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Hearing on Citizenship Bill begins in Assam amid protests

People submitting memorandums against citizenship to Hindu refugees, in Guwahati on Monday.

People submitting memorandums against citizenship to Hindu refugees, in Guwahati on Monday.   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 began its hearing in Assam on Monday amid protests across the Brahmaputra Valley against the NDA government’s alleged move to make the state a “dumping ground for Hindu Bangladeshis”.

Though the bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 15, 2016, seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslims who have fled persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, indigenous groups in Assam view it as a move to legitimise Hindus who have migrated from Bangladesh after 1971.

They also see it as a violation of the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985 – it ended a six-year anti-foreigners’ agitation – that prescribes deportation for everyone who entered the state illegally after the midnight of March 24, 1971.

Representatives of about 159 organisations and political parties, including the BJP’s regional ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), met the 16-member JPC team headed by Rajendra Agarwala. Almost everyone opposed the move and demanded withdrawal of the “anti-Assam” bill.

The committee has four MPs from Assam – Bhubaneswar Kalita and Sushmita Dev of the Congress, and Ramen Deka and Kamakhya Prasad Tassa of the BJP.

“The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is against the interest of Assam, and threatens the cultural and linguistic identity of the indigenous peoples of the State. We have argued against it,” former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said after a five-member AGP team met the JPC members.

A Congress team headed by its state president Ripun Bora and legislature party chief Debabrata Saikia said Assam had passed through a turbulent period from 1979 to 1985 because of an agitation to drive out Bangladeshi “intruders”.

“The agitation ultimately turned into anti-Bangladeshi... Since all those who have migrated before March 25, 1971 have already been accepted, under no circumstances will Assam accept further burden of such migrants as it will seriously destroy to socio-cultural and political identity of the people of Assam,” the memorandum by Assam Pradesh Congress Committee said.

Organisations such as Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and All Assam Minority Students’ Union also demanded withdrawal of the contentious bill. Many of these organisations staged demonstrations in Guwahati and elsewhere across the State to drive hope their point.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said no step would be taken without accommodating the views of all stakeholders. “The JPC will take a decision only after weighing divergent views,” he said.

The JPC members are scheduled to visit Silchar in Bengali-dominated Barak Valley on Tuesday. They are expected to hear more than 200 organisations till Wednesday afternoon.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 12:20:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/hearing-on-citizenship-bill-begins-in-assam-amid-protests/article23804108.ece

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