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3-min read

OPINION | Refugee Act and Not Citizenship Amendment Bill is Answer to Asylum Seekers from Neighboring Countries

If persecution of minorities in the neighbouring countries is the reason for dilution of the Citizenship Act, the Centre could have dealt with the problem through a different route.

Harekrishna Deka |

Updated:December 4, 2019, 11:19 AM IST
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OPINION | Refugee Act and Not Citizenship Amendment Bill is Answer to Asylum Seekers from Neighboring Countries
Members of the North-East Forum for Indigenous People (NEFIP) stage a protest against the Centre’s move to implement the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Shillong. (PTI)

The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 which is ready to be introduced in the current session of Parliament is a new avatar of a similar bill that failed to pass through the last Rajya Sabha, and has serious adverse political implications for the indigenous people, the real original inhabitants of Assam.

The original inhabitants have their identities in their linguistic-cultural life practices. The legitimisation of Hindu immigrants is not just India assuming guardianship of the Hindus of three neighbouring countries, where they are presumed to be persecuted for which no proof is required according to the ruling party, but it is an open invitation to a community with a distinctly linguistic-cultural identity who are very different from the original inhabitants of Assam, where population composition is going adverse for the indigenous communities due to demographic influx from Bangladesh.

In fact, historically, the migration of a homogenous linguistic people from the neighbouring region to the space called Assam is two-centuries-old. The politico-linguistic-cultural space of Assam is not imaginary, but has historical background if one remembers how these people had to fight for their linguistic rights during the British regime and thereafter.

It may be recalled that the present government made solemn promise that the state borders will be sealed completely, but by proposing this amendment, the government has already accepted the defeat of the purpose with the presumption that ‘illegal migrants’ will have enough opportunity to come illegally and those who are not Muslims will be allowed to remain here.

If persecution of minorities in the neighbouring countries is the reason for dilution of the Citizenship Act, the Centre could have dealt with the problem through a different route. India does not have a Refugee Act under which such categories of shelter-seekers could have been handled on humanitarian ground.

The criterion for dealing with this stream of people has to be under the UN’s charter, not under the country’s citizenship law and not by muffling the aspirations of its genuine citizens under a liberal interpretation of religious brotherhood.

According to the UN charter, a refugee has to be defined in the following terms:

“Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or social opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country, or, who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such event, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The UN definition speaks of a genuine fear of persecution under compelling circumstances for dealing with someone requiring shelter in another country. There is no red-carpet syndrome here as is seen in the proposed amendment of our citizenship law. The country seeks to assume moral guardianship of the minorities of the neighbouring countries on the basis of religion and not on compelling humanitarian reasons based on secular principles.

While in a plural society different communities need to live harmoniously socially, the indigenous communities can't accept a situation where the migrants rule them.

The world history has glaring examples that indigenous peoples in many parts of the world lost their space to migrants aggressively settling in their habitat. In India, Tripura is an example.

India is one nation of many national identities, and when reorganisation of the states was done, it was amply clear that such identities formed mostly on the basis of linguistic culturalism. Each such linguistic community considers its matribhasa (mother tongue) as the primary identifier of the community and they identify a geographical space as their own.

For each such linguistic nationality, their linguistic culture assumes political primacy vis-à-vis the people of other languages and cultures, and since democracy becomes a rule of majority, they can't accept an 'outsider' community turning into a majority through organised influx into their primary space, that too by means of induced motivation.

(Harekrishna Deka is former DGP of Assam. Views are personal)

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