‘Citizenship Amendment Bill Is An Act of War on Indigenous People’
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.(Photo: Kamran Akhter / The Quint)

‘Citizenship Amendment Bill Is An Act of War on Indigenous People’

“The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 in the Lok Sabha, is an act of declaring war on the indigenous people of the Northeast,” cries the president of the Coalition of Indigenous Right Campaign (CIRCA), a Manipur-based civil society group, while addressing a press conference in Imphal. This was soon after the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 (CAB 2016) was passed in the Lok Sabha on 8 January.

Somorendro Thokchom, CIRCA president, elaborating on the implications of CAB 2016, described it as a policy to crush the mongoloid population of the northeast by opening up a demographic floodgate.

He said, “the agenda is to completely annihilate and wipe out the indigenous people of the northeast by orchestrating a demographic invasion from across the border”.

Fear Of Becoming a ‘Minority’ In Their Own land

While the national debate on the CAB 2016 is on the inherent blot on the secular spirit of India, by favoring the non-Muslim community – Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis – in matters of citizenship over the Muslims – the strong opposition in the northeast is that the region will become the “dumping ground” of migrants, who will eventually outnumber the local population and reduce them to “minority status”. This fear has been given validation through the example of Tripura, where its natives are now reduced to a minority by an unabated influx from Bangladesh till 1971, and they fear this will be repeated if the CAB 2016 becomes an Act.

For the first time in the history of the northeast region, the seven states – Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya – are united in their opposition of the bill which essential seeks to offer citizenship to non-Muslim minorities in the three neighbouring Islamic states of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

With Assam and Tripura already bearing brunt of chronic illegal migration from Bangladesh, the opposition in these two states to the bill is naturally the stiffest. In Manipur, the opposition to the bill is growing by the day, as the people of the state perceive the bill as a means to legitimise entries of non-Muslim migrants from neighbouring countries, particularly Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Pushback On Citizenship Amendment Bill

On Sunday, 3 February, renowned veteran Manipuri filmmaker, Aribam Syam Sharma announced that he would be surrendering his Padma Shri title as a mark of his protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016. He also said there would be no hope for the mongoloid population of the northeast if the CAB became an Act.

Soon after, Lancha Ningthouja, the co-coordinator of the Manipur People Against Citizenship Amendment Bill (MPACAB) (a recently formed conglomerate of 64 civil society organisations) announced that they would boycott the national anthem, as it does not mention the northeast region, and they’d also boycott PM Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, for their steadfast motive to get the CAB 2016 passed in the current Rajya Sabha session. The situation is fast devolving, as the Narendra Modi government at the Centre is aggressively pushing the bill for passage in the current Rajya Sabha session.

Also Read : Why The Citizenship Bill Can Tear Assam Apart

How Manipuris Perceive the Bill

The Manipuris perceive the bill as a legislation to legitimise the entries of migrants at a time when the state is awaiting the presidential assent to the ‘People’s Protection Bill’ passed by the Manipur Legislative Assembly in July, 2018, to protect the local population. The ‘People’s Protection Bill’ essentially seeks to regulate the entry and exit of the “non-Manipuris” in order to protect the interests and identity of the “Manipuris”.

According to the Bill, Manipuri include the Meiteis, the Pangal Muslims, Manipuri scheduled tribes listed under the Constitution and Indian nationals who have been living in Manipur before 1951.

Those who do not fall under this category are deemed “non-Manipuris”, and have to register themselves with the authorities within a month of the Act.

Additionally, outsiders visiting the state would have to obtain an Inner Line Permit, a system that is in place in three other Northeastern states: Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.

‘Misinterpretation’ of Citizenship Amendment Bill?

While the mover of the bill as well as the BJP-led Manipur government is crying foul saying the CAB 2016 is being misinterpreted, they are nevertheless appealing to the people to not panic, saying that the state government, along with majority of the political parties, are pressurizing the union government to include a clause in the bill to protect the native population.

The state put forth the argument that the numerically small ethnic groups with unique dialects, customary laws and practices inhabiting the northeastern states need constitutional protection, to preserve their identity and way of life.

The the proposer of CAB say the bill, through proper channels, will only admit the applications for citizenship of those non-Muslim minorities in the three neighbouring Islamic states (who have stayed in India for 6 years) and process ample documentary proof of being prosecuted for their religion in their original country.

Those pro-bill also point out that most of the northeastern states are protected under Section 371 of the Indian Constitution, as scheduled land prevent land ownership by non-locals.

State BJP’s ‘Pressure’ on Centre

The valley of Manipur and Assam are exceptions to this provision, hence, have been demanding appropriate legislation to protect the natives. In a move to diffuse the tension building up in the state against CAB 2016, the BJP-led Manipur government is appealing to the people not to panic, saying that the government, along with the majority of the political parties, are lobbying for the Centre to include a clause in the bill to protect the natives, or to exempt Manipur from its purview.

Further the state Cabinet has resolved to exert pressure on the union government to give the mandatory Presidential Assent to the Manipur’s People’s Protection Bill, to shield Manipur from the perceived impact of CAB.

A joint committee of several political parties has been constituted, and representatives have been sent to Delhi to lobby against the Centre’s intentions.

Congress, JD(U) and the state’s regional party, MPP are keeping a distance from the government-initiated move, alleging that the state cabinet’s refusal to call a special assembly session on the matter a clear testimony of its insincerity on the issue.

Is Manipur People’s Bill an Eyewash?

The Congress further lamented that the state Cabinet’s decision to urge the Centre to give assent to the Manipur People’s Bill to regulate the influx of migrants and to protect the interest of the indigenous people of the state, is an eye-wash in the backdrop of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Okram Ibobi, the Opposition leader and the ex chief minister, asked the BJP-led state government how a Bill passed by the state assembly could supersede or neutralise the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016.

The Congress leader is asserting that the Manipur People’s Bill is not a guard against the CAB 2016, an argument put forth by the BJP-led N Biren Singh government. Manipur People’s Bill cannot stop anyone with valid Indian ID cards from coming into Manipur. The Bill only empowers the state authorities to register non-Manipuris visiting the state, and issue passes to regulate their entry and exit.

(Sunzu Bachaspatimayum is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Manipur. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(The Quint is now available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

Follow our Opinion section for more stories.

    Also Watch