In what has triggered a fresh debate on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, BJP leader and Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Wednesday that he supported the Amendment in Citizenship Act 1955, proposing to make Hindus and other minority communities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan eligible for Indian citizenship by naturalisation in seven years.
Asserting that the responsibility of protecting Hindus lies on India, Mr Sarma said, “If Hindus flee from countries where they fear religious persecution, India has to protect them and give them shelter. Where will these Hindus, who are minorities in other countries, go if India does not accept them? Muslims and Christians have got several places to go to.”
In what is said to be against the spirit of the Assam Accord, former Assam chief minister and one of the signatories to the Assam Accord as then AASU president, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, has not only opposed the move but also foresees disaster for the identity and culture of the indigenous population in Assam if the bill is passed. He said, “Assam has already taken enough burdens of refugees. It cannot take any further for now it is overpopulated.”
Allaying such fears, Mr Sarma said, “I am saying that India has to give shelter to fleeing Hindus, not that just Assam must take the responsibility and burden for all of them.”
Before the state Assembly elections, then chief minister Tarun Gogoi had also sought refugee status for those who had come to India from Bangladesh due to persecution.
Proposed amendment has triggered a debate among the intellectuals and leaders in Assam as many see the amendment bill as a violation of the Assam Accord, which was signed in 1985 between the Centre and the All Assam Students’ Union. March 25, 1971 was set as the cut-off date for declaring any migrant from Bangladesh to Assam as a foreigner in this pact.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which was tabled in Parliament in July by home minister Rajnath Singh, has been referred to a joint parliamentary committee of both the houses. The committee is taking views and suggestions on the bill from individuals, associations and political parties till September 30 for preparing a report.
Under the existing provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955, people belonging to minority communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have either entered India without valid travel documents or the validity of their documents have expired, are regarded as illegal migrants and hence ineligible to apply for Indian citizenship.
The bill proposes amendment of the Third Schedule of the Act to make applicants belonging to these minority communities from the three countries eligible for citizenship by naturalisation in seven years instead of the existing 12.