The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 was passed by the parliament on 11th and 12th December 2019 riding roughshod over all opposition inside parliament and on the streets of Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati and other parts of the country. It was acceded to by the President and gazetted on the same day and became an Act.
The main amendment to the citizenship act is to grant citizenship to immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The statement of Objects and Reasons for the Act declares that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh have a state religion according to their constitutions. It declares that religious minorities are persecuted in these countries and many people have come into India to escape this persecution. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who came to India from these countries before December 31, 2014, irrespective of whether they entered legally or illegally will be granted citizenship from the date they entered the country, if they now declare that they had come into India to escape religious persecution.
People of the Muslim faith, victims of political persecution, refugees from Sri Lanka, Myanmar and other countries have been deliberately excluded.
The Citizenship Amendment Act is thoroughly communal and divisive.
To grant or deny citizenship to a person on the basis of his or her religion, language and /or country of origin is thoroughly retrogressive. It is aimed at deliberately instigating communal and sectarian conflicts amongst our people on the basis of religion and language.
The Prime Minister and Home Minister have been repeatedly referring to Bengali Muslims in Bengal, Assam, and other states as “termites”, “vermins” and “infiltrators”. The Home Minister has declared repeatedly that each and every “illegal immigrant” would be identified and thrown out of the country. The Central Government has already initiated the process of a National Register for Citizens to identify “illegal immigrants” all over the country. Detention camps for “illegal immigrants” are being set up in different states of the country. In the detention camps already existing in Assam, people are forced to live in terrible conditions, separated from their families. These detention camps house mainly Bengali speaking toiling people, those who cannot prove through documents that they are Indian citizens. They include both Hindus and Muslims.
In order to ensure that the toiling masses who have been called “termites”, “vermins” and “infiltrators” do not unite in defence of their rights, the Home Minister declared at a rally in West Bengal that “no Hindu would be denied citizenship”. People of the Hindu faith are being asked to watch silently while their brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith are mercilessly hounded, deprived of all rights, turned into stateless people and forced to live in inhuman conditions in detention camps. Bangladesh has refused to accept that such Bengalis are its citizens.
India is home to hundreds of nations, nationalities and tribal peoples. People of our country have historically practiced numerous religions. It is the British colonialists who put forward the diabolical “two-nation” theory to cover up their divide and rule policy. The colonialists asserted that India consisted of warring nations divided by religion. Our patriots and martyrs never accepted this anti-Indian theory of the colonialists. They united cutting across religious differences in the common struggle to overthrow colonial rule and establish an India in which people would be sovereign and ensure that prosperity and security would be guaranteed to all. The history of the Great Ghadar of 1857, the words and deeds of the Hindustan Ghadar Party, of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his comrades of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association and other revolutionaries and patriots is testimony to this.
The bloody partition of India in 1947 on religious lines by the colonialists was the implementation of this diabolical two nation theory. The patriotic people of our country, irrespective of their religious beliefs, have never accepted it. The decision of the Indian state to make religion the criterion for citizenship is an attack on everything our patriots and martyrs fought for; everything that the people of our country hold most precious.
India has always belonged to everyone who has made it his or her home, irrespective of their religious beliefs, irrespective of the language they speak. It is home to everyone who belongs to this subcontinent. When the representatives of the Indian state call Bengalis, Punjabis, Sindhis, Pathans and others who follow the Muslim faith as “vermins”, “termites”, “infiltrators”, they are playing into the hands of the Anglo American imperialists who want to smash the unity of our people and destroy our country.
Indian people have historically never looked for a certificate from the Indian state that they are citizens of their own country. Crores of people to this day do not have any documentary proof that they are Indian citizens. This includes adivasis in different regions of the country, as well as people who have migrated from their homes to other provinces in search of livelihood.
India is home to large number of refugees — including Tibetans from China, Tamils from Sri Lanka, Rohingyas from Myanmar, Chakmas from former East Pakistan. There are also many people who have come from Bangladesh and Pakistan and contributed to India’s development.
The Citizenship Amendment Act and the decision to organise a National Register of Citizens to “weed out infiltrators” shows that the rulers of India is on an extremely dangerous course.
People need to draw lessons from the bitter experience of the destruction of the unity of the people of Assam and other North Eastern states by this policy of the rulers.
In the name of throwing out “illegal migrants”, the Indian state carried out a long drawn process of updating the National Register of Citizens for Assam. For this purpose, it classified the Assamese people, who consist of many nationalities and tribal peoples, into “original inhabitants” and “migrants”. Bengalis, Nepalese, and other people who have lived in Assam for centuries were arbitrarily considered as “migrants”. The unity of the people has been destroyed. When the Final list of the National Register of Citizens for Assam was announced, nearly 20 lakh people had been left out because they did not have the required documents demanded by the State. Apart from a large number of Bengali Muslims, many Hindus — Bengalis, Nepalese, Bihari and others, have been excluded.
The Central government had all along done propaganda that the NRC would result in expulsion of only Muslims. When it turned out that many people of the Hindu faith did not have the relevant documents demanded by the state, the Central Government has now declared that it will organise NRC once again in Assam.
Meanwhile, Assam and other states of the North East have been rocked by massive protests against the amendment to the citizenship act. They are deeply concerned about the massive demographic changes that this may lead to in their states. Students in the different campuses have launched indefinite agitation demanding the withdrawal of the amendments. Security forces armed to the teeth have been deployed against the protesting people and thousands of youth have been arrested. Internet services have been cut in Assam and other states. The situation in Assam, and other states of the North East is extremely grim. The possibility of the state organizing communal massacres such as happened in Nellie in 1983, cannot be ruled out.
India’s Citizenship Act is extremely anachronistic. People who have lived for generations in this country, can be arrested and jailed for being “illegal immigrants”. While the act says that all those born in India before 1987 are to be considered Indian citizens, lakhs of people who came to India as refugees more than 5 decades ago — Tibetans, Chakmas, and others have not been granted citizenship. Two years ago, the Central Government declared in the Supreme Court that it could not implement the Supreme Court order to give Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh citizenship because of opposition to it by the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union. Thus it remains to be seen whether the Indian state will actually ensure that Bengali Hindus who have been excluded from the final list of NRC in Assam are given citizenship.
The Central government is pretending that the Citizenship Act Amendment is aimed at solving the problems of people who would at present be classified as “illegal immigrants”. The reality is very different. It is to embroil all the Indian people in an Assam like experiment conducted on an All India scale to identify and deport “vermin”, “termites” and “infiltrators”. It will result in escalation of communal and sectarian divisions in every state. In Bengal and other North Eastern states, it is aimed at setting Bengalis against Bengalis on the basis of religion. Everywhere, it will be used to target Muslims as well as migrant workers from other states.
India needs a modern definition of citizenship. This definition cannot be based on religion, language, or country of birth. A modern definition of citizenship must recognize that India is a multinational country consisting of many nations, nationalities and peoples including parts of the divided nations of Bengal, Punjab and Kashmir.
India needs a modern humane treatment of refugees. It is unacceptable that people who have lived in India for generations are suddenly declared to be non-citizens, criminalised, denied their human rights, treated as stateless people, and forced to live in deportation camps.
Lok Raj Sangathan salutes university students and others who have bravely come out on the streets to demand withdrawal of the Citizenship Amendment Act and NRC.