CAB: Why Assam Is The Epicentre Of Protests Against New Citizenship Law
Parts of the country have erupted in protests after the passage of Citizenship Amendment Act. The new law provides for granting citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Parsis who illegally came to India before Dec. 31, 2014 from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Muslims are omitted.
Opposition parties have called the change unconstitutional, arguing that it alters the secular nature of India’s constitution. The nation’s northeastern states, and Assam in particular, have become the epicentre of the protests against the new law. But their fears are different. Let alone Muslims, they don’t want any illegal migrant granted citizenship.
The locals in Assam fear that the minority communities, tribes and linguistic groups of the state will be overrun by refugees who have managed to enter the state in the last 30-40 years, according to journalist Anubhav Chakroborty. “The large mobilisation in the tribal areas (against the new law) is because they think a whole bunch of people will settle in here because we are closer to Bangladesh,” he told BloombergQuint.
Student unions and members of civil society have come out against the changed Citizenship Act in the state. But this is not the first such protests in Assam against illegal migration.
The Assam movement started taking shape in 1979 and continued till 1985 against the migrants settling in the state after the partition of India and later creation of Bangladesh. Over the years, Assam has seen the maximum influx of Bangladeshis and the indigenous people fear losing their jobs, said Oineetom Ojha, a journalist with EastMojo.
According to Sajal Nag, professor of history at Assam University, protesters feel that the new law will change the demographics of the state and marginalise the existing population, both politically and economically. “One has to understand that these are small communities and they don’t want outsiders turning them into political and economically marginal groups.”
Even before the partition, there was huge opposition from Assam over migration. “That was mainly because the land was too little and the population structure was very fragile. They foresaw that there would be very little left for them if this migration continued.”
The central government said the Citizenship Amendment Act will not be implemented in the northeast. Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland already have an Inner Line Permit requirement, and it has been extended to Manipur. Meghalaya is demanding a similar protection that keeps out outsiders, even from other parts of India. The permits also protect jobs and land for locals.
The Assamese expect the maximum impact.
Of the 19 lakh people left out of the National Register of Citizens, multiple reports have said that an estimated 12 lakh were Hindus. Himanta Biswa Sarma, a minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led led Assam government, has claimed that around 5 lakh Hindus excluded. The new law would provide citizenship to these people.
Chakroborty warned that the movement could get bigger if the government doesn't pay attention or keeps deploying force. This new law is seen as an imposition of diktat from Delhi over Assam without understanding the community issues of Northeast India, he said.
Nag said people also see this as setting a precedent. “People are worried and fearful that despite our protest and opposition, if they [the government] can do this, then tomorrow something else can be done. We are voiceless and helpless.”
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