Citizenship Amendment Bill and the people of Assam

Most recently,the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill has been the talk of every nook and corner of the state with people from all walks of life joining the bandwagon and raising voices against the ill-fated bill.The state has witnessed severe protest over the past few weeks and protesting slogans even beat the deep blowing horns and revving engines of lumbering trucks on the national highways across the state.The peace loving state has all of a sudden sensed odd that could dismantle the rich social fabric and harmony.This is happening at a time when the cumbersome National Registration of Citizens is still in progress in the state.The people have been struck a dual blow and anxiety is at peak amongst the people.

With The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, the government plans to change the definition of illegal migrants. The Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 15, 2016, seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to provide citizenship to illegal migrants, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who are of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian extraction. However, the Act doesn’t have a provision for Muslim sects like Shias and Ahmediyas who also face persecution in Pakistan.The Bill also seeks to reduce the requirement of 11 years of continuous stay in the country to six years to obtain citizenship by naturalisation.

The magnitude of the anxiety can be seen on the days Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the Bill visited Assam. Assam is always a sensitive space for ethno national questions. But the steering that swept the whole of state over this bill was not seen in the recent history of Assam. The anxious participation of people and organisations representing all communities in Assam on the days of public hearing at Guwahati and Silchar was really unprecedented. Though the JPC went back after the public hearing, actions and reactions over the Bill are still hitting the shores with same vibrancy. Innumerable organisations are unleashing agitation and mass campaigning programs. Artists, writers and literary figures are not confined to placing their response, but also coming to street in opposition of the Bill. Open opposition by 21 editors of regional electronic and print media groups is also a remarkable aspect. All these reactions have touched the masses and the Bill has become the centre of public debate all over the state.

Another reason for opposing the bill is specific to Assam. The Assam accord fixes March 24, 1971 as the cutoff date for identification and expulsion of foreigners in Assam. That means government of India is duty-bound for identification and expulsion of any illegal emigrant who has entered Assam on or after March 25, 1971. We should not forget the history behind fixing of this date. The leadership of Assam agitation, started from 1979 under the joint leadership of All Assam Students Union and Asom Gana Sangram Parishad, demanded National Register of Citizenship (NRC) of 1951 to be the basis for identification and expulsion of foreigners in Assam.

BJP’s coalition partner Assam Gana Parishad has threatened to cut ties with the party if the Bill is passed. It considers the Bill to work against the cultural and linguistic identity of the indigenous people of the State. NGOs such as The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and students’ organization All Assam Students’ Union also have come forward opposing the Bill.

All Opposition parties, including the Congress and the All India United Democratic Front, have opposed the idea of granting citizenship to an individual on the basis of religion. It is also argued that the Bill, if made into an Act, will nullify the updated National Registration of Citizenship (NRC). The process of updating the NRC is currently underway in Assam.

Thousands of slogan-shouting protesters from all almost all association and organisations  marched through towns across the state, before submitting memoranda addressed to the prime minister to the respective district deputy commissioners.Meanwhile, a number of MLAs of the ruling BJP also opposed the bill and said allowing citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis would pose a threat to the identity of the Assamese people and affect the interest of the indigenous people of the state.

The state government is too determined to provide citizenship to the Hindu Bangladeshis as the saffron outfit senses political gains and a sure vote bank.It can stoop much below and the arrest of a 16 year old Assamese YouTuber reflects the same.The teenager, a resident of Assam’s Golaghat district, had uploaded a video on YouTube that made fun of several BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and another key minister from the state, Himanta Biswa Sarma.The video has since been taken down. The boy, a regular YouTuber, has also deactivated his account.

Amid the continuing row in Assam over the citizenship amendment bill, Governor Jagdish Mukhi said the state is completely divided over the issue and the government is seized of the matter.He further said,”Assam is divided over the issue (citizenship amendment bill). The Brahmaputra valley has a different view and the Barak valley different. Not only political parties, but social, cultural, literary organisations have taken their respective stand.”

While Bill is designed to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees persecuted in neighbouring countries, NRC does not distinguish migrants on the basis of religion. It will consider deporting anyone who has entered the State illegally post-March 24, 1971, irrespective of their religion. Currently there are six detention camps for illegal migrants in Assam but it’s still not clear how long the people will be detained in these camps. The process of deportation or duration of detention is not clear as it has not been stated by the government. But if the Bill becomes an Act, the non-Muslims need not go through any such process, meaning this will be clearly discriminating against Muslims identified as undocumented immigrants.

One need to understand the political motives of the BJP ruled central government.It has been four years now and all the key polices taken by the government has failed,the government has failed in economic front and foreign polices to name a few.The recent losses in the by-elections held  and with the allies not in a mood to compromise seats for the saffron party,shock waves have hit the party.The opposition parties uniting and giving a tough fight has further hampered it’s wishes of winning with a thumping majority in 2019.To fulfill the political ambitions and to remain in power the central government now wants to further polarise voters and gain vote banks.The bill will have adverse effects in Assam and its neighbouring states.The people of Assam should understand the ill motives and put up a united fight and continue protest in an organized manner.It is high time that people from all communities should oppose the Citizenship Amendment Bill unitedly without giving any space to any kind of divisive tendency.

