Reasons behind coming up with new citizenship law, plan to ‘register’ all citizens afresh

Refugees_

By Martin Macwan*

Till now our slogan was “Save the Constitution, save the country.” However, the picture as to what is the danger facing the Constitution was not clear. On December 10-11, 2019, things became transparent when it was declared: “Prove that you are a citizen of the country.”

I was born on this land, my ancestors were buried under this land and were cremated here. My children were born here. Land, air, water, sky, light have not been the creation of any political party. Now I have to prove that I am a citizen of this country?

What is the reason behind the effort to inject a new fixture in the minds and souls of about 130 crore Indians? Is this only about verifying the citizenship of those belonging to a particular religion?

It all began in Assam. A movement began in 1979 in the state, which borders Bangladesh. Unusual polling in a particular Lok Sabha seat became the ground for assuming that foreigners have infiltrated into Assam. A movement took shape to deport the infiltrators. This movement ended in 1985.

If one moves a little backwards into history, it was perhaps the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s strategy to end Pakistan’s continued harassment of its eastern part, which led to the division of that country. The Congress government supported local discontentment in eastern Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and with the help of the Indian military, Pakistan was divided. Thus Bangladesh was born. At that time, India gave humanitarian support to all the refugees, whether Hindu or Muslim. However, this created problems for several states – Assam, Tripura, West Bengal.

The 1931 census figures show that Tripura had 56.37% Adivasi population, which went down to 28.44% in 2011. Even as the proportion of the local people went down, their landownership, employment and political power also went down. The same thing happened in Assam. During the last 10 years, the proportion of the Assamese speaking people has gone down by 0.5%, while the Bengali speaking people have gone up by 1.5%.

Entry of a large number of refugees led to major changes in the electoral scene, too. Coming under the sixth schedule of the Constitution, all these states have seen tribals losing their control over land, property, jobs. According to a Planning Commission report, though the Adivasi population in the country is 8.08%, the refugees are sought to be settled in those areas where the Adivasi population is 40% or more.

The Assam movement continued for seven years. Finally, there was an agreement. It was called Assam accord. Under this accord, all those who came to Assam before March 24, 1971 would be considered citizens of India. Now the whole issue boiled down to identifying infiltrators. And for this, it was decided to come up with the National Register of Citizens (NRC). During the 2014 elections, the BJP declared during its campaign that crores of Muslims had infiltrated into Assam, and they would have to be meticulously identified and deported.

The NRC process received the support of the Supreme Court also. In 2019 the the NRC’s final list was declared. The BJP’s calculations went awry. A list of 19 lakh infiltrators was declared, out of 60% were Hindus. The whole process cost the coffers Rs 12,000 crore. As the result was not to its expectations, the BJP opposed it, declared that the NRC process would be carried out again, and that it would carried out across India. In short, the BJP wants registration of citizenship in accordance with its political exigency, in which while Hindu infiltrators would get citizenship, but Muslims wouldn’t.

We have found from our own experience that half of the teenagers who come for training at the Dalit Shakti Kendra in Sanand, Ahmedabad district, do not have any birth certificate. How can 80-years old have proof that they were born in India?

This is one part of the story. The other story relates to setting aside of the basic Constitutional norm of the country. The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on December 10-11, 2019. The President, in a rubber stamp style, gave his accent immediately, and the law came into force. Some of the main features of CAA are given below.

Those who have faced religious persecution in three Muslim majority countries – two of India’s immediate neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh and the far-off neighbour Afghanistan – would be given Indian citizenship, provided:

  • They should be either Hindu, or Christian, or Sikh, or Jain, or Buddh.

  • They should not be Muslim.

In an effort to ensure that India does not become a country of only one religion, Dr Ambedkar inserted Article 14 in the Constitution. This Article ensures that irrespective of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, all citizens are equal, and that law would treat everyone alike.

On December 25, 1927, Dr Ambedkar burned Manusmriti as part of his campaign for equal status to Dalits who faced religious persecution at the hands of those who were wedded to the thoughts and views the ancient treatise. Hindu leaders also participated in the programme and put on fire Manusmriti. Dr Ambedkar’s was not against any particular religion but was against those who are taking shelter of religion for irreligious acts.

The Constitution was unanimously adopted by all the elected members of Parliament, irrespective of their religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, in 1950. Now, 70 years on, the BJP and its supporting parties want to remove the provision of equality before law, guaranteed by the Constitution. This is a direct attack on all the minorities of the country as also those citizens who swear by the Indian Constitution.

Now, the ball has been set to roll in order to spread the communal fire across the country and to undermine the idea that the Constitution is fundamentally secular in character. This has been done to ensure that that political power remains in the hands of forces of communalism. On the other hand, minorities are sought to be reduced to second class citizens, as refugees in their own country.

In an effort to decorate it the citizenship law, Christians, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists have been added to Hindu refugees would be given citizenship.

More than 100 years ago, two illustrious persons were born in India, Gandhi and Sardar, who took upon themselves the responsibility of freeing India. Not only this, they gave us a country where every religion, race, caste and language had an equal status. We became a secular and a united country. Though Dr Ambedkar ideologically differed with Gandhi-Sardar, he was given the responsibility of scripting the Constitution. Now two Gujaratis are trying to divide the country, even as swearing in the name of Gandhi-Sardar-Ambedkar.

The question is: How many infiltrators do we have in India? While the Home Minister has told the Lok Sabha that lakhs and crores of people will be benefit from CAA, this does not have much weight. Figures released in the Lok Sabha show that, as on December 31, 2014, there are in all 2,89,141 infiltrators, who do not have the permission to live in India. Of this, 1,03,817 are from Bangladesh, 1,02,467 from Sri Lanka, 58,155 from Tibet, 12,434 are Myanmar, 8,799 from Pakistan, and 3,469 from Afghanistan.

It has been Indian civilization’s age-old tradition to provide shelter to those who have been persecuted or harassed in other parts of the world. It is called Vasudev Kautumbam. There wouldn’t have been any objection to an amendment to the Constitution is this was the intention. However, to divide those seeking shelter on the basis of religion and denying the same right to others can be the vision of a particular political party, but not that of India. Over and above this, the amendment is against Article 14 of the Constitution.

Already, the entire north-east is on turmoil as a result of this amendment. The Assam accord required that all those who came to Assam after March 24, 1971 would not be given citizenship, but the new law wants December 31, 2014 as the new cutoff date, seeking to provide citizenship to only Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, and Jains. It is worth recalling that the BJP came to power in alliance with others in Assam only on the basis of the Assam accord.

Efforts are being made to quell the rising feelings of mistrust in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland – they are being told that the new law would not impact them. However, the system of Inner Line Permit is in force under the Constitution’s sixth schedule only in 10 districts of these four states. This means that without the permission of the panchayats of these districts, outsiders cannot reside here. Originally, the British had promulgated this inner line permit system in order to continue their rule and to do business in these areas single-handed.

While it is true that without the permission of the regional panchayats, nobody can go and stay in those areas, but it is also true there are in all 61 districts in these four states, out of which the provision of the Inner Line Permit is there only in 10 districts.

At a time when the BJP is talking of providing shelter to those who are affected by religious persecution in three neighbouring countries, it is also necessary to understand this: That even 73 years after India provided Dalits citizenship, they are continue to be victims of untouchability and manual scavenging, and are still not treated as ‘equal’ citizens. Despite being Hindu, they are refused permission to enter into temples or cremate their bodies on common cremation grounds. If this is not religious intolerance then what is it? Dalits among Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs face a similar predicament to some degree. Is there any way to ensure that India’s 21.5 crore or 16.5% Dalits do not become victims of religious abuse?

The 2014 Lok Sabha elections saw the BJP and its supporters gain majority in the Lok Sabha because of the reserved seats of Adivasis-Dalits, yet government figures show that atrocities against under their rule against Adivasis-Dalits have gone up. How can one expect the Central government, which has failed to stop atrocities against its own citizens, to provide solace to those living in other countries?

Two points are absolutely clear:

First of all, that the state where maximum number of unsupported Muslims live, West Bengal, is going to the polls in 2021, and the effort is to repeat the same communal card which was played successfully in Assam.

And secondly, the effort is to keep 130 crore people busy in finding documents to prove their citizenship, thus creating an atmosphere of fear across India. This appears to be a clearly calculated political move.

If Rs 12,000 crore were spent in registering citizens in Assam, in 28 states and nine union territories, the total expenditure could be well be over Rs 5 lakh crore. Even today people die of hunger. Lakhs of children are malnourished, and 69% of infants mortality is the result of malnourishment. India’s progress in overcoming malnourishment is worse than that of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unemployment is rising. Given such a situation, the strategy to divert the attention elsewhere appears to be a successful solution.

The saddest part for the people of the country is, Delhi police entered into the library and boys’ and girls’ hostel and toilets without taking any permission. Students were brutally beaten up. Even the Britishers did not perpetrate such barbarity. Freedom of expression is the fundamental right provided by Dr Ambedkar in the Constitution. This was the direct attack on the Constitution.

Time has come that we, citizens of India, decide our course of action. Shouldn’t we ensure that the basic right to equality, which is the cornerstone of India’s Constitution, is defended? Should we allow a Hindu Rashtra to be formed in which citizens belonging to different religions, castes, races and languages live in an unequal setup, setting aside our secular credentials?

It is necessary to understand this: Apart from caste and community based inequality, Hindus are unequal also because of income disparities. Hence, in any Hindu Rashtra, it is the top 5% who will get the cream, while the rest only empty promises. Article 15 of the Indian Constitution seeks removal of inequality between different classes and equal opportunities to gain the fruits of development. It is in accordance with the principles of Dr Ambedkar alone that other backward classes have been provided with reservation facilities.

Our fight is just one:

The Citizenship Amendment Act should be taken back, and the plan to initiate National Register for Citizens should be abandoned.

A meeting has been organized at the Dalit Shakti Kendra on December 25, 2019, at 11.00 am, which is the anniversary of the burning of copies of Manusmriti.


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