22 December 2019

The CAA, Demographics, & Identity

Note: Dear Reader, please ignore the alignment and other issues related to this post; with great difficulty I could publish this post.

he Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 has become a new rallying point for the detractors – both in the political and non-political fields. 

The liberal cabal, also called the ‘secular brigade’, were stunned with the abrogation of Article 370 and the Supreme Court’s judgment on the Ram Mandir issue. The BJP-led NDA has been accused of anti-Muslim bias. Now they are frothing at the mouth, again.

Highlights of the CAA

The below listed important provisions are excerpted from the ‘The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, which is an act further to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. 
  • Persons belonging to the faiths of Hinduism (Hindus), Jainism (Jains), Sikhism (Sikhs), Buddhism (Buddhists), Zoroastrianism (Parsis), and Christianity (Christian) who entered India on or before 31 December 2014 will not be treated as illegal migrant.

  • Such person shall be deemed to be a citizen of India from the date of their entry into India.
  • Under the Citizenship Act, 1955, the most important requirement for citizenship by naturalization is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 years of the previous 14 years. The CAA relaxes this 11-year requirement to six years for persons belonging to the above-mentioned religions and three countries.

  • Nothing in this section shall apply to tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under 'The Inner Line' notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.

  • The Inner Line Permit allows an Indian citizen to visit or stay in a state that is protected under the ILP system. The system is in force today in the north-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya (notification issues recently), Nagaland and Mizoram; no Indian citizen can visit any of these states without an ILP unless he or she belongs to that state, nor can he or she (over)stay beyond the period specified in the ILP.

As you see, there is nothing anti-Muslim here. Also, it has nothing to do with Indian citizens.

A Muslim from any country, including from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, can apply for Indian citizenship. However, she will have to come through the normal process, and not through the expedited process that will be available to non-Muslims from these countries.

The three countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have been explicitly mentioned because they are avowedly Muslim, with Islam as a state religion. It is an open secret that religious minorities of Hindus, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, and Parsis are greatly discriminated against, persecuted in every way possible, and denied basic freedoms.

Forced conversions to Islam are an ugly fact of life while blasphemy laws are routinely used to harass and intimidate religious minorities in these countries.

Tamil Hindus of Sri Lanka

A moot question that many people have raised relates to the Hindu Tamils of Sri Lanka. Why haven’t they been included in the CAA?

It is true that the Tamil speaking Hindus in Sri Lanka were, for decades, severely discriminated against, on the basis of their ethnicity, by the majority community of Sinhala-speaking Buddhists. In fact, such discrimination was the fundamental reason behind the rise of Tamil separatism, spearheaded by the dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

However, ever since the end of the war that effectively smashed the LTTE out of existence, the Sri Lankan government has ended decades-old discriminatory practices against the Tamil Hindus. Today, Hindus are not discriminated against in Sri Lanka like they were in the past.

NE India: Identity Crisis & Changing Demographics

A social group may fear that its identity and culture would be swamped, whether within a state or in the country at large. Smaller groups within a state or province may have legitimate fears of being overridden by larger or more powerful groups.

he idea of difference, or strangeness, dominates the human psyche. As a species, we believe that we are ‘different’ from animals (though science would classify us as mammals, and therefore an animal species). Even as individuals, we believe that we are different from ‘the others’. This belief, the outcome of social, cultural, and religious moorings, shapes our identity. It also develops our perspective, shapes our attitude, and defines our understanding of the world around us.

In a multi-cultural and multi-religious country like India, the interests of various groups tend to diverge, which, unfortunately, has engendered a divisive nature in us. Concerns, arising from threