November Edition, Statewide, Assam, NET Bureau, Sayantani Deb
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 which seeks to grant citizenship to religious minorities coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan facing religious persecution has raised serious questions in Assam as it has a direct bearing on the socio-cultural fabric of the state and is in conflict with the historic Assam accord.
The Central government’s move to grant citizenship to Hindu Bengalis, who have entered India after facing religious persecution in Bangladesh, has angered the civil society organizations, ethnic organizations and student as well as youth bodies of Assam. Opposition Congress and even BJP’s ally AGP have also strongly opposed the Central government’s move.
The Narendra Modi led government in the Centre decided to revise the Citizenship Act, 1955 and accordingly the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on July 19. If the Bill is passed in the Parliament, it will pave the way to grant citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis.
The Bill is presently being examined by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC), headed by Satya Pal Singh. The Panel has already heard representations of a number of civil society groups and student organizations including All Assam Students’ Union (AASU). Renowned scholar and intellectual Dr Hiren Gohain, who is going all out against the Centre’s move, said that the Bill would derail the ongoing process to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) 1951.
“This is notified in Assam accord that March 24, 1971 is the cut-off date for determination of citizenship and hence preparation of NRC has been made possible. Further it is cleared that influx of Hindus from Bangladesh cannot be counted in few thousands, it may be around 30 to 40 lakhs, so it will obviously pose a threat to the indigenous people of Assam,” Dr Gohain told Northeast Today.
Dr Gohain further alleged that the state government has kept NRC update work on hold in order to modify the Citizenship Bill. He said that if the updated NRC is published, then the actual figure of Hindu Bangladeshis in Assam will come out. “If the Citizenship Bill becomes an Act then the indigenous people of Assam will suffer. Even though we could accept few thousands of people, it is not possible to accept huge number of people. As condition of people here has not developed, it will be difficult for them to compete,” said the former professor of Gauhati University.
He further pointed out that immediately after granting citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshi all the government grants/ assistances will be reduced. “Also, the number of voters will be increased and they will be a deciding factor in the elections,” he said.
Former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta after his recent visit to Dhaka, said that religious prosecution is no longer an issue in Bangladesh. Situation in Bangladesh has changed under the rule of Prime Minister Seikh Hasina. “During my visit to Bangladesh, Hasina told me that this year the number of Durga Pujas has increased in the country. She also said about the peaceful conduct of pujas in 29,500 pandals across the country where ministers, MPs and other leaders and workers had helped the organizers,” Mahanta said. “So the question grating citizenship Hindu Bangladeshis does not arise,” he added.
He urged the Centre to reconsider the decision to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 for granting citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis. “If Centre thinks granting citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis is unavoidable, then they should be settled and rehabilitated in other states of the country, not in Assam,” he suggested.
Echoing similar view, AASU president Dipanka Kumar Nath said, “Assam on behalf of India has already taken a lot of migrants from Bangladesh during the period from 1951 to 1971. No state has shoulde such a burden of migrants from Bangladesh during this period. Assam has accepted it as per Assam accord. Now we will not accept any foreigner post 1971 be it be Hindus or Muslims.”
“If the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is passed, it will completely wipe out our culture,” Nath he said adding, “The sacrifice of 855 martyrs of Assam movement will go in vain.” He further said that the Bill is against the provision of the Assam Accord.
BJP spokesperson Mira Borthakur while sharing her views, said, “As Assamese sentiment is involved with the issue, I think all political leaders cutting across party lines, should discuss the issue and should fight for the betterment of the country. We will also have to keep in mind that the situation of Tripura does not get repeated in Assam.” She further said that instead of giving shelter to Hindu Bangladeshis in Assam, the Indian government should tell its counterpart Bangladesh to provide security to the minorities of the country.
Meanwhile clarifying BJP’s stand on the issue, spokesperson Rupam Goswami said, “This issue is a national and not just Assam- centric and Citizenship Bill is not only for Assam, it is for the whole country.”
“Before Assam Assembly elections, BJP had made its stand clear on the issue of protection of minority refugees from Bangladesh,” Goswami said, adding, “Accordingly now we are extending our support to the Bill.”
“There is nothing new in the Bill, giving Indian citizenship to anyone fleeing from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan was mentioned in the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950,” he informed. The State BJP and the government being led by it are accountable to the Jains, Sikhs, indigenous Muslims and others as they too are indigenous people of Assam. State government is doing what it promised the people of the state before the elections.
“We talked of eviction in the Kaziranga National Park, and the government has done that. We also talked of freeing Xatra lands from illegal settlers and fencing international border with Bangladesh.”
Goswami assured that BJP will never compromise with the security and identity of the indigenous people of Assam. Regarding the Assam Accord he said, “BJP respects Assam Accord and thus no steps will be taken against the interest of indigenous people of Assam.”