12, Jun 2021 | CJP Team
On March 19, Political Department, Dispur, Guwahati issued a notice directing the Commissioner of Police, Kamrup, Superintendent of Police and Foreigners Registration Officers to display on their website provisions of The Citizenship Act relating to grant of Indian citizenship to migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan at the time of granting Long Term Visa (LTV).
Sections 5 and 6 of the Citizenship Act were amended under the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which allow people belonging to Hindus, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian community from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to secure citizenship in India by naturalization or by registration.
Citizenship has been defined as the right to have rights. Over the past six years, there have been clear political moves to fundamentally assault and redefine this Constitutional basis of both Indian nationhood and citizenship. Especially now, with the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 being passed and a not thoroughly debated all India-level NPR-National Register of Citizens (NRC) process. CJP is urging people to understand, organise and fight back democratically. Let’s stand up for the Constitution of India. We must unequivocally reject CAA 2019 and at the same time in the same breath, NPR/NRC. For this we need your support.
The Commissioner of Police, Kamrup, Superintendent of Police and Foreigners Registration Officers have now been tasked with disseminating information regarding these provisions such that the eligible migrants from the three countries seeking permanent settlement in India to secure citizenship are eligible for grant of LTV. These categories include:
1. Members of minority communities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan namely Hindus, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian
2. Pakistan/ Bangladesh women married to Indian nationals and staying in India/ Afghanistan nationals married to Indian nationals in India and staying in India
3. Indian origin women holding Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan nationality married to Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan nationals and returning to India due to widowhood/divorce and having no male members to support them in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan
4. Cases involving extreme compassion
The notice states that legal migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who are eligible for grant of LTV as per the categories stated above, who are living in India on approved KTV can now acquire Indian citizenship under section 5 (citizenship by registration) and section 6 (citizenship by naturalization). The authorities are directed to furnish a copy of this notice to not just upload on the websites but also to inform such “legal migrants” about the same at the time of granting LTV or when they are seeking extension of their LTV.
Enclosed along with the notice is a list of documents that each such category of persons will require for acquiring Indian citizenship.
This notice that has been issued makes it clear that persons holding LTVs will now be informed that they are eligible for securing Indian citizenship if they belong to the specified non-muslim communities from the specific countries.
On May 28, the Central Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued a notification inviting applications from these specified communities from the 3 countries for securing citizenship. The notification extended its powers under section 5 of Citizenship Act of registering as a citizen and under section 6 of granting certificate of naturalisation to the District Collector of (i) Morbi, Rajkot, Patan and Vadodara in the State of Gujarat (ii) Durg and Balodabazar in the State of Chhattisgarh; (iii) Jalore, Udaipur, Pali, Barmer and Sirohi in the State of Rajasthan; (iv) Faridabad in the State of Haryana; and (v) Jalandhar in the State of Punjab.
The notification also sets out procedures for application and eventual verification. The applicant belonging to a minority community as deemed by the Citizenship Act and hailing from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh has to apply for citizenship online and the verification of this application shall be done by the Collector at district level or the Secretary at the state level. These applications and reports are to be made accessible simultaneously to the Central Government on an online portal. The Collector or Secretary is empowered to grant citizenship to the applicant on being satisfied with his suitability. This citizenship will be by registration or naturalisation and certificate of registration or naturalisation will be accordingly issued.
The Assam government’s notice and the MHA’s notification are on similar lines; inviting applications for citizenship based on a discriminatory policy. However, Assam has a completely different struggle with CAA than the rest of the country that has to do with its ethno-linguistic identity and the politics around it that has a long history. While the rest of the country has been contesting it for it being discriminatory, Assam has opposed an influx of non-Assamese people, especially those that they claim migrated to the state from neighbouring Bangladesh, and the CAA is legitimising the same.
Assam’s tryst with CAA
The effect of CAA on Assam is different from what other states have to experience mainly due to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process that began in Assam and still continues.
The Clause (3) of section 6(B) of CAA, 2019 also provides that any proceeding pending against a person under this section in respect of illegal migration or citizenship shall stand abated on conferment of citizenship to him. Hence, all non-Muslims in Assam’s non-tribal areas (areas not covered under 6th schedule of Constitution), who are amongst the 19 lakh people excluded from NRC, can be granted citizenship as per this law. This will mean that the government of Assam will have to brazenly differentiate between those left out of NRC who are Hindus and those who are Muslims.
However, their legal existence will now have to be as per the amended sections where they need to claim, on affidavit, that they are ‘persecuted minorities’ who have come in at some date prior to December 2014, never mind if they are Bengali Hindus who have been living in the state for several decades or more! The law is also proving to be an antithesis to the NRC process even for the Hindus and the 5 other communities. In Foreigners Tribunals they have been struggling to prove that they are India citizens but with the new law that stresses on “persecuted religious minorities” they might have to prove that they belong to one of the three countries to claim the citizenship!
The NRC sought to identify “foreigners” in the state and the same “foreigners” are now being welcomed in the country through CAA, thus defeating the purpose of the long drawn out process of NRC. The North East has a history of identity politics that saw a referendum to ensure a linguistically homogenous Assam State in 1947.
The history of identity politics
There is a long history of tensions between Assamese and Bengali linguistic communities in Assam when in 1826, the Ahom Kingdom was conquered by the British East Indian Company which was running out of the huge Bengal presidency; thus eventually Bengali as a language was imposed on Assam for official purposes. This led to the resentment among the Assamese speaking section towards the Bengali speaking population which came majorly from Bengal. Around the time of the Bangladesh war, there was an influx of refugees who were fleeing persecution there. Migration due to economic reasons has been prevalent as people moved around freely across the region before modern day borders were drawn.
“The inclusion of Bengali speaking Sylhet and Cachar and immigration or importation of lacs of Bengali settlers on wastelands has been threatening to destroy the distinctiveness of Assam and has, in practice, caused many disorders in its administration,” the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) had stated in its 1945 election manifesto.
The Assam Accord had placated the anger of the Assamese population against migration by setting the cut-off date for citizenship at 1971. But, CAA has opened the can of worms once again fuelling anti-foreigner campaign. The “foreigners” who had entered Assam before March 25, 1971, were to be given citizenship under the Assam Accord. The NRC was a result of this Assam Accord and excluded 1.9 million people who await their fate at the doors of foreigners’ tribunals in the state. The organisations in Assam protesting the CAA are also unhappy with the NRC final draft for it excluded a small population as per them, while the ruling BJP is upset that it excluded too many Hindus.
For the BJP, it is about communal politics while for the long standing struggle has been a linguistic struggle and the insider vs. outsider politics. Assamese organisations have reinvigorated their protests after a lull caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
When Assam protested
In December 2020 fresh protests were launched by 18 organisations in Assam against CAA also demanding the release of jailed KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi who was taken into custody during the 2019 protests. Mentioning that the CAA was against the identity, language and cultural heritage of the people of the state, the protestors were demanding that the Act not be implemented in Assam.
“Delhi has only exploited Assam for its assets and now wants to permanently settle those living in detention camps in our land. The Assamese community will soon be destroyed as our tongue-tied CM looks on. We ask him to come out and show support for his people,” Deben Sarma KMSS Vice President had at the time told The Print.
The BJP government that came back to power in the state in May this year, is pushing its communal agenda, defying the ethno-linguistic identity politics of the state, that actually prides itself on its syncretic culture and communal harmony.
The Assam government order may be read here: