Impact of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 on Adivasi People


The Citizenship Amendment Law (CAA) 2019 abolishes the essential spirit of the Constitution in many respects. The right to equality is mentioned in Article 14 of the Constitution of India which says, that there will be no discrimination on the basis of religion, caste and sex. It implies that government cannot make any law by discriminating any person based on religion, caste and gender. According to the CAA any person residing in India before or on 31st December 2014 would be considered as citizen of India. Setting 31st December 2014 as the deadline for granting Indian citizenship is unreasonable. Secondly, according to the CAA 2019, only Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parses and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will be given citizenship in India. The provision did not include the Muslims. Why Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal were left out, despite the situation of the citizens in these countries being very bad? The government is trying to target the minority especially the Muslims and marginalized communities indirectly. Many State Governments have passed the Bill in their assemblies against CAA and resolved that they would not implement it. Simultaneously the students in the universities, civil society organizations, NGOs, citizens and activists also staged rallies and dharnas against this Law. This protest lasted for more than two months in many cities, but the coronavirus pandemic brought this movement from the streets to the virtual world, and even today the movement continues unabated.

The tribal population constitutes 8.6 percent of the total population and spread out across India. Citizenship law is seen to have wide impact on the Adivasis. When the citizenship list for lawful citizens was released in Assam, 19 lakh six thousand six hundred and fifty citizens were not included in it. They were clubbed into ‘doubtful citizens.’ In the list of ‘doubtful citizens’ included about one lakh people were Adivasi. Many people were pushed into detention centers, and the first among many who died was Puna Munda an Adivasi migrant from Jharkhand.

In the colonial period, tribals from the undivided Bihar, now Jharkhand were taken to Assam for tea plantation. They were employed in the tea production, but were not given legal papers or piece of land as permanent residents. Due to this, the Adivasis are still deprived of their basic rights in Assam and other regions of West Bengal even though they were taken from Bihar, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand as plantation workers many years ago, but they were denied of their right of being legal residents of that place. Even today they are treated as the migrant and bonded labourers and are deprived of the state provisions and live like outsiders in their own country.

Under this law, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) have also been added. In the process of NPR and NRC the original papers of birth and residence will be verified. Since it would be difficult for the adivasis to provide the documents, it will create huge problems for them. The level of education among the Adivasi is still very poor. Their way of living is different from other societies. As a result they would not be able to furnish the documents asked for the citizenship. One crude example of Koyali Devi’s daughter who died of hunger in Simdega district in Jharkhand is cited here. The daughter died of hunger because Koyali did not receive government ration for eight months since she had not linked Aadhaar number with the ration card. She could not prove her citizenship and the result was death.

Adivasi population migrates to different states within the country. They do not have any proper document to prove their permanent residences. It is far more difficult to prove their citizenship. An incident in colonial history is often told that when the Governor of Bengal asked the Adivasis of Chotanagpur to produce proofs of their landholding, it is said, that they carried a big piece of stone which they erect to demarcate their territory as the proof of their land record. Thus there is different understanding of land records and proofs.  When records and proofs are demanded by the state in uniformity probably many Adivasis would not be able to meet the criteria. As a result, according to the CAA Law they will be considered as doubtful citizens and will be deprived of many privileges by the state. More importantly, the Adivasis’ claim to be the original settlers of this country will automatically become null and void since they will be considered ‘doubtful citizens’ by not being able to meet the criteria of proving their citizenship.

If this happens, where will the Adivasis go? According to the government officials, failure in proving their legitimacy according to the Forest Rights Act, about eighteen lakh fifty thousand Adivasi families are threatened to be evicted from their land. Now if the documents to prove their citizenship will be asked under CAA, NRC and NPR then from where will they provide? It looks that the new Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 is a conspiracy to deprive the Adivasis from their land and render them to a status of ‘doubtful citizen’ and finally to push them to detention camp.

Arun Kumar Oraon, Ph.D Scholar , Center for Indo-Pacific Studies , School of International Studies , JNU.



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