The true cost of hailing the CAB

As the nation debates, dissects and protests yet another attempt by a divisive regime to tear asunder our pluralistic, composite culture, and the last vestiges of our socio-cultural diversity, let us take an in-depth look into the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB).


Who is a Citizen?

In India, Citizenship related laws are laid down in the Citizenship Act of 1955. According to this Act, Indian citizenship can be acquired by birth, descent, registration, naturalisation or incorporation of territory. However, when it comes to the state of Assam, there are a few special provisions that were added via an amendment after the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985.

Clause 6(A) was added to the Indian Citizenship Act via this amendment, and is significant in the present context given how the strongest anti-CAB protests have come from the state of Assam which recently underwent a tedious and expensive process to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC). 

How CAB legitimises asking Muslims to take a hike

The Bangladeshi bogeyman has haunted the collective imagination of bigots and privileged ‘apolitical’ fence-sitters for almost half a century. The narrative is eerily the same; “secular” parties are allowing Muslims to infiltrate India so that their vote bank can be strengthened. No prizes for guessing the author of this piece of tepid piece of fiction.

From Cheetah Camp and Malvani in Mumbai to Karimganj and Kachar in Assam to Malda and Murshidabad in West Bengal, many districts, neighbourhoods and settlements with a majority population of Muslims, have borne the notorious sobriquet of “Mini-Pakistan” and “Chhota Bangladesh”, being relegated to a foreign identity for not being ‘Indian’ enough.

The same sentiment gained wider currency with right-wing ÍT cell’ trolls using words and phrases like “sickular”, “libtard” and “go to Pakistan” to make flimsy counter-arguments against secular forces, civil society and sundry dissenters.

Right-wing supremacist forces, utterly devoted to conflating the wider Indian identity with that of people who follow one religion or philosophy, felt emboldened when their electoral dreams came to fruition in 2014.

The CAB was first was first introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016. The objective was to grant Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians facing religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, Indian Citizenship subject to certain conditions. Those seeking refuge should have entered India before December 31, 2014. Also, the 11-year rule for granting citizenship to refugees would be relaxed in these cases to just six years.

It is noteworthy that safe haven was being offered to everyone except Muslims. The government however responded saying that this was because the three countries from where refugees were being accepted were Muslim majority countries and therefore Muslims there would not face persecution. This argument will be deconstructed and rebutted later in this piece. It is also noteworthy that an initial draft of the BJP’s manifesto in 2019 had omitted Christians and Parsis, who were added, perhaps begrudgingly, only after it was pointed out by a national newspaper.

The CAB was referred to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on August 12, 2016. The JPC submitted its report on January 7, 2019. While it was passed in the Lok Sabha the following day, it lapsed as it could not be cleared before the government’s term ended in June 2019.

The BJP now plans to table the CAB in Parliament on December 9 and has issued a whip to its MPs to remain present on the house in a bid to ensure that the bill is passed. Assuming all MPs comply, BJP’s brute strength majority of 303 in the 543 member Lok Sabha could ensure smooth sailing for the CAB.

But it won’t be that easy in the Rajya Sabha. Of the 245 seats, 5 are currently vacant. The BJP and other NDA members total to 117, while the UPA has 67 members and others come to 58. The combined might of UPA and others (that included TMC, SP, BSP, AAP etc.) come to 125. It would be interesting to see how the Shiv Sena MPs vote given their new-found alliance with the Congress and NCP in Maharashtra. Similarly, NDA members such as the Asom Gana Parishad will also be under tremendous pressure, given the strong opposition to CAB in the state of Assam and even across the wider Northeast region.

Why ‘seven-sisters’ won’t take the CAB

In the Northeast, though anti-CAB protests have broken out in all seven states, it is in the state of Assam where they are perhaps the loudest, strongest and most consistent. This has to be viewed in context of the Assam Accord that was signed in 1985 to alleviate fears of a demographic change in the state due to an alleged influx of ‘foreigners’ from neighbouring Bangladesh in wake of the 1971 war. In fact, clause 6 (A) was added to the Citizenship Act via an amendment in 1985 to address this very concern. The provisions of this special clause are as follows:


[6A. Special provisions as to citizenship of persons covered by the Assam Accord.―

(1) For the purposes of this section―

(a) “Assam” means the territories included in the State of Assam immediately before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 1985 (65 of 1985);

(b) “detected to be a foreigner” means detected to be a foreigner in accordance with the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 (31 of 1946) and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 by a Tribunal constituted under the said Order;

(c) “specified territory” means the territories included in Bangladesh immediately before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 1985 (65 of 1985);

(d) a person shall be deemed to be Indian origin, if he, or either of his parents or any of his grandparents was born in undivided India;

(e) a person shall be deemed to have been detected to be a foreigner on the date on which a Tribunal constituted under the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 submits its opinion to the effect that he is a foreigner to the officer or authority concerned.

