The protests in India against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, have been hogging headlines since last week. The movement against the legislation began in the northeastern states of Assam and Tripura. But those protests are not the same as being witnessed in the country’s capital or other parts of the nation, says Assam native Jahnavi Mahanta.
Mahanta, a software developer by profession, says the recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Assam, Tripura, and other northeastern states are more ethnic in nature than India’s favourite Hindu-Muslim narrative.
“North East India is a diverse region with an eclectic mix of races, languages within a diverse geographical region consisting of hills, mountains, and valleys. The culture of this region is syncretic and cannot be categorised in the slots made for other communities in India", she says.
Conflicts From the Past
The northeastern states have seen conflicts in the past as well against “migrants from Bangladesh stealing their jobs and altering the demography of their states”, she says.
The 1985 Assam Accord signed between representatives of the government of India and the leaders of the Assam Movement in New Delhi on 15 August 1985, had assured that illegal migrants from Bangladesh would be deported.
It had all begun with the 1979 Assam Movement – led by the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) – which developed a programme of protests and demonstrations to compel the Indian government to identify and expel illegal (mostly Bangladeshi) immigrants and protect and provide constitutional, legislative, and administrative safeguards to the indigenous Assamese people.
“The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, fails to gauge the aspiration of the people of our region. The unabated influx of East Bengali migrants, comprising Hindus and Muslims, has altered the demography of our states", Mahanta says.
Giving the example of Tripura, wherein the erstwhile ruler (a princely state in British India) had let people take refuge in this state during the Bengal Famine, Noakhali Riots, in 1947, and then during 1971, Mahanta says, “Now the East Bengali population is more than the local Tiprasa population which has led to settler-colonialism and imposition of a Bengali hegemony in the state".
New Law Disturbs Northeast Region’s Demography
The new law grants citizenship to illegal immigrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis, who entered the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before 31 December 2014.
Mahanta further says: “As per the Assam Accord, cut-off date for immigrants was to be 24 March 1971, but the government has arbitrarily set it for 2014. The same way National Register of Citizens was for Assam as per Assam Accord. They were supposed to update the 1951 NRC list".
The 1951 NRC list was updated for Assam to deport illegal migrants and prevent further inflows. The process to update the NRC started in 2013 under the strict monitoring and supervision of the Supreme Court of India.
However, last week, after the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed in the Indian Parliament, India's home minister announced that the NRC would be implemented nationwide, requiring every Indian to prove that their descendants were from India.
Now, illegal Bangladeshi Hindus will be able to apply for citizenship after five years, threatening the indigenous population of the region, she says.
“We feel that this law has a lot to do with the design of the ruling party to create favourable constituencies where they would always win elections in the future. The ruling party’s sinister design to engineer the demography with more Hindu Bangladeshis while overlooking the linguistic issue of Assam is more to do with winning seats in the upcoming 2020 election".
People in northeast region of India have been protesting against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). A curfew was imposed in some parts of the region while internet and mobile services were also snapped. Currently, broadband services have been restored while internet services remain suspended.