India’s northeastern state of Assam has exploded into protest over the Dec. 11 passage of a new national citizenship law. The army has been deployed, a curfew imposed in state capital Guwahati, and internet access cut off. At least five people have been killed as security forces fired on demonstrators. The new law allows religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to apply for Indian citizenship. This means it effectively excludes Muslims, and mostly apples to Hindus and Sikhs. Critics of the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say it therefore violates India’s founding secular principles. But while secularists and Muslims are protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act on this basis elsewhere in India, the biggest protests have been in Assam—motivated by fear that the state will be overrun by an influx from Bangladesh, threatening its cultural and linguistic identity.
Protesters in Guwahati say the CAA violates the 1985 Assam Accord between the state and the national government, which ended years of often violent agitation in the state over the immigration question. The bloodiest episode during this period was the 1983 Nellie massacre—when some 2,000 Muslims were killed in six hours of communal violence across several villages. The Assam Accord established 1971 as a cut-off point after which undocumented immigrants who arrived iin the state (overwhelmingly from neighboring Bangladesh) could not apply for citizenship.
Last year, the Assam state government published a new National Registry of Citizens—excluding the state’s Muslims, who were given until Aug. 31 of this year to prove their residence in India before 1971. State authorities are preparing huge new detention camps for those deemed aliens.
But the national government’s new CAA allows non-Muslims from Bangladesh to apply for citizenship if they arrived any time up to 2014. The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and other protest leaders in Guwahati say this violates the pact that has kept a relative peace in the state since 1985.
However, demonstrators in New Delhi, West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala and elsewhere in India are protesting the CAA’s the exclusion of Muslims, calling it contrary to the values of the country’s constitution. These demonstrations have brought out both secularists and adherents of Muslim organizations. (TNM, TNM, PTI, PTI, PTI, Indian Express, Indian Express, Indian Express, Indian Express, BBC News, Al Jazeera)
Image: Sowmya Reddy