What is the Citizenship Amendment Act? Why are people of Assam against it?

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What is the Citizenship Amendment Act? Why are people of Assam against it?

G Plus News | December 20, 2019 13:15 hrs

GUWAHATI: Amidst protests, curfews and several violent outbreaks in the country, the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), now the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) was passed by the Parliament and became a law on December 12, 2019.

Following the passage of CAA, anti-CAA protests erupted across several universities across India like Jawaharlal Hindu University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Madras University, Banaras Hindu University, Gauhati University, Tezpur University Dibrugarh University to name a few.

It has to be mentioned that the reasons behind the anti-CAA protests happening in Assam differ from rest of the country.

But what is CAB and why is it creating a chaos in India/Assam? Here is all you need to know about CAB.

1. What is Citizenship (Amendment) Act?

Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was brought in the Parliament to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955. After receiving the president's assent the bill is now called Citizenship Amendment Act 2019.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 (CAB) seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 by making Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan to become eligible for Indian citizenship who have entered the country before December 31, 2014.

The Bill also proposes to relax the norms of a person to apply for citizenship by relaxing the 11 year requirement for residing in India to 6 years for people belonging to the earlier mentioned six religious communities.

It is to be noted that the Citizenship Act of 1955 defines “illegal migrants” as foreigners who come to India without valid travel documents or those who stay in the country even after their permitted time period. The 1955 Act prohibits illegal migrants from acquiring Indian citizenship.

The bill was tabled in Lok Sabha on 9 December, which was passed at midnight. The bill was later passed in the Rajya Sabha on 11 December. The act became a law on December 12 after receiving the President’s assent. 

2. Why are the people of Assam protesting against CAA?

Anti-CAA protests erupted across several parts of Assam followed by bandh, curfew and suspension of internet services across the state. The protest was widely supported by other Northeastern states. Although there have been protests all over the country it needs to be mentioned that the reason behind the ones happening in Assam differ from the rest of country.

Protesters from several parts of the country like Delhi, Hyderabad, West Bengal, Kerala etc. are against CAA because they claim that the act is discriminatory as it is excludes Muslims. They argue that the proposed amendments of the act violates article 14 of the Indian constitution which mentions about right to equality to all persons.

However, people of Assam are opposing the bill because they are of the view that Assam already has a history of massive influx of illegal Bangladeshis migrants and this act will allow more illegal migrants from neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh to settle in Assam.

Another reason of the protest is that people in Assam sense that if the act is implemented it will endanger their linguistic and demographic exclusivity.

Secondly, the act also invalidates the 34 year old Assam Accord which was the result of a 6 year long agitation from 1979 to 1985, that left 855 dead and many injured. It was formed to safeguard cultural, social and linguistic identity of the indigenous people of Assam.

3. What is the Assam Accord?

The Assam Accord is a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed by the AASU (All Assam Student’s Union) and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in the presence of the then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi on August 15, 1985. On behalf of AASU the accord was signed by its then president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and general secretary Bhrigu Kumar Phukan, and on behalf of the central government it was signed by the then Union Home Secretary RD Pradhan.

Clause 5 of the accord talks about the foreigner issue while Clause 6 asserts about constitutional safeguards of the Assamese people.

Clause 5 specifically refers to detection, deletion and deportation of illegal migrants from Assam. The accord also mentions that illegal migrants coming from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971 will be deported back to their home states.

Clause 6 states that the, “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”.

CAA if implemented will make the Assam accord null and void. 

With the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 on December 12, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the people of Assam have nothing to worry about after the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019. He tweeted,"I want to assure my brothers and sisters of Assam that they have nothing to worry after the passing of #CAB. I want to assure them- no one can take away your rights.”

He further added that, “The Central Government and I are totally committed to constitutionally safeguard the political, linguistic, cultural and land rights of the Assamese people as per the spirit of Clause 6.” He also tweeted the same in Assamese.

It is to be noted that, that CAA does not apply to tribal areas of Tripura, Mizoram, Assam and Meghalaya because of being included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Inner Line Permit also exempted Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur from implementation of CAA. 

It needs to be mentioned here that since 1985, a committee was formed for the first time only in January 2019 to implement the clause 6 of the Assam Accord by the BJP government. A nine-member panel was set up in for its implementation, but it was aborted after its fifth member–former Union tourism secretary MP Bezbaruah refused to be part of the panel in wake of the widespread protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016.  Later in July 2019, a 13-member high-level committee comprising of eminent personalities of Assam was formed to examine the effectiveness of actions taken since 1985 to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.

Speaking about the matter of Clause 6, on December 14, 2019 Sarbananda Sonowal tweeted, “I and my Cabinet colleagues met members of the Clause 6 committee and urged them to complete their report as soon as possible. Chairman of the committee assured that they will submit the report within a month.”

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