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CAA And Ethnic Cultures

Not only Assam, all ethnic cultures must be safeguarded from CAA

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance to the people of the North East in a public speech on Sunday that the rules of the Citizenship Amendment Act would provide them protection has failed to cut much ice among the Assamese and others who want the repealing of the Act itself. The Prime Minister took to Twitter to seek support of the people by saying that the central government and he were totally committed to constitutionally safeguard the political, linguistic, cultural and land rights of the Assamese people as per the spirit of Clause 6 of the Constitution. He went on to add that no one could take away their rights, unique identity and beautiful culture which will continue to flourish and grow. This has been the demand of the agitators in Assam since the CAA was passed. The Prime Minister’s assurance was obviously a result of frantic representations by the BJP leaders of the state, including Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, to the central leaders for giving that sort of assurance to the people. However, protests in Assam have not ended.

Protests in BJP-ruled Assam began in the first week of December 2019, much before they began in other parts of the country and have continued for over a month now with no signs of abating. The protestors have accused the mainstream political parties of cheating them and they are not ready to listen to even their own Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s pleadings that he was with them on the issue of protecting Assam’s cultural and regional identity. The people have been protesting against the CAA under All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) banner. For four decades the AASU has been fighting for stopping immigration from Bangladesh in the state. They have been fighting for denial of citizenship rights to migrants of all religions. They are opposed to the CAA as it is aimed at granting citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. While protests against the new law in most parts of the country are against its alleged anti-Muslim bias, those in Assam and other parts of the North East are over the fear that the new law will help migrants from Bangladesh to physically and culturally flood the North East.

Such has been the intensity of protests in Assam that Modi had to cancel his visit to the state not once but twice. The people of Assam are in no mood to listen to anyone over the issue. Their continued agitation poses a serious challenge to the state as well as central authorities. It remains to be seen how the central government would frame the CAA rules to protect the rights of Assamese. It has to be kept in mind that if any special provision is made to accommodate the cause of the people of Assam there is every possibility of similar demands being made by other ethnic communities in other parts of the country too, which could lead to nearly all of India being shut for application of the CAA, thus making the law of no use. Where will the central government settle the ‘refugees’ if no state is willing to give any land to them?

Even as the Prime Minister has been trying to win over the people of the North East over the issue, his efforts are being defeated by his party men who have been making inflammatory speeches against the protesting groups. Rather than attacking CAA opponents, the party should address the suspicions and doubts raised by the people. Even Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who leads the JD(U) which is an ally of the BJP, has now called for a debate over the CAA. The Modi government could have avoided the controversy by appropriately wording the amendment to make it non-discriminatory against any religion. That not done, protests have broken out across the country. Rectification should be done by the government as early as possible to remove any ground for suspicions. Fears are not only over the CAA but also over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and possible misuse of the National Population Register (NPR). The earlier the contentious issues are discussed and resolved to the satisfaction of people of all religions, the better for the country.

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