More than 100 groups in Assam voice opposition to Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: May 11, 2018
The joint parliamentary committee on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 is on a visit to Northeast India, beginning with a meeting in Guwahati, Assam on Monday, May 7. The committee is comprised of 16 members, and led by Lok Sabha MP from Meerut, Rajendra Agrawal. Now, representatives from more than 100 organisations submitted memorandums to the committee opposing the proposed amendments, which would pave the way to obtain citizenship for those from specific minority communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who entered India illegally. The bill mentions the minorities eligible under this: Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Christians, and Parsis. Notably, the bill covers only non-Muslim minorities. 

As per 1955’s Citizenship Act, those who entered India with valid paperwork can pursue citizenship if they have lived in India for 11 of the last 14 years. The proposed amendment indicates that those belonging to the above mentioned communities need only to have lived in India for six years

On Monday, May 7, other than the groups who met with the committee to raise their objections, several thousand people from areas in the Brahmaputra valley gathered at the Assam Administrative Staff College, where the meeting was held, to protest against the Bill. Multiple placards bore the words, "Foreigners are foreigners irrespective of religion". 

Prahlad Gogoi from Lakhimpur, on the Brahmaputra’s north bank, said, "We took so many people till 1971," adding, "We just can’t take anymore". 1971’s Bangladesh War was a politically contentious matter, and the All Assam Students’ Union spearheaded a movement against foreigners, which culminated in 1985’s Assam Accord. As per the accord, any individual who entered Assam following the midnight of March 24, or, following the start of the Bangladesh War, would be considered an illegal immigrant, regardless of their religion. 

Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who at the time of signing the Accord was president of the All Assam Students’ Union, and Biraj Sarma, then general secretary of the Asom Gana Parishad, met with the committee. Mahanta previously served as Assam’s Chief Minister. Their memorandum contended that the amendment is an attack on the Assam Accord, and said that if the Bill is passed in its current form "the very purpose of the Assam Accord would be gutted". 

Atul Bora, president of the Asom Gana Parishad said the bill would harm India’s secular fabric, and make indigenous Assamese people a "linguistic minority" in their own state. Bora also noted that the Bill would effectively make Assam’s undertaking of updating its National Register of Citizenship pointless. The Congress, which also submitted a memorandum to the committee, also had a similar concern. Other organisations opposing the Bill that met with the committee include the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti farmers’ organisation (KMSS), the All Assam Minority Students’ Union, and the North East Indigenous People’s Forum. 

On Sunday, May 6, KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi questioned, "Will Assamese people become minorities in their own state? Will Assamese language be replaced with Bengali as the official language? Such fears among the indigenous people in Assam will become reality if we all do not stand strongly against the bill. The BJP and RSS are sponsoring several organisations in Assam so that they don't oppose the bill," adding, "According to a report by former governor S.K. Sinha, 75 lakh Bangladeshi Hindus had entered Assam between 1971 and 1989. If the bill is passed, they will become citizens of Assam. All foreigners, irrespective of religion and caste, who came to Assam after 1971 must be detected and deported," 

The joint parliamentary committee was scheduled to travel to the Barak Valley after this, where the residents are primarily Bengali, and are anticipated to support the Bill, differing from those in the Brahmaputra Valley.

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