Insights into Editorial: The distinct cry of an imperiled frontier
The outburst against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, or CAB, (now an Act, or CAA) in the Northeast has left many outside the region confounded.
Tensions remain high after protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Act turned violent in New Delhi, with police using tear gas to disperse crowds.
The protests against the amended Citizenship Act have led to violent clashes at many places including the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh.
Police actions in the Jamia and AMU campuses led to more protests in other universities and places in Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, and Bihar.
Unlike the objections to the CAA everywhere else in the country which is about the discriminatory and seeming Islam-phobia attributes of the new law that they are bewildered that in the Northeast, CAB is seen as a threat to survival.
This inability of those outside the Northeast to see what the Northeast sees betrays to an extent an ignorance and an insensitivity to a stark reality small marginalised communities there face.
Arguments Against the Act:
- The fundamental criticism of the Act has been that it specifically targets Muslims.
- It will be difficult for the government to differentiate between illegal migrants and those persecuted.
- Critics argue that it is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution (which guarantees the right to equality) and the principle of secularism.
- India has several other refugees that include Tamils from Sri Lanka and Hindu Rohingya from Myanmar. They are not covered under the Act.
- If the Act had not specified the religion of the refugees or the countries of origin, for instance, and offered fast-track citizenship to all persecuted refugees from neighbouring countries.
- It would have brought into its ambit Rohingyas from Myanmar, arguably the most persecuted people in the world today; liberal Muslims from Bangladesh, which at one point saw the murder of a number of dissentient bloggers, both Hindus and Muslims; and, Ahmadiyas, Shias, and other minority Muslim sects from Pakistan.
- Despite exemption granted to some regions in the North-eastern states, the prospect of citizenship for massive numbers of illegal Bangladeshi migrants has triggered deep anxieties in the states.
- Citizenship on the basis of religion: The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955, and for the first time, will grant citizenship on the basis of religion to non-Muslim communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014.
What has the UN said about the Citizenship Amendment Act?
The UN human rights body said: “A new law in India which expedites citizenship for certain religious minorities has been criticized by the UN human rights office for being “fundamentally discriminatory in nature.”
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was quoted in the statement as saying, “Although India’s broader naturalization laws remain in place, these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people’s access to nationality”.
The legislation appears to undermine India’s commitment to equality before the law, something that is protected by the Constitution.
While commenting on protecting persecuted groups, the OHCHR said that while it welcomes protecting such groups, it should be done through a “robust” asylum system that is based on equality and non-discrimination, “which applies to all people regardless of race, religion, national origin or other status.”
Exceptions to the present Act: The provisions on citizenship for illegal migrants will not apply to two categories – states protected by the ‘Inner Line’, and areas covered under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
Inner Line Permit (ILP): This is a special permit that citizens from other parts of India require to enter a state protected by the ILP regime.
Without an ILP granted by the state government, an Indian from another state cannot visit a state that is under the ILP regime.
Sixth Schedule: The Sixth Schedule relates to special provisions in administration of certain North-eastern states (Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Tripura).
It provides special powers for Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) in these states.
Points that supported the Act:
- After Independence, not once but twice, India conceded that the minorities in its neighbourhood is its responsibility.
- First, immediately after Partition and again during the Indira-Mujib Pact in 1972 when India had agreed to absorb over 1.2 million refugees.
- It is a historical fact that on both occasions, it was only the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians who had come over to Indian side.
- This Bill will come as a big boon to all those people who have been the victims of Partition and the subsequent conversion of the three countries into theocratic Islamic republics.
- Citing partition between India and Pakistan on religious lines in 1947, the government has argued that millions of citizens of undivided India belonging to various faiths were staying in Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1947.
- The constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for a specific state religion.
- As a result, many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries.
- Many such persons have fled to India to seek shelter and continued to stay in India even if their travel documents have expired or they have incomplete or no documents.
Language and survival:
- A closer look at the UNESCO classification of endangered languages will illuminate further the Northeast’s reaction to the CAA.
- If a language is vulnerable because of the small size of the number of speakers, it becomes more so if the language is spoken only in certain domains for instance at home, but not at schools and offices, etc.
- It becomes definitely endangered if parents speak the language and children only know the language but do not speak it as mother tongue.
- It becomes critically endangered if the grandparents’ generation speak the language, parents know it but do not use it, and children do not know it any more.
- The protest against the amended Citizenship Act has another dimension in Assam and other parts of the Northeast.
- The protesters in Assam have opposed the entire Citizenship Amendment Bill. They have called amendment to the Citizenship Act as unwarranted and the one that threatens their social, economic and cultural identity.
- Extinct languages are those languages which no longer have any speakers. In the UNESCO list, several languages in the Northeast have already become extinct; many more are critically endangered.
- As Ganesh N. Devy, cultural activist and the man behind the People’s Linguistic Survey of India campaign, has said, when a language dies, a world view dies with it.
- Under the circumstances, the response of the Northeast to the CAA, is not merely tribal xenophobia as many have portrayed it to be with patronising condescension, but a desperate survival throe.
The current migration issue is also a consequence of this bitter politics of antagonism of the past.
Nobody is perfectly innocent or guilty in this sordid drama, and the way forward has to be on the path of truth and reconciliation that Nelson Mandela showed.
At a time, when violence is rocking swathes of the country and India’s global stock as a liberal democracy is plummeting precisely on account of initiatives like the abrogation of Article 370 and the passage of the CAA.
It would appear that conciliation would be the best way forward to contain violence and reassure those in need of reassurance, pending a determination by the Supreme Court on the constitutional validity of the Act.