Clause 6: Understanding Assam's protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill
Photo: ANI

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, completing the legislative process for giving Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. As many as 125 MPs voted in favour of the Bill in the Upper House and 99 against it, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said. The Bill had earlier this week been passed by the Lok Sabha.

What is happening in the Northeast?

Protests continue in the Northeast, especially in Assam, against the Bill. Guwahati, the epicenter of anti-CAB protests, was placed under indefinite curfew on Wednesday night while the Army was called in at four places and Assam Rifles personnel were deployed in Tripura on Wednesday as the two northeastern states plunged into chaos over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill or CAB.

Thousands of people defied curfew in Guwahati on Thursday and took to the streets, prompting police to open fire. Police said they had to open fire in Lalung Gaon area in Guwahati after stones were hurled by protesters. The agitators claimed that at least four persons were injured in the shooting.

Police also had to fire in the air in several other areas of the city, including the Guwahati-Shillong Road which turned into a war zone as protestors vandalised shops and buildings, burnt tyres and clashed with security forces.

In different areas vehicles were torched, and even an MLA's residence was set on fire.

What does the Government say?

Following the passage of the Bill, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to reassure the people of Assam that the government was "totally committed to constitutionally safeguard the political, linguistic, cultural and land rights of the Assamese people as per the spirit of Clause 6."

"I want to assure all the original residents of Assam through this House that the NDA government will attend to all their concerns. The Committee constituted under Clause 6 will address the concerns," Home Minister Amit Shah had said while introducing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the Upper House.

Union Minister Kiren Rijiju on Wednesday said that protests in the northeastern region against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 are happening as "the issue has not been communicated properly".

"The issue has not been communicated properly... or some people don't want to understand. We don't want northeastern region to fall in the trap of some mis-campaigning," the Minister, who hails from Arunachal Pradesh, said. Rijiju explained to the media how the concerns of the northeastern region had been taken into account while drafting the CAB.

He said the core issue of Assam Accord has also been addressed by implementing Clause 6. "The entire region of northeast has been protected in the Bill. All the states under the ILP (Inner Line Permit) regime like Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland are excluded."

The ILP incidentally necessitates that outsiders visiting such areas need a permit and cannot settle there. Assam at present does not fall under this system.

With the topic coming up repeatedly, perhaps it is time to understand a little more fully what exactly is Clause 6. And in conjunction with that, why are the people of the Northeast protesting?

What is Clause 6?

To understand Clause 6 we have to first talk about the Assam Accord of 1985. This Memorandum of Settlement was signed between Government of India representatives and the leaders of the Assam Movement and ended a six-year agitation demanding identification and deportation of illegal foreign (Bangladeshi) immigrants that had been launched by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) in 1979.

Clause 6 is one of the promises enshrined in the Assam Accord, under the heading of "Safeguards and economic development"

"Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the culture, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people," it says.

In January incidentally, the NDA government had formed a committee to implement the Clause. Later however, Clause 6 made the headlines in July when the committee's chairman quit after protests against CAB broke out in Assam. On Wednesday, assuring the people of Assam that their linguistic, cultural and social identity would be preserved, Shah lamented that a Committee under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord (1985) was not constituted for over three decades till the Modi-government came at the Centre.

He also reiterated the Government’s commitment to protect and preserve the rights of the indigenous people and urged the Committee to submit its report at the earliest to the Central Government for effective steps to be taken to fulfill provisions of the Accord.

The government argues that that the presence of Clause 6 is a safeguard for the people of Assam when it comes to CAB. Not just Assam, officials have said that the "entire region of northeast has been protected in the Bill". Those under the ILP (Inner Line Permit) regime, they explain, are excluded.

Why then are the people of Assam concerned? Is it simply a case of misunderstanding, or is there more to it?

According to a Hindustan Times article, former Chief Minister and Asom Gana Parishad leader, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who is now the sole surviving signatory of the Assam Accord disagrees with the fact that Clause 6 is a safeguard against the effect of migration today.

“Clause 6 is not going to act as a protection against the CAB; instead CAB is undoing Clause 6. CAB is extending the cut-off year from 1971 to 2014,” the article quoted him as saying. His party incidentally is a BJP ally.

"Clause 6 of the Assam Accord covers the period from 1951 to 24 March, 1971. Why was it extended to 31 December, 2014? Why is the government violating the Assam Accord to impose an additional burden of illegal population of another 43 years? For its political gains, the government is bulldozing every legal document," a Firstpost article quoted the AASU's chief adviser as saying

"The indigenous people of Assam and the Northeast are staring at an existential threat to their composite culture. The proposed law will open the floodgates of illegal foreigners to the region," Mahanta, who was Assam chief minister from 1985 to 1990 and then from 1996 to 2001, told PTI.

Essentially, protesters opine that Assam had a rather heavy influx of immigrants from 1951 to 1971. With the cut-off-date for CAB adding another 43 years to the total, many in the Northeast fear that they wll be innundated by 'outsiders' which in turn would pose a threat to the indigenous languages, culture and traditions.

Let us briefly take up another recent topic, that of the National Registry of Citizens. Protesters also believe that the implementation of CAB might make the NRC redundant as illegal immigrants are granted citizenship. Not everyone however agrees with this assessment.

In the meantime, Assam continues to be under a shutdown, and there does not seem to be a respite in sight. As Mahanta put it, the people of Assam are "determined to fight it out till our last breath".

(With inputs from agencies)

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