The public suggestions sought on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, by a parliamentary panel have rekindled the debate on ‘foreigners’ in Assam. Assam Accord signed in 1985 marked March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for detection and deportation of foreigners was universally accepted by everyone and it also had the sanction from the Supreme Court. However, the central government’s proposal to make minority communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for applying for Indian citizenship has again stirred up a hornet’s nest.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, as introduced in the Lok Sabha, has now been referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee of both the Houses, under the chairmanship of Dr Satyapal Singh for examination and presenting a report to the Parliament. The report will be submitted on September 30 and there is considerable interest in Assam over the outcome of this report. Prime time debates in Assamese news channels have been completely dedicated to this issue and this is understandable because if this bill gets passed, the demography of Assam is going to change forever.
Recently, State Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said India will have to accept Hindus forced to leave from different countries as they have ‘no other place to go,’ while Muslims and Christians have ‘several places to go.’ Religious identity has not been used to discriminate asylum-seekers, generally, by any nation.
‘Those Hindus who are persecuted due to religion cannot go to America and Pakistan, has no other place to go except India. So we have to accept them,’ Sarma claimed.
Now, this is a dangerous claim to make since Assam is already reeling under the burden of mass influx from Bangladesh since the past few decades. An exercise like National Register of Citizens (NRC) only for the purpose of detecting illegal migrants, irrespective of his/her religion. If in this scenario, the influx of Hindu immigrants is legalised by the bill, it will open up the floodgate. If Assamese Hindus are now thinking about becoming the religious minorities in Assam due to the continuous influx from Bangladesh, the new bill might make them linguistic minorities in their own land. Sylheti, a language pre-dominantly used in Bangladesh, might become the primary language of Assam.
So, let’s oppose this kind of communal politics which is going to harm Assam in more ways than one. Let’s stick to the cut-off date March 24, 1971 determined by our predecessors and accept anyone coming before that to Assam as Assamese irrespective of race, language, religion, caste and creed.
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