Guwahati: With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government pushing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which aims to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslims who seek refuge after facing religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan, several northeastern states are setting up legal frameworks to block off any undesirable repercussions.
While the recently implemented anti-infiltration National Register of Citizens (NRC) appears to be providing some hope for Assam residents against any illegal influx, the Meghalaya cabinet recently passed an ordinance making registration on entry mandatory for visitors who intend to spend more than 24 hours in the state.
The state cabinet has amended the Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act (MRSSA), 2019 in the form of an ordinance. The government said that the change will come into force immediately and will be regularised in the next session of the assembly.
The ordinance makes it mandatory for anyone who is not a resident of Meghalaya to register with the authorities if he or she intends to visit the state or wants to stay there. It also says that wilful defaulters are liable to be punished under section 176 or 177 of the Indian Penal Code, which could mean financial penalty, or imprisonment, or both.
The Nagas, on the other hand, are contemplating preparation of a Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland (RIIN) to detect the outsiders living in the state as well as ensure that the demographic pattern does not change if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, or CAB, is implemented.
While there are differences of opinion and debates among sections of people over the RIIN and the methodology to prepare the proposed registry, most groups are unanimous on having the anti-infiltration measure in some form to safeguard the interest of the indigenous inhabitants of Nagaland. The state government had also taken up the issue of compiling the RIIN with the Centre.
The cabinet of Arunachal Pradesh on Monday unanimously decided to hold a final discussion with different stakeholders over the CAB and forward the recommendations to the union ministry of home affairs (MHA).
The report of the consultative committee on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, headed by state home minister Bamang Felix was submitted to the Arunachal government during the cabinet meeting on Monday and, after consultation, it was decided that one final round of discussion will be held with all stakeholders on Wednesday.
The CAB seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after seven years of residence in India even if they do not possess any document. Detractors have called it a “communal move” and that it is biased against Muslims.
Two other states of the north-eastern region — Manipur and Mizoram — have already passed legislation for protection of locals and preventing outsiders from settling there, and are learnt to be waiting for the President’s nod.
While the MNF government in Mizoram passed the Maintenance of Household Registers Bill on March 18 and sent it to the MHA for obtaining the presidential nod, the BJP-led government in Manipur has also ratified the Manipur Peoples’ Protection Bill this year and dispatched it to the central ministry for the same reason.
The Mizoram legislation seeks to provide a credible individual identification system and prevent “usurpation” of benefits of development schemes by those who are not entitled while also provisioning for a comprehensive database of residents to be maintained. The prospective Manipur law defines ‘Manipuris’ and ‘non-Manipuris’, and seeks to regulate entry and exit of the latter to protect interests of the former. The bill categorises Meiteis, Pangal Muslims, listed Scheduled Tribes of the state and Indian nationals living in Manipur before 1951 as ‘Manipuris’.
“The BJP-led government at the Centre is planning to implement the CAB once again and we are going to oppose this. Assam and other north-eastern states had taken a lot of burden of illegal foreigners in the past. But not anymore; we’ll not allow anyone to make Assam and the north-eastern states as dumping ground for illegal foreigners,” said All Assam Students Union (Aasu) chief adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya.
Several outfits in the region, including the powerful North East Students’ Organization (NESO), have already chalked out a series of protests against the CAB and vowed to launch door-to-door campaigns to make the people of these states aware of the controversial bill.
“The central government is again planning to bring the contentious bill which we as indigenous people of the Northeast are vehemently opposed to. The entire region is overrun by foreigners from erstwhile East Pakistan and now Bangladesh,” NESO chairman Samuel Jyrwa told this correspondent.
“All the north-eastern states have borne the burden of Hindu refugees who have migrated due to the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971 and this Citizen (Amendment) Bill is again an attempt to impose the burden of the post-1971 Hindu Bangladeshis on the entire north-eastern region, which is not justified,” he said.
While the threat of influx looms large on all states of north-eastern India due to porous borders with neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, the implementation of the CAB would also grant citizenship to about 100,000 Chakma, Tibetan, and Hajong refugees, which is opposed by many people in Arunachal Pradesh.
(The author is a freelance journalist. Views expressed are personal.)