Evident unrest has spread across the North-east as the fear of being overrun by immigration continues to grow in the minds of the indigenous people. This fear stems from the government’s dogged resolve to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which would legalise hundreds of undocumented immigrants who had illegally entered the Indian states of Assam, Mizoram, Tripura, etc. in the past. If implemented, the act would cut down the required minimum period of uninterrupted residence, to be eligible for citizenship, from 11 years to 6 years for immigrants who fall under a certain category.
The NDA government’s strong push for implementing this amendment is a follow-up on their election manifesto promise from 2014, where they offered to grant citizenship to undocumented Hindus who had emigrated from Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan to avoid persecution. This was later expanded to include Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists, and Jains. However, what is really surprising here is how, in a secular nation, a political party could so blatantly make citizens visualise a constitutional change via the lens of religion.
The bill’s proposed changes are especially controversial in Assam where, till now, the Assam Accord has ruled out citizenship for anyone who had illegally crossed borders from Bangladesh after the midnight of March 24, 1971. In other north-eastern states too, the change is an unwelcome one for the various native communities living there. The people are quite wary of the overwhelming rise in immigrant population and want to preserve their ancestral land’s communal identity by curbing the entry of outsiders.
It is to be noted that the North-east Indians simply do not want any undocumented immigrant to be given citizenship, regardless of his religious faith. Therefore, they are not protesting the bill for maintaining religious equality but out of concern for their own future. Their objective is to stop the government from disrupting their land’s demographic balance for the sake of fulfilling an election promise which they sat on for over four years and are now itching to implement only to gain some momentum before the forthcoming General Elections. And, their discontent is with the absurd indifference with which the government is looking to install foreigners as citizens in their homeland.
From the day of its formulation to this day, the bill has been a subject of strong opposition and has seen people’s indignant actions swing wildly between the extremes, from shouting critical slogans to burning the Prime Minister’s effigies and everything in between. The turbulence has not just gripped the North-east but has also asserted its presence in New Delhi, the nation’s capital and the seat of the central government.
Despite all, the bill was successfully passed in Lok Sabha last month and now awaits the approval of Rajya Sabha, which will convene on February 13—the day that will decide the fate of the Seven Sisters, its natives, and its immigrants.