Suhail  Mohammed is pursuing his graduation in English literature at the Department of English, Aligarh Muslim University, Uttar Pradesh and can be reached at


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  1. nava thakuria says:

    Assam puts on fire over citizenship issue

    Assam, excluding its Barak valley, is presently burning. At least, if one follows the media reporting and related contents, one may get convinced that the Brahmaputra valley of the northeastern State has been witnessing an uproarious situation for few weeks now. Other Sates of the region also start experiencing the heat of the pertinent debate.
    Few observers may compare the situation to the days of Assam agitation, which culminated in 1985 with an accord signed by the agitators and the Union government in New Delhi. Millions of participants in the six years long agitation wanted to deport all illegal migrants (read Bangladeshi nationals) from Assam (means India), but the leaders agreed in the accord to accept all the migrants till 25 March 1971 in the State.
    The agitation led by All Assam Student’s Union (AASU), witnessed the sacrifices of over 850 martyrs and thousands others in different shape and sizes, who all wanted to deport the illegal migrants with the national cutoff year (1951). But the accord only agreed to identify only those people, who entered Assam after 25 March ’71, as illegal foreigners. Need to be mentioned that the accord was never placed in the Parliament for endorsement.
    After more than three decades of signing of the accord, the people of Assam (more precisely the civil society group representatives and media stalwarts in Brahmaputra valley) are fantasizing of another uprising. This time it is against the Centre’s initiative to grant citizenship to those religious asylum seekers from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
    Hundreds of Assam based organizations, including few from other parts of the region, are on the streets asking the central government to withdraw the citizenship amendment bill 2016. They came out with clear demand that the Narendra Modi led government’s move to grant citizenship to those religious asylum seekers (including Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christians from the three neighboring countries and had taken shelter in India prior to 31 December 2014) must be abandoned.
    Their logics include that Indian citizenship cannot be conferred on the basis of religion as it is a secular country and if done it would go against the spirit of the constitution. The other one, which has been supported by 95% protesting organizations, argues that Assam has already taken the burden of numerous illegal migrants (from 1951 to 1971) and it must not get more migrants, as they would destroy the State’s demography and Assamese as a language.
    The protest escalated when the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) over the amendment arrived in Guwahati in the first week of May for hearings. A number of indigenous organizations, local politicians, intellectuals, media personalities etc of the State assembled on the venue and raised their voices against the bill. However, subsequent hearings in Silchar of Barak valley witnessed a different picture as most of their organizations supported the bill.
    Otherwise almost all organizations in Brahmaputra valley and showing a rare unity the editors of prominent newspapers and news channels based in Guwahati came out with strong statement opposing the Centre’s move. The editors not only issued media statements elaborating their point of views, but also met the State chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, responding to whom the Bharatiya Janata Party leader assured that he would not do anything wrong to Assam.
    Among the protesters, most of them continue arguing that the amendment would go against the spirit of Assam accord. AASU, Asom Sahitya Sabha, Asom Gana Parishad along with many ethnic outfits of the State made it clear that they would not accept any migrants after 25 March ’71. They have not clarified if they are really against of asylum seekers (from Pakistan and Afghanistan) getting Indian citizenship in western part of the country. So indirectly the agitators have given ample scope to the government that if Assam is spared, the said amendment may go ahead.
    No doubt, even if the Centre assures that Assam as well northeast India needs not to take burden of any migrants after the amendment, there will be few people opposing the exercise. But they will be marginal in number of the common residents of the region would hardly listen to them. The repeated statements of Assam government that it would not go against the interest of the people only indicate the kind of resolution expected to surface soon.
    The influential minister in Sonowal’s cabinet Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma has made it clear that the State government will take a position over the matter only after the publication of National Register of Citizens (NRC)’s final draft by 30 June next. The updating of NRC, presently going on in Assam with the direction and monitoring of the Supreme Court, will provide a clear picture of the volume of people taking shelter in the State without valid documents, he added.
    The convincing source in the government points out that those without valid papers would not only be Bangladeshi Muslims or Hindus, but a mix of Rajbongsi, Hajong, Jayantiya, Bishnupriya, Chakma, Garo, Khasi, Boro, Adivasi etc people. Locals in the region would find it difficult to raise voices against those ethnic families. So the anger will be concentrated on Bangladeshi Muslims or Hindus only. If the amendment helps identifying the Muslims as illegal settlers, who should be deported, the government has to take responsibility of Bengali speaking Hindu people only.
    And it seems to be a relatively easy solution to the governments both in Dispur and New Delhi.