Guwahati: The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which began its hearing in Assam on Monday, travelled to Barak Valley on Tuesday amid a firmly drawn battleline of groups for and against the move.
The 16-member committee, headed by BJP MP Rajendra Agrawal, met 112 organisations in Silchar on Tuesday, 86 from Karimganj and 26 from Hailakandi, besides a number of individuals. They are expected to meet another 153 organisations from Cachar on Wednesday before deciding on a report to be presented before Parliament on the Bill that seeks to grant citizenship to religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan facing persecution and violence for their beliefs. This includes six communities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.
In the wake of a spreading discontent, the JPC is likely to have a tough time seeing the Bill through a prism of dualistic conceptions that has divided the people of Brahmaputra and Barak valleys.
An anti-Bill movement continues in Brahmaputra valley with hundreds of organisations submitting memorandum to the JPC, opposing the proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955. They see it as a move to endorse Hindus from Bangladesh who migrated to Assam after 1971.
On the other hand, Assam BJP spokesperson Rajdeep Roy said that 99% of people in Barak valley are in favour of the Bill.
“The Bill is being brought about by the government in line with the thought process and ideology of the BJP since 1980. Those from the minority community fleeing to India to escape persecution in Bangladesh or erstwhile East Pakistan need to be protected by law when they move to this part of the country,” said Roy.
While protestors in Brahmaputra valley took out processions carrying banners that opposed the Bill, hundreds lined the streets of Silchar holding placards supporting ‘unconditional citizenship to persecuted minorities in Bangladesh’.
“Hindus from Bangladesh have been living here since long. Many of them who have been working as daily wage labourers don’t even have citizenship rights. We want the government to include them in society and grant them the rights,” said one of the supporters in Barak valley on condition of anonymity.
Several organisations have raised their voice against the Bill, which they say would breach the clauses of the historic Assam Accord, which states that all illegal foreigners who came to the state after 1971 from Bangladesh, irrespective of their religion, have to be deported.
Former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi accused the BJP and Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal of committing the ‘biggest wrong’, and said that the Bill violates both Assam Accord and purpose of updating National Register of Citizenship (NRC) to identify foreigners.
The Forum against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill representing the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and 28 organisations of Assam led by intellectual Hiren Gohain have asked people to stay alert against any move threatening the rights of the indigenous people.
“Our meeting with the JPC ended on a positive note. We will now have to wait for the report. It is imperative that people of Assam stay watchful,” said Gohain.
Peasant organisation Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) leader, Akhil Gogoi, warned of launching a separatist movement if the Bill is not withdrawn, and called upon people to join him in protest.
Meanwhile, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), an ally of the BJP-led Assam government, also opposed the Bill, and has threatened to withdraw support to the government.
“We will be left with no option but to sever ties with the BJP, if the Bill is introduced,” said AGP MLA Ramen Kalita.
Assamese artists and musicians are seen to be vociferously protesting with popular singer Zubeen Garg asking fans and people of Assam to take to the streets opposing the Bill. Folk singer from Assam, Kalpana Patowary, composed a protest song calling upon people to ‘Save Assam’.