At a time when the Modi government is all set to introduce the Citizenship Amendment Bill that will pave the way for of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who come from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan facing persecution there to be treated as Indian citizens rather than being treated as illegal immigrants, there has been a massive ongoing misinformation campaign in the North-eastern states. The purpose of such rumour mills is to create xenophobic fears and misconceptions that the proposed legislation is against the interests of the indigenous people of the region and will facilitate the permanent settlement of those who have entered the region.
Rumours are flying thick and fast, and a bandh has been jointly called by the students’ organisations of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura. Manipur MP, Lorho Pfoze of the Naga People’s Front (NPF) has also levelled allegations of the Citizenship Amendment Bill being a ploy to alter demographics of the North-east.
He said, “The Union government views the northeast as a region which harbours a lot of discontent against the country, particularly because it has not blended with mainland India. This is why we think that all outsiders would be dumped in the region under the garb of CAB.” Within Assam, it is being propagated by a number of organisations and individuals that the Citizenship Bill will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion. This again creates a deliberate confusion, given that the Modi government has neither expressly nor impliedly given any hints of withdrawing the Assam Accord.
Amidst such rumours, the Arunachal Pradesh CM Pema Khandu has said that the Citizenship Amendment Bill is not going to affect the rights of indigenous people of the state. Dispelling all myths, he made it clear that the rights of the indigenous people are protected within the Constitution of India.
Pema Khandu said, “Northeast as whole has its own unique provision under the Indian Constitution, so does Arunachal Pradesh. We are already covered under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act of 1873, the Chin Hill Regulations Act of 1896 and other acts and rules in place to protect the interests of indigenous people of the state of Arunachal Pradesh.” He added, “I don’t see the Citizenship Amendment Bill to be problematic for Arunachal since we are protected.”
One fails to fathom why other North-eastern states don’t understand what Pema Khandu clearly understands. The fact remains that the Citizenship Amendment Bill addresses a much wider question and all fears of the proposed legislation being detrimental to the interests of the indigenous people of the North-east are baseless. The fact remains that the Bill is not going to apply in the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime areas and those tribal areas which are covered by the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, Manipur, Mizoram and some parts of Assam. Thus, contrary to the fears being aired in the region, the proposed Citizenship Bill is not going to affect the rights of the indigenous people in the North-east.
The fact remains that wide Constitutional protection has been afforded to the North-eastern to protect the interests of the indigenous people and the tribal population. Article 371 and the provisions added by subsequent amendments take care of the interests of the tribal regions of the North-eastern states.
Article 371-A was enacted in order to protect “religious or social practices of the Nagas” and “Naga customary law and procedure”. It also empowers the state legislative assembly to decide whether or not to adopt a Parliamentary law about “ownership and transfer of land and its resources” or “administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law.”
Also, take Article 371B for example. It vests the President, in respect of the state of Assam, with the discretion of providing for the constitution and functions of a committee of the Legislative Assembly of the State consisting of members elected from the tribal areas in the state. Article 371C provides for a similar provision for the state of Meghalaya in respect of members elected from the Hill areas of the state. Other constitutional provisions also protect the interests of all North-eastern states. Thus, the unique culture and indigenousness of the North-eastern states is constitutionally guaranteed. The Citizenship Amendment Bill does not apply to those areas which are covered by the tribal-dominated areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. Even otherwise also, the Citizenship Bill being an ordinary law, cannot override express Constitutional provisions.
The interests of the local population will, therefore, remain protected notwithstanding the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The restrictions on land ownership by non-residents will remain in place and so will the job quotas for the indigenous people. In such circumstances, there is no real basis for the rumours about the Citizenship Amendment Bill being a threat to the demographics of the North-eastern states, and in view of the protection afforded to the tribal regions, it is unfair to argue that the proposed legislation will in any way affect their rights. Even after the proposed law takes effect, those who had fled persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan will be conferred Indian citizenship subject to the same constitutional restrictions as apply to all others who are not residents of any of the North-eastern states. The Arunachal CM Pema Khandu’s remarks recognise this fact, and it is time the rest of the states too get over the ongoing process of fear-mongering and co-operate with the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill.