not have an iota of doubt that the India is going in the direction of Law of Return of Israel that Israel is a natural home of all Jews.
This Act suppresses the voices of the people which is a blow to the core of democracy where the voices of the people, their aspirations given paramount importance. Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 is not just a betrayal of the people of Assam, but also an invalidation of their struggle that brought Assam Accord in 1985. The demand of Assamese has always been to protect their lands from millions of Bangladeshi illegal immigrants which seriously pose a threat to the very survival of the people and their culture. Assam Movement was never against any religion; however, it is the government by enacting this communal Act dividing society into Hindu-Muslims. Assam Movement was a battle against people who have been coming illegally in Assam bypassing the immigration norms. It was a raging issue soon after Independence forcing the government to bring the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act in 1950. A National Register of Citizens (NRC) was to be prepared on the basis of Census 1951. The NRC finally came up earlier this year only to be turned out as a failed exercise and to supplement it CAB was introduced which has been widely opposed; that now has become a law.
However, question arises as to whether this matter is simply an internal matter of Assam, whether CAA will have any impact on neighbouring state including Nagaland, whether Art. 371(A), Inner Line Permit System is robust enough to face this new menace. We need to take out sometime to ponder upon it. The problem of Illegal Bangladeshi immigrants is not new to this region. Assam has been directly affected primarily because it shares 263 kilometres (163 mi) of border with Bangladesh out of which 143.9 kilometres (89.4 mi) is land and 119.1 kilometres (74.0 mi) is riverine. To control the influx of certain measures were taken in the past.When Bangladesh was not in existence, it was a part of Pakistan that was known in the past as East Pakistan (previously East Bengal)from which gradually after the partition of India saw millions of people migrating in India. These waves of Refugees who sneaked through Assam Border in India did not remain in India but gradually spread all over the northeast and also the eastern regions of the country including West Bengal. That was the beginning of a disaster; this was the point from where the illegal movements of East Pakistani Bengali immigrants started and continued, right up to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, both on an ongoing basis and with spikes during periods of particular communal unrest such as the 1964 East Pakistan riots and the 1965 India-Pakistan War, when it is estimated that 600,000 refugees left for India. Estimates of the number of refugees up to 1970 are over 5 million attributed to West Bengal alone. This includes around 4.1 million coming between 1946 and 1958 and 1.2 million coming between 1959 and 1971.Another major influx into India came in 1971 during the Bangladesh Liberation War. It is estimated that around 10 million East Bengali refugees entered India during the early months of the war. These refugees remain in India and became the citizens of India and never went back to independent Bangladesh due to economic, fear of insecurity for being a minority there.Along with Bengali Hindus, minority Chakmas and Hajongs too fled the erstwhile East Pakistan to take shelter in the Northeast during that period. The existence of Chakmas and Hajongs in their native place was further imperilled by the construction of the Kaptai dam on the river Karnaphuli in 1962.They entered India through what was then the Lushai Hills district of Assam (today’s Mizoram). While some stayed back with the Chakmas who were already living in the Lushai Hills, the Indian government gave settlement to a majority of the ‘recognized’ refugees in the sparsely populated North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), present-day Arunachal Pradesh.
The immigration issue is a worldwide nationality phenomenon. India is not exceptional that in turn is impacting Northeastern region of India and even the Nagas. The conflicts that occurred inBodoland between indigenous Bodos and illegal Bangladeshi immigrantsis a proof that the protected areas are bound to be troubled by the illegal immigrants. Moreover, illegal immigrants are able to easily obtain forged citizenship documents, enabling them to vote and access government services. The creation of the BTC and BTAD has failed to protect the rights of the Bodos or curb the unabated illegal migration from Bangladesh, leaving them increasingly vulnerable. The case of Bodoland can be a test case to all protected areas to assess their situation in the context of Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 and its possible impact with reference to the legalization of millions of people who have already been migrated, mixed, living, settled among different ethnic tribal populations of entire northeast for the past 70 years.
Moreover, in the commercial hub Dimapur, the population of these immigrants is quite big but officially this fact has not been confirmed. However, a stroll on the streets of Dimapur, local street markets will reveal a lot more shocking story that the papers of government may not. Majority of the labourers in Dimapur are reportedly from Bangladesh. Street vendors are from Bangladesh. All the north-eastern states were facing the problem of illegal immigration from Bangladesh, which posed a threat to the social fabric of the region and the demography of the state. Northeast India will definitely not like to see multiple Tripuras in making.
Moreover, the question of cut-off date which is set as 31st December, 2014 is irrelevant since maximum damage due to illegal immigrants has already been done in the last seven decades, the only difference is, by virtue of Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 the damage has now been legalized. The beneficiaries of people now can very well follow the procedure of application for e.g in Assam if not in Nagaland since Nagaland has been exempted from the operation of CAA and become official, bonafide, naturalized citizens and apply for ILP and enter Nagaland for different purposes including that of ‘employment’. Now, question is, on what ground can they be stopped from entering in Nagaland once they become legal citizen of the Republic of India? Our existing ILP system and Art 371 (A) will not be able to have much influence over the population of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants which already exist amongst us. Moreover, it is suspected that we already have approx. 12%(statistics may vary) of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants of our total population in Nagaland. Isn’t it a matter of grave concern?
Moreover, the instances of allegations of forged documentary evidences to support citizenship claims has also come in the light which directly impacted the local and state politics in northeast to the great extent. Also, it needs to be taken into account that the state of Nagaland shares its borders with Assam to the west and Arunachal Pradesh & Assam to the north. Moreover, it is blessed to have Dimapur as a Railway station that connects it not only to the rest of the northeast via Gauhati but also to the rest of India. Nagaland is not secluded or fortified, and it can never be. Physical barriers or legal barriers cannot stop Nagaland from getting exposed to the reality of the outside world. Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 brought a question not only of Constitutional survival of all the people of India, but also, the survival of culture and traditions that has been gifted to our Naga and other indigenous people by their great ancestors.
As reiterated by various legal experts, jurists, constitutional experts from time to time that the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 is unconstitutional. CAA will not stand to the test of the Constitution. All Assam Students Union, AIMIM chief AsaduddinOwaisi, Tripura royal scion, chairperson of Joint movement against CAB, PradyutDebbarman, Trinamool Congress MP MahuaMoitra, Congress leader and former minister Jairam Ramesh have filed their petitions before the Supreme Court to challenge the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019. It is heard that many more stakeholders including individuals, students unions, civil society organizations in different parts of the northeast will soon be moving to apex court to challenge the Law which has been democratically rejected by the majority of people of the northeast. The Final Constitutional mandate is yet to be delivered, but the people have already given their mandate. Let Democracy prevail!