Constitutional safeguard for Assam

Kamal Baruah
Soon Citizenship (Amendment) Bill passed in the Lower House; the massive protest had begun with a North East bandh. It became violent while the bill passed at Upper House. It has become Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 after President signed. But Assamese were not convinced despite Home Minister’s appeal for the implementation of Clause 6 as per Assam Accord for protection of language, culture, heritage, land rights and implementation of pan India NRC. Besides peaceful protest by All Assam Students Union (AASU), some were instigating violence.
There were road blockades by firing public properties. Police and Para-Military forces have shown maximum restrain by lathi-charging to control vandalism and stone pelting. The Ministers, MLAs and Govt Officials were attacked and their vehicles put on fire. The beautification drive for welcoming Japanese Prime Minister had totally been destroyed. It’s for the first time I saw fear in my city Guwahati. There was no transportation; even Air and Railway services have been suspended. The whole city had gone under seize. Finally, Curfew was imposed entire Brahmaputra valley; Army went on flag march and took over the law and order situation. Internet, cable TV services were barred. Thousands defy curfew resulting four casualties within three days of violence.
It’s true that Assamese got emotional with the Assam Accord 1985 as they achieved after five long years of struggle.  Ironically it hasn’t been implemented by any government for the woes of North Eastern people. Unemployment could be a major issue for those entire disturbances. Assam CM tried to bring people of the Barak and the Brahmaputra valley together. But the anger had gone deeper after the outcome of CAB. The provocative data of foreigners in social media made things worst and people have rejected it with total destruction.
While looking back to Citizenship Act, 1955, any unauthorised or 6 months visa expiry foreigners are to face trial or in jail. CAB 2019 inserted that any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Passport Act 1920 or Foreigners Act 1946 shall not be treated as illegal migrant. The bill further seeks to protect the constitutional guarantee given to indigenous population of North Eastern states (tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura) covered under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the statutory protection given to areas covered under “The Inner Line” system of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. Also it proposes to incorporate for providing cancellation of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) registration where the OCI card-holder has violated any provision of the Citizenship Act. It provided that for the person belonging to these six communities, the aggregate period of residence shall be read as not less than five years in place of not less than eleven years.
It’s a historical fact that trans-border migration of population has been happening continuously between the territories of India and Pakistan, Afghanistan & Bangladesh. Millions of citizens of undivided India belonging to various faiths were staying in Pakistan and Bangladesh when India was partitioned. The constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for a specific state religion. As a result minorities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries. They fled to India to seek shelter and continued to stay in India even if their travel documents have expired or have incomplete or no documents. Since illegal migrants are ineligible for citizenship, the Central Government made them eligible to stay for long term visa to stay vide orders in 2016. CAB provided to make migrants eligible for Indian Citizenship by fulfilling conditions of naturalisation.
Assam Accord agreed accepting foreigners as Indian citizen up to March 24, 1971. However, Foreigners Tribunal failed to identify and deport foreigners for the loopholes of legislation. Surprisingly there is no deportation treaty with Bangladesh. There are more than 70 lakh Bangladeshis living in Assam as AASU is constantly telling Government for illegal migrants. It was estimated 45 lakh during Assam agitation. New NRC Assam failed to persuade Assamese as 15 Lakh names are found as foreigners in the final list (7L Muslim, 5.5L Hindu, 1L Nepali and 2L of indigenous people). Incidentally, there are lakhs of Punjabi, Parsis and Balusis from Pakistan and Afghanistan staying illegally in Northern and Central India. The bill seeks to address the historical wrongdoings of religious persecution. Gandhiji promises then for those people suffering from persecution on the ground of religion.
The government and AASU have gone into loggerhead. It says that the Bill was an election promise in the 2014 and 2019 LS polls. Minorities in the neighbouring theocratic countries have been subjected to continuous persecutions, which forced them to seek asylum in India. Giving citizenship to six minorities will be yet another push towards the spirit of ‘sarva dharma sambhav’. However AASU is unbending with Assam Accord and don’t want to accept any illegal migrants as Assam already accepted millions of migrants up to 1971. They feel their identity is in danger as neighbouring Tripura witnessed. The demography of West Bengal is no different either. Now Rohingia entered India. Indo-Bangladesh borders are yet to be shield for illegal trespassing. There is such a hue and cry that people are misled and inciting violence too. The violence spread across the National Capital, Lucknow, and Ahmedabad. Arson, rioting, vandalism took place there. And there was provocation by political parties too.
The opposition in the parliament says the Bill violates Article 14 of the Constitution - the Right to Equality. They have filed petition in Apex Court for the validity of the bill saying citizenship can’t be given on the basis of religion. The cause of Assam is different. AASU, NESO and various organisations from Assam also knocked the door of Supreme Court for violating Assam Accord. The court has issued notice to Union government and fixed the date for further hearing on 22 January. Should Assam work together with central government for development as Manipur successfully bargained for ILP and exempted from CAB? Article 6 should be implemented soon the committee submitted its report. Assam just can’t afford another long agitation as history witnessed such outcome in the past. We failed to capitalise opportunities resulting outsiders have encroached our economy. Many opined for forming of another regional party.  Instead AASU and all socio-cultural organisations should come under one umbrella for a holistic approach. Besides constitutional safeguard, Assam should work for its development. Can there be a win-a-win solution in near future?
The writer can be contacted at email [email protected]