The Government of India’s intention to introduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill or CAB during the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament has triggered another spell of protests and unrest in the Northeast. At least in Manipur, there is a shift in the content and objective of protests though the spatial and temporal nature of anger and discontent remain the same with the recent tension set in motion by the Naga peace deal. A number of student and civil voluntary organisations have come forward to oppose the Bill tooth and nail. Manipur People Against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (MANPAC) has announced an 18-hour Manipur shutdown from Monday midnight.
The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 so as to make Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship of India. In parts of India, the primary opposition to the Bill has come from certain quarters that think that it is inherently communal in nature as it seeks to make it easier for only non-Muslim immigrants to become citizens of India.
It may be mentioned that under the Citizenship Act, 1955, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation is that anyone who wants to be a citizen of India must have resided in the country during the last 12 months, as well as for 11 of the previous 14 years. The CAB however, eases the second requirement from 11 years to six years as a specific condition for applicants belonging to the six non-Muslim religions. Under the Citizenship Act, 1955, a person who is born in India, or has Indian parentage, or has resided in India over a specified period of time, is eligible for Indian citizenship. There were no provisions for illegal immigrants to become Indian citizens. In 2015 and 2016, the Government of India exempted some religious groups of illegal immigrants from provisions of the 1946 and 1920 Acts.
It must be noted that the CAB 2016 was introduced in Parliament to amend the 1955 Act. It was tabled on the floor of Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016. Later, the same was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee on August 12, 2016. The committee submitted its report on January 7, 2019 and just a day after, the Bill was passed in Lok Sabha. When the term of the 16th Lok Sabha came to an end, the Modi regime wanted to introduce it in Rajya Sabha. However, massive anti-CAB protests in the Northeast region of India put a spanner in the works of the ruling dispensation. The Rajya Sabha adjourned sine die on February 13, 2019, without the Bill being tabled.
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Even if the intent of the government is clear on granting citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from neighbouring countries, no one seems to be sure if the authors of CAB had indeed taken into consideration the apprehension of the people of Northeast. The people have been living in fear over the thought and possibility of illegal immigrants gradually altering the demographic character of the region in the near future. This basically means loss of livelihood opportunities and near permanent dent on indigenous communities and cultures. With the ruling regime at the centre determined to bring in the Bill, one can only wait and see whether the rationale behind the strident protest across the Northeast have been acknowledged or the ruling regime just ignores it as tiny turmoil in the periphery.