Two activists from Meghalaya have filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court challenging the Citizenship Amendment Act. They argued that the amended law does not take into account the “lived realities of the inhabitants of border regions” and attacks the fundamental rights of tribal communities.

The petition was filed by activists Mantre Passah and Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh on January 13. They said the amended citizenship law is “a blatant design of creating a divide amongst the various tribal communities, especially those who follow the indigenous traditional belief system like the Niam Tynrai and Songsarek followers amongst the Khasi-Pnars and Garos”.

They alleged that the Citizenship Amendment Act is motivated by religious discrimination, based on the belief of Hindu majoritarianism and supremacy by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. “The impugned Act violates the right to privacy of refugees belonging to indigenous tribes following traditional religions and imposes unconstitutional conditions upon them,” the activists added.

Passah and Pyrtuh argued that the new law does not stand scrutiny as it does not follow the constitutional principles of secularism and equality. They said the Act “should not enact a binary of citizens and illegal immigrants, but ought to recognise the layered and complex character of migration, as well as the identities of those who migrate”.

They urged the government to respect the “legitimate concerns” of the indigenous citizens to preserve their language, land and culture.

“Therefore, we the petitioners request the Supreme Court to exercise its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution in order to issue guidelines for a just, fair, and equitable immigration regime, until such time that Parliament sees fit to enact a constitutionally valid law,” the activists added. “In addition to the unconstitutional legal aspects of the CAA, we would also like to highlight the manner in which the CAA has been brought about by the NDA government and the prevailing atmosphere of fear that this Act and its passing has created in the country as a whole.”

“The struggle to protect tribals in India can not be divorced from the struggles against a system which tries to create a monolithic India based of religious majoritarianism,” they said.

The Citizenship Amendment Act provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The Act has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims, leading to protests against it. At least 26 people have died in the protests – 19 in Uttar Pradesh, five in Assam and two in Karnataka.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear around 60 pleas against the law on January 22.