Despite Concessions, Why is NE Protesting Against Citizenship Act?
The Northeast erupted as soon as the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed in both Houses of Parliament. The Act enables Indian citizenship for undocumented non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. While many called the amendment "an attack on secularism", the Northeast had other reasons to fret over.
The region saw widespread protests when the Bill was introduced in January 2019. To prevent a similar flare-up, the Modi-led government made several concessions. It exempted all tribal areas covered under the sixth schedule from the Bill. It also exempted states like Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and much of Nagaland that come under the Inner Line Permit rule. The government even extended the Inner Line Permit rule to Manipur and Dimapur district in Nagaland.
So why are people in the Northeast still protesting? Let's understand the problem state by state.
The reason is that only seven out of 33 districts in the state will be exempted from the Act. Large parts of Assam which are non-tribal areas will still be affected by the Citizenship Act. For years the Ahoms have feared that Bengali migrants will take over their resources and jobs.
When the Partition took place, a number of Bengali migrants came and settled in Assam. This created more resentment among the locals. After a long struggle, the Assam Accord was signed in 1985.
With the CAB, the government has now extended the deadline for non-Muslim migrants to 31 December 2014.
Protesting groups in Assam say that is a clear violation of the Assam Accord and they are afraid that there will be an influx of refugees into the state.
Nineteen lakh people have been identified as illegal immigrants by the NRC and many of them are Hindus. They will now be eligible to become citizens under the CAB. Since the NRC was a long-standing demand of Ahom groups, they see the CAB as a betrayal.
In Meghalaya, protesters burnt the effigies of PM Modi, Amit Shah and Agatha Sangma of the ruling NPP, who voted in favour of the CAB in the Lok Sabha.
Meghalaya is protected under the sixth schedule, except a small patch in Shillong. But there are fears that once Bangladeshi Hindus are given citizenship, they will easily be able to come and settle in Meghalaya, which shares a long border with Bangladesh as well as Assam.
To keep a check on the flare-up, the state has come up with the amended Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act.
The Act requires a visitor who wants to stay for more than 24 hours in the state to fill an online application and get permission.
Arunachal Pradesh has similar fears that such people would easily come via Assam and settle in the state.
Although Nagaland has remained comparatively peaceful, people are skeptical about the Act.
A student leader said that the ILP hasn't been able to control illegal immigration, so extending it to the entire state wouldn't help much.
In Tripura too, where the tribal areas of the state were exempted from CAB, life was thrown out of gear.
Protesters say that the Act violates various treaties that the Government of India has signed with the people of Tripura over the years which includes the one signed with ATTF and the instrument of accession.
In Mizoram, a major concern is the presence of Chakma refugees who came from the Chittagong hill tract in Bangladesh.
There are fears that if given citizenship, Hindu Chakma refugees will affect the demography of the Christian-majority state.
The environment in the Northeast has always been volatile about its contested identities.
CAB will only introduce new fault lines and worsen existing ones.
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