EDITORIAL

An Open Letter to the Union Home Minister

JP Rajkhowa
(JP Rajkhowa is a former Chief Secretary, Assam and former Governor, Arunachal Pradesh. He may be reached at jprajkhowa@gmail.com)

Namaskar! I am writing this letter to you expressing the serious concerns, apprehensions, and fears of the indigenous people of Assam, in particular, arising from the Centre’s decision to bring in another amendment to the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955, by Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, whereby, amongst others, minority Bengali-speaking Hindus, who illegally entered and settled in India, are going to be made Indian Citizens if they have stayed in any part of India even illegally for six years as against the existing provision of 12 years. That would mean that an illegal migrant belonging to the selected minorities of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who entered India (Assam etc), say, in 2012, could claim to be a citizen of India.
As you are aware, Assam has already borne the brunt of illegal migrants from erstwhile East Pakistan and then Bangladesh, during 1947 post-Partition times, 1965 Indo- Pak War, and Bangladesh Liberation War resulting in its creation in 1971 which, according to a former Union Home Minister, Indrajit Gupta, will be several millions. Both Bangladeshi Muslims and Hindus entered Assam illegally and settled in various districts, due to political patronage of the then ruling dispensation, at the Centre and the State of Assam. There was a six-year long Assam agitation demanding sealing of Indo-Bangladesh borders, identification, detention, and deportation of illegal migrants, which cost many lives including 855 martyrs, destruction of properties, and loss of education to students for years. The agitation finally ended with the signing of the Assam Accord of 1985. While I may not subscribe to some provisions of the Accord, related to the cut-off date of midnight of March 24, 1971 which seemed to be too liberal for a sovereign Republic like India, with the Constitution having different provision, the people and all political parties of the State also accepted that cut-off date; even the Supreme Court, while declaring the IM(DT) Act, 1983 as ultra vires the Constitution and reintroducing the Foreigners Act, 1946, did not intervene and give its opinion on the afore-stated cut-off date.

Now suddenly during the BJP government which the Assamese and other indigenous people voted to power in the 2016 elections in Assam, and the BJP-led NDA, to which the State contributed ten MPs, as against two in the previous election, ill-planned efforts are being made to open the floodgate for entry of illegal Bengali Hindu migrants into Assam.
The Assamese and all other indigenous people are suffering from extreme fear about preservation of their language, identity and culture which are threatened to be annihilated by Bengali chauvinism. We still read, with great agony and pain, about the sad period mentioned in history books, i.e. 1837-1873, during which, under the British Rule, Assamese ceased to be the State language and was replaced by Bengali due to conspiracies hatched by narrow-minded Bengali chauvinism. Mind it, during the aforesaid period, Bengali-speaking people were only minority population in Assam, whereas now, together with the Bengali-speaking Barak valley, they are quite a sizeable number in the rest of Assam also.

With granting of citizenship to all post-1971 illegal Hindu migrants, the Assamese-speaking people will become minority in their own homeland. Very often, people remember the past plans of ‘greater Bangla’ including Assam as well. That is a genuine fear for every Asomiya, me included. The Census figures over the past decades since 1971 would indicate the trends in growth of population as per language. Once granted citizenship on a continuous basis to all illegal Hindu migrants, even outside Assam, such people will like to enter and settle in Assam, where they have their godfathers, like the immigrant Muslims. A small State like Assam, with only 78,000 sq km of land area, which could actually be much less, making allowance for the huge areas encroached upon by neighbouring States in the name of border disputes, cannot bear any further burden of illegal migrants, be they Hindus or Muslims or any other minority groups. The Centre should appreciate this well.

The argument by some BJP politicians of Assam that the proposed Bill is not Assam-specific, that it aims at giving citizenship to illegal minority migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, namely, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Parsees, who entered and stayed in India, and so how Assam could oppose its enactment, is fallacious in that once granted citizenship outside Assam, they would become Indian citizens and will have every right to come and settle in Assam, since Assam does not have an Inner Line Permit system like Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, which restrict entry of Indian outsiders into these two States. Since West Bengal and Tripura have already announced their inability to accept the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, irrespective of their religion, most of the Hindus, after granting of Indian citizenship would, in all likelihood, enter Assam and swell in number, due to which the indigenous Assamese and other sons of the soil could eventually become a minority group and lose their linguistic, cultural and political identity, and thereby join the list of lost tribes and lost linguistic groups.

The Bill is also prima facie violative of the secular principles enshrined in our Constitution, through its Preamble, as also other Articles, such as Article 14 and Article 15 in particular. Since India has not been made a theocratic state like the Islamic Republics of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the proposed Bill should not have been placed in Parliament. If the minorities of these three countries fled their country of origin and entered our country, another sovereign nation, due to persecution, torture, dislocation, attacks on their bodies and properties in different ways, they should be given the status of refugees and covered under the International Covenants for Refugees and brought under the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees. Nowhere in the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ annexed with the Bill, this kind of situation is mentioned. Simply because people of the five identified communities have been “applying for citizenship under Section 5 of the Act but are unable to produce proof of their Indian origin” and “even though they are likely to stay in India permanently”, in our view they should not be given special consideration and treatment at the cost of the domiciled Indian citizens, like we in Assam or rest of the Northeast who are already facing threats of extinction.
It is not understood how a sovereign country like India can allow the illegal migrants of some other countries to be granted citizenship so liberally even at the cost of its own citizens. Will those countries allow the minorities of India to enter illegally, settle there, and get citizenship, the way India has proposed now? Going by the past trends, we strongly apprehend that the proposed granting of Indian citizenship to the Hindu illegal migrants from Bangladesh, in particular, would, in all likelihood, encourage the jihadist and Islamist radicals in that country to unleash a reign of terror on the Hindu residents there, terrorize them into leaving their hearth and home, and thereby thwart all efforts made by the present Bangladesh government of Sheikh Hasina Wazed to firmly deal with these radical elements.

Mr Home Minister, by this time you must have received authentic feedback on the volatile situation and the developing law-and-order scenario in Assam due to the emotions running high and the fear of the indigenous people expressed through daily protests by tens of thousands of people. You must have also come to know about the irresponsible statements of some State BJP leaders and ministers, criticizing the protesters. This might be like adding fuel to the already burning fire.

While a large number of organizations and groups strongly represented against the Bill before the JPC headed by Rajendra Agrawal, MP, the people of the Brahmaputra valley districts and the hill districts, totaling 30, are piqued that while they were given only one day for hearing, the Barak valley with only three districts was given two consecutive days for hearing on the Bill.

Finally, Mr Home Minister, it is observed that since the Bill was placed by you Parliament, as Union Home Minister you are the right authority to withdraw it too, honouring the sentiments, emotions and concerns of the majority population of Assam, and more particularly the serious apprehensions of the indigenous people on likely annihilation of their language, identity, culture, ethnic survival etc.

I would request your immediate and sincere consideration of the points and issues raised here in connection with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and reiterate your love for the indigenous people of Assam, and protect, preserve and promote their overall interests by withdrawing the controversial Bill.