How Assam Sparked off an all-India Agitation against CAA
When Assam rose in protest against the introduction of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in Parliament in early December, the rest of India was barely awake. Yes, there were discussions on its implications in WhatsApp groups, in offices and at homes but there wasn’t any organised protest against the Bill unlike in Assam, where people took to the streets with a vengeance. Two days of mayhem followed resulting in 5 deaths in police firings and scores injured. The indomitable spirit of Assamese people for standing up to “injustice” came to the fore and then suddenly the rest of India woke up. Why did the rest of India wake up so late against the Bill which became an Act on 11th December with its passage in Rajya Sabha?
To decipher this, one has to understand the linkage between the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 and the announcement made by the Union Home Minister on updating a National Register for Citizens (NRC) for the whole nation in the near future. And interestingly, Assam would always be cited as an example when this linkage is discussed about - whether in the court rooms or in drawing rooms.
Incidentally, Assam is the only state which has at present gone through the exercise of updating an updated NRC using 25th March, 1971 as the cut-off date to prove citizenship.
The draft final list of the exercise published on 31st August, 2019 left out 1.9 million people out of the total applications of approximately 33 million. Since then, the fate of the people left out of the final list has been undecided with the central government renewing its pledge to undertake the exercise afresh along with rest of India and the Supreme Court being petitioned by some organisations from Assam to look at the final list afresh and to give directions to the authorities to remove “anomalies.”
Interestingly, the 1.9 million people left out of the draft final list of NRC include people from all religions and in the absence of official data, it would only be a guestimate as to how many people belong to which religion. However, in terms of the status of the people left out of NRC, it would be interesting to see whether the people belonging to religions other than Islam would be rehabilitated using the CAA provisions, if such people can prove that they were victims of religious persecution in their countries’ of birth and that they have been living in India for a minimum of 5 years and entered India on or before 31st December, 2014. The absence of clarity on this account is one of the reasons for the flare up across the country with respect to CAA today.
Assam went for an updated NRC with 1971 as the cut-off year and if and when the nationwide NRC exercise is carried out, the likely cut-off year would be 1951. If CAA is examined in isolation, according to the supporters of the Act, it would not harm the rights of any Indian citizen as such since the Act would grant citizenship to people designated as minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and who belong to the religious groups such as Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism and Parsi.
However, people opposing CAA say that the Act violates the basic secular character of the constitution since Muslims have been left out and so, have demanded its repeal. With the Supreme Court being seized of the matter, it would be a long drawn legal battle and the country will have to await the judgement of the Supreme Court.
Juxtaposing the same scenario for 130 crore Indians using 1951 as the cut-off year for an updated NRC where many more million names would be struck out since availability of documents would prove to be a herculean task and linking the same with CAA will be the tinderbox. In such a scenario, like in Assam, what fate would await the people who would be struck off the NRC list? Here lies the crux of the story. Provocative statements by politicians are only pushing people to the brink and its time that the government comes out with a clear statement on this account.
When India is in the midst of an economic crisis where all indices of development have slowed down, unemployment rising continuously and price rise has been the order of the day, the least the country needs right now is to be divided on religious lines. A government that started on the promising note of “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” needs to really live up to its promise of development in all spheres.