July 05, 2020
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OPINION | CAB's Can Of Worms Has Left Even Hindus Unsure Of Their Future

What if the Citizenship Amendment Bill triggers violence against minority groups in other countries whom India seeks to protect? Asks international director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Sanjoy Hazarika

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OPINION | CAB's Can Of Worms Has Left Even Hindus Unsure Of Their Future
Photograph by AP
OPINION | CAB's Can Of Worms Has Left Even Hindus Unsure Of Their Future

The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) seeks to confer nationality on six non-Muslims communities who have faced “persecution” in three neighbouring countries but are not defined as refugees. The term refugee confers an internationally recognised political status. But India is not a signatory to the Geneva Convention that binds governments to protect refugees facing persecution—religious, political, linguistic, ethnic etc. There is no clarity in the CAB on what criteria has been applied or is to be applied on determining the scale of persecution.

In this context, we need to understand why Assam and adjoining states in the Northeast have erupted with such vehemence. Much anger was simmering after the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam turned up an “excluded list” of 1.9 million, which included a majority of Hindus, a smaller number of Muslims, the native tribal communities and other groups, including Gurkhas. The BJP said it does not accept the Assam list and plans a nationwide NRC.

What if the CAB triggers ­violence against minority groups in other ­countries whom India seeks to protect?

The question then is what happens to the exercise in Assam—the money ­invested, the time taken, the energy spent, not to speak of the deep frustration and anxiety that have grown as a result. The Assam government has not come before the Supreme Court to formally reject the NRC list. Until that happens, the chapter is not closed. The process of challenging the exclusion from the list is a task that 1.9 million people (including numerous Indians) have to go through. It’s a tortuous process of going to foreigners’ tribunals (there are 100 which are functional, while 200 more are being set up), the high court and finally the Supreme Court. Just think, Indians have to go before foreigners’ tribunals to assert their citizenship!

What clearly put those who batted for the NRC on the back foot was that the majority of people from the “excluded” 1.9 million (who cannot be defined as foreigners until the legal process is completed) are Hindu and remain unsure of their future, many without access to legal aid. So, there was an underlying anger and it tipped again with the new law that appeared to be dismissive of Assam’s concerns. Also, there is fear that granting citizenship to people who have come illegally over the decades from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan could change Assam’s demography. There is a plan to provide protection through the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system. But experience has shown that the ILP—in place in Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh for decades—has not been effective. The Centre tried to walk a fine line by applying the ILP provision across both Sixth Schedule areas, which is an affirmative action law providing ethnic, cultural and political reservation to tribal interests in Meghalaya and Mizoram as well as tribal areas of Assam and Tripura. However, the Sixth Schedule does not cover Nagaland, Arunachal and Manipur. Consequently, a complex situation has become even more challenging.

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The government says the CAB seeks to settle the issue of persecuted religious minorities—millions of Hindus and other religious ‘minority’ groups—in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. But could it not trigger further persecution and ­violence against these very groups, whom India seeks to protect, in their ­countries? How would the cloak of protection embrace them? Adequate, sustained dialogue and asserting the trinity of liberty, equality and inclusivity could help even at this very late hour.

International director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. Views expressed are personal.

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