The Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed with an overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha on Monday. A controversial piece of legislation, the Bill seeks to grant citizenship on the grounds of ‘religious persecution’ to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who entered India until December 31, 2014.
With the prospect looming large of the Bill getting cleared in the Rajya Sabha as well, students, a few political parties in opposition, and civil society groups have launched nationwide protests. Student groups in Assam have been protesting against the legislation for sometime now, arguing that it would lead to an influx of religious minorities from Bangladesh, undermining the interests of indigenous communities in the Northeast.
In the past few days, there have been sit-in protests, rallies, and torch marches across the state. Ministers in the BJP-led government in Assam have been shown black flags and their effigies burnt. On Tuesday, the Northeast Students’ Organisation, backed by a host of organisations and political parties, called for an 11-hour Northeast bandh until 4 pm. In response, security was beefed up across Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura.
The All Assam Students Union, the state’s largest student body, has announced a series of protests opposing the Bill.
AASU chief advisor, Samujjal Bhattacharya, said, “Assam is not a dustbin for illegal immigrants. The central government is bent on bringing the legislation based on its numbers in parliament. We will not accept it.”
Students from Guwahati University, Cotton University , JB Law College, GU Law College, Silpi Samaj, and Assam Engineering College organised a large rally against the Bill in Jalukbari on Monday. Protest rallies were also being held by students from many other colleges and universities across the state.
Kalyan Sengupta, a student of Dibrugarh University, was among the protesters in Assam. “If this Bill is passed, it will completely destroy our ethnic culture and affect thousands of tribes in the state.”
Another protesting student, who asked not to be identified, said, “Although we are pro-NRC and the removal of illegal immigrants, our states will not bear the burden of the influx of immigrants coming from outside as a result of the Citizenship Bill. The Citizenship Bill also undermines the Assam Accord which was signed in 1985.” The Assam Accord was the culmination of six years of an often violent agitation led by AASU, demanding the identification and removal of “illegal migrants” from the state. The ongoing protests are reminiscent of that agitation.
A video of the protest at Dibrugarh University
The NRC is the National Register of Citizens, which was published in August this year and left out around 1.9 million people, effectively rendering them stateless.
While many of the protesters in Assam argued they were protesting to safeguard their indigenous peoples and cultures, others said they were protesting because the Bill was unconstitutional and discriminatory against the Muslims.
Protests at other places
The Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union on Sunday released a statement opposing the Bill. “Union cabinet wants to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and shuts India’s doors for Muslims, just because they are Muslims. This bill is a threat to the fundamentals of India.”
The statement added, “The Bill follows an Israel blueprint born out of the Zionist ideology wherein only Jews were given citizenship entitlement and India’s Hindutva followers are forcing India to become Israel. This Bill satisfies the dreams of hate preachers like Savarkar, Golwalkar and Hedgewar and kills the vision of Gandhi and other freedom lovers. The aim of the bill is to divide India, flame the politics of fear, and divert the attention from the issues of national growth and development.”
Students at the Jamia Millia Islamia too staged a protest on Tuesday. They denounced the Bill as “undemocratic” and “unfair” to Muslims. Sahil Ahmad, a law student at the university, said, “This is a fight to maintain the plurality of the nation, to protect the unity of Hindus and Muslims. I urge everybody to fight this in a constitutional way. There can’t be a law which discriminates against one (Muslim) community so openly.”
Another protest was organised at Jantar Mantar on Tuesday by student organisations like All India Students’ Association, Students Federation of India and civil society groups wherein a copy of the Bill was burnt in protest.
Amidst the escalating opposition to the Bill in Assam, around 500 members of the Gohpur chapter of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the BJP’s student affiliate, in the state’s Biswanath district, resigned in solidarity with the protesters.
Students at the Banaras Hindu University, under the banner of the Joint Action Committee, also marched against the Bill on Tuesday, calling it “discriminatory”.