(2) Subject to the provisions of sub-sections (6) and (7), all persons of Indian origin who came before the 1st day of January, 1966 to Assam from the specified territory (including such of those whose names were included in the electoral rolls used for the purposes of the General Election to the House of the People held in 1967) and who have been ordinarily resident in Assam since the dates of their entry into Assam shall be deemed to be citizens of India as from the 1st day of January, 1966.

(3) Subject to the provisions of sub-sections (6) and (7), every person of Indian origin who―

(a) came to Assam on or after the 1st day of January, 1966 but before the 25th day of March, 1971 from the specified territory; and

(b) has, since the date of his entry into Assam, been ordinarily resident in Assam; and

(c) has been detected to be a foreigner;

shall register himself in accordance with the rules made by the Central Government in this behalf under section 18 with such authority (hereafter in this sub-section referred to as the registering authority) as may be specified in such rules and if his name is included in any electoral roll for any Assembly or Parliamentary constituency in force on the date of such detection, his name shall be deleted therefrom.

Explanation.―In the case of every person seeking registration under this sub-section, the opinion of the Tribunal constituted under the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 holding such person to be a foreigner, shall be deemed to be sufficient proof of the requirement under clause (c) of this subsection and if any question arises as to whether such person complies with any other requirement under this sub-section, the registering authority shall,―

(i)               if such opinion contains a finding with respect to such other requirement, decide the question in conformity with such finding;

(ii)              if such opinion does not contain a finding with respect to such other requirement, refer the question to a Tribunal constituted under the said Order hang jurisdiction in accordance with such rules as the Central Government may make in this behalf under section 18 and decide the question in conformity with the opinion received on such reference.

(4) A person registered under sub-section (3) shall have, as from the date on which he has been detected to be a foreigner and till the expiry of a period of ten years from that date, the same rights and obligations as a citizen of India (including the right to obtain a passport under the Passports Act, 1967 (15 of 1967) and the obligations connected therewith), but shall not entitled to have his name included in any electoral roll for any Assembly or Parliamentary constituency at any time before the expiry of the said period of ten years.

(5) A person registered under sub-section (3) shall be deemed to be a citizen of India for all purposes as from the date of expiry of a period of ten years from the date on which he has been detected to be a foreigner.

(6) Without prejudice to the provisions of section 8―

(a) if any person referred to in sub-section (2) submits in the prescribed manner and form and to the prescribed authority within sixty days from the date of commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 1985 (65 of 1985), a declaration that he does not wish to be a citizen of India, such person shall not be deemed to have become a citizen of India under that sub-section;

(b) if any person referred to in sub-section (3) submits in the prescribed manner and form and to the prescribed authority within sixty days from the date of commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 1985(65 of 1985), or from the date on which he has been detected to be a foreigner, whichever is later, a declaration that he does not wish to be governed by the provisions of that sub-section and sub-sections (4) and (5), it shall not be necessary for such person to register himself under sub-section (3).

Explanation.―Where a person required to file a declaration under this sub-section does not have the capacity to enter into a contract, such declaration may be filed on his behalf by any person competent under the law for the time being in force to act on his behalf.

(7) Nothing in sub-sections (2) to (6) shall apply in relation to any person―

(a) who, immediately before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 1985 (65 of 1985), is a citizen of India;

(b) who was expelled from India before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 1985, under the Foreigners Act, 1946 (31 of 1946).

(8) Save as otherwise expressly provided in this section, the provisions of this section shall have effect notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force.]


The conflict in Assam cannot be dismissed by explaining it in over-simplified terms as just an ethnic divide. There are very strong sentiments associated with the Assam movement that demanded the expulsion of all ‘foreigners’ from Bangladesh irrespective of their religion. But, true to its divisive agenda, the BJP began to add a distinct religious hue to the cauldron of conflict that was already bubbling over.

The BJP now wants to grant citizenship to Hindus from Bangladesh through CAB, something Assamese groups such as the All Assam Students Union (AASU) that was at the forefront of the Assam agitation in the 80s will never accept. At a protest held on Saturday December 7, AASU chief advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya famously proclaimed, “Assam is not a dustbin for illegal immigrants.” The Congress and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), two key opposition parties in Assam, are also opposing CAB on the grounds that it violates provisions of the Assam Accord.

The timing of CAB in Parliament couldn’t have been worse, given how December 10, the date picked by the BJP to pass the bill in the Lok Sabha is also martyrdom day of those killed in the Assam agitation. This has egged AASU to call for a bandh on the day. Bhattacharya said, “December 10 is also the ‘Swahid Divas’ in the memory of the martyrs of the Assam Agitation. We appeal to the masses to offer their respects to the martyrs early in the morning, and then observe the bandh on the day.”

The 12 hour bandh starting 5AM on December 10 is also supported by several left-leaning organisations such as SFI, DYFI, AIDWA, AISF, AISA and IPTA.

Meanwhile, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal who was once at the helm of not one but two Supreme Court cases concerning the citizenship issue in Assam, is on shaky political ground now given how his constituents vehemently oppose the BJP’s desire to bring about CAB. In fact, AASU activists waved black flags at him on Saturday. On Sunday, it was the turn of members of the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) to wave black flags at Sonowal. His appeals to the youth of the state to not join anti-CAB protests and focus instead on ‘development’ are falling on deaf ears.

The equations in the rest of the Northeast are also complicated. There are tribal communities belonging to different ethnicities who have by-and-large followed their traditional ways of life and lived within their traditional habitats, many of which have been offered protection under the Inner Line Permit scheme and the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Inner Line Permit areas include the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh, and large swathes of Mizoram and Nagaland. The sixth schedule protects tribal regions across Meghalaya, Tripura and also includes some parts of Assam.

While CAB has provisions to protect these tribal areas that are notified under the sixth schedule, this has led to further questions being raised about the efficacy of CAB in the North East. In fact, on Saturday, Samujjal Bhattacharya also raised this exact matter saying, “If CAB is bad for the Inner Line Permit areas, sixth scheduled covered area, then how this CAB can be good for the other parts of Assam and North East? Bad means bad, bad for all!”

In fact, in November this year, BJP’s Meghalaya general secretary Bashailang Khongwir himself wrote to BJP chief Amit Shah pleading that Meghalaya be left out of the CAB and to uphold the special provisions granted to indigenous people of the state. The BJP has two MLAs in the state and is a part of the ruling Meghalaya Democratic Alliance led by National People’s Party chief Conrad Sangma. “The proposal to implement the CAB in Meghalaya while exempting other northeastern states that have the Inner Line Permit (ILP) is not a good gesture and carries the message of dividing the tribal communities in the region,” Khongwir had argued. (Source – The Telegraph)

This is why anti-CAB protests have seen participation from groups such as North East Students Organisation (NESO), Confederation of Meghalaya Social Organisation (CoMSO), Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), North East Forum for Indigenous People (NEFIP) and the Joint Committee on Prevention of Illegal Immigrants (JCPI).

Chief criticisms of CAB

BJP’s 2014 manifesto had promised to give Hindu refugees shelter, something that was marketed to the electorate as a noble endeavour, which it appears to be on the surface. But dig a little deeper and the flaws are as glaring as the devious agenda behind it.

If CAB aims to provide shelter to Hindu refugees, the why wasn’t Sri Lanka included in the list of countries from where India would welcome refugees? It is no secret that Tamils still face persecution in Sri Lanka despite the civil war having ended a decade ago. While over 2 lakh Sri Lankan Tamil refugees were welcomed into India in the 80s and the 90s, many of them were forced to live in refugee camps and not offered citizenship even after spending close to 30 years in India!

A demand to grant citizenship to these refugees was raised previously by political heavyweights like M Karunanidhi, and even backed by Art of Living founder Ravi Shankar. The demand got a shot in the arm when it was raised in the Rajya Sabha as recently as July 2019. Therefore, not including Sri Lanka in the list of countries from where refugees facing religious persecution will be welcomes appears to be more than just oversight. Are some Hindu lives not as valuable as others? 

Let us now talk about persecuted Muslim minorities. It is no secret that Ahmedi Muslims have been targeted in Pakistan. While, CAB provides for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, this glaring omission of Muslim refugees facing religious persecution reeks of the Indian regime’s anti-Muslim agenda.

Similarly, the Rohingya refugee crisis shows how Muslim from the Arakan province of Myanmar were forced to flee their homes. About 40,000 of them made their way into India but have faced nothing but hostility and the treat of deportation looming over them every day.   

Then there is the problem of documentation. Many people, especially those from historically oppressed, marginalized or economically weak backgrounds do not have adequate documentary evidence of citizenship. In fact, AADHAAR was brought about to solve this very problem… giving people a basic identity document! But when animals, deities and trees ended up with Aadhaar cards, this program also came under the scanner.

Moreover, as discovered during the NRC exercise in Assam, rural married women are the worst affected as they are seldom born in hospitals or sent to school. They find it difficult to defend their citizenship and are perhaps the most vulnerable. Toothless grandmothers were considered ‘infiltrators’ and left to rot in detention camps after being declared ‘foreigners’!

Where do political parties stand?

The BJP has made its stand clear. It wants CAB as a precursor to an exercise modelled along the lines of Assam’s recently concluded National Register of Citizens (NRC). Its allies such as AIADMK, BJD, Akali Dal et all appear to be on board. But AGP could be perched precariously on the precipice of political annihilation for their support of CAB.

The Congress has announced that it will fight CAB ‘tooth and nail’. DMK, SP, BSP, RJD, NCP and AAP have also expressed strong opposition to CAB. AITC chief Mamata Banerjee remains a vocal opponent of CAB.

The Shiv Sena has not made their stand official yet and Uddhav Thackeray is expected to make an announcement of Monday.

Will Indian citizens and their elected representatives allow the CAB juggernaut to keep gaining momentum as we essentially legitimize alienation of minorities? We cannot be blind to the fact that we are hurtling down into the pits of hell, where all that will be left eventually, are mountains upon mountains of ashes… for we would have burnt down the idea of India.



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