Bangalore: Shouts of "Awaaz do, hum ek hain!" and "CAB go back!" rang through the air at Bangalore's Sir Puttanna Chetty Town Hall on December 15. Close to 2,000 people from all walks of life gathered to protest the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) in the Parliament on December 11.
Now known as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA), it is an amendment to the Citizenship Act of 1955, which provides Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian minorities fleeing religious persecution, a path to Indian citizenship.
Under this amendment, migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, who entered India before December 31, 2014, will be eligible for naturalisation. It has also relaxed the residency requirements, reducing the term to six years instead of the previously stated 11.
However, it has been widely criticised for being discriminatory, since Muslim migrants and other minorities from regions such as Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar have been excluded. This is the first time religion has been used as an overt criterion for citizenship in India.
The CAA stirred up unrest across the northeastern states, which quickly swept across the country. Protests turned violent in the state of Assam, the epicentre of the agitation against the Act. As of December 15, five protestors in the state died as a result of police firing.
'Nyaya Beku'- Demands of justice at Bangalore Town Hall
In Bangalore, the majority of protestors at the Town Hall comprised students of Assamese origin. For these students, the fight is for their cultural identity. "We do not care about religion," said a student from Gauhati. "This Act is going to hamper the entire state. We do not want it in Assam at all," he said.
Such sentiments were not uncommon amongst the northeastern participants, many of whom believe that the CAA will motivate further immigration from Bangladesh into the onrtheast.
Assam, they say, will have to bear the brunt of this inevitable influx of migrants. "This is against the Assam Accord and everything we fought for," said another protestor.
Some raised concerns over the growing violence against protestors and the Internet shutdown imposed in the states of Assam and Tripura since December 11. "This is a new freedom struggle to be fought by us for our Constitutional Rights," said a young Assamese woman.
Protestors at Town Hall
An argument presented by critics of the amendment Act is that it is in violation of the Assam Accord of 1986; the government had agreed to the identification and deportation of all refugees and migrants after March 25 1971. While Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal said indigenous people would not be affected by a “small number of persecuted people” being granted Indian citizenship, the local people are not so sure.
The exclusionary language of the amendment Act has also widely drawn criticism from several factions. The amendment makes no mention of Muslim migrants from the countries mentioned or Sri Lankan Tamils who currently reside in India as refugees. (UNHCR records, as of 2017, state that over 67,000 Sri Lankan refugees remain in Indian camps, and a further 35,000 reside elsewhere within the country.)
A protestor reads a flyer detailing arguments against the CAA
On December 17, the Home Ministry released a statement saying the amended Act would not affect Indian citizens, “including Muslims.” However, many have voiced their fear, pointing out the failings of the implementation of the NRC in Assam.
According to the Intelligence Bureau, the immediate beneficiaries of the 2019 amendment include 31,313 refugees: 25,447 Hindus, 5,807 Sikhs, 55 Christians, two Buddhists and two Parsis.
“The reason the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) was voted to power in our state was because they gave us an assurance that the NRC (National Register of Citizens) would be implemented, removing any illegal immigrants from Assam,” said an Assamese protester in Bangalore, noting that the CAA has felt like “a stab in the backs” of the people of Assam.
A man holds up a shirt that reads 'We the People of India'
“There is so much unemployment already, our state has been neglected through the years. How are they going to provide these people a place to stay, and whose jobs will they be given?” another angry protestor said.
According to a press release by the SCNRC, a total of 3,30,27,661 people applied through 68,37,660 application forms. In all, 3,11,21,004 people were found eligible for inclusion. The remaining 19,06,657 have to appeal to Foreigners’ Tribunals.