Largescale protests were held in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland on Thursday against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, reported PTI. This came two days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the legislation would be introduced in the new session of Parliament.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill seeks to amend a 1955 law to grant citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians from the Muslim-majority nations of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan if they have lived in India for six years. It had been passed by the previous Lok Sabha but was not tabled in the Rajya Sabha. The bill lapsed after the term of the Lok Sabha ended in May but was not introduced in the Budget Session in July.
In Kohima, thousands from various Naga tribes took out a protest rally. The protestors, who had assembled under the banner of the Joint Committee on Protection of Indigenous People, Nagaland, and North East Forum of Indigenous People, submitted a memorandum to Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio.
In the memorandum, the protestors said the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was like a “’Damocles’ sword hanging over the head of all the indigenous tribes of the northeastern region”. They urged the chief minister to take up the matter with the central government. The protestors said the Centre must respect the sentiment of the people in the region. They also warned of widespread protest if the bill was passed.
The Joint Committee on Protection of Indigenous People, Nagaland, asked the chief ministers of the all states in the North East to unitedly oppose the bill. “At present, there are three to four lakh illegal occupants in Dimapur, and with Assam publishing the final National Register of Citizens on August 31, this is going to rise further,” it said, according to PTI. “Once there is CAB, these occupants will be naturalised and Nagaland will not be same.”
“We should speak in one voice and tell the Centre to listen to it,” said North East Forum of Indigenous People Vice President Theja Therieh. Outfit General Secretary Robertjune Kharjahrin said they have decided to challenge the legislation before the Supreme Court. He added that bill violated Article 14 of the Constitution. Kharjahrin compared passing the legislation with an act of genocide. “We will also lodge a complaint to the United Nations,” he said.
In Imphal, civil society members and students held protests amid tight security. The protestors held sit-ins, shouted slogans and formed human chains. No untoward incident was reported from any part of Manipur.
The North East Forum of Indigenous People also organised a rally in Shillong. The outfit claimed that the proposed legislation was aimed at wiping out the indigenous tribes from the region. In Assam, the All-Assam Students Union said the Centre’s move to give citizenship to foreigners on the basis of religion was unconstitutional as India is a secular country.
However, a conglomerate of civil society organisations and student bodies of Mizoram said its leaders would meet Amit Shah in Aizawl on Saturday, instead of holding a protest rally, PTI reported. “We will submit a memorandum and discuss with him our displeasure over the Centre’s proposal to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955,” a leader of the NGO Coordination Committee said.
Shah will on Saturday inaugurate an exhibition of Northeast handloom and handicraft products and meet state leaders in Aizawl.
The NGO Coordination Committee leader said the group changed its decision to protest after Chief Minister Zoramthanga urged them not to demonstrate. Zoramthanga is the president of ruling Mizo National Front, which is a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance.
BJP’s Mizoram unit president John V Hluna had also appealed to the civil society organisations not to hold any protest programme during Shah’s visit.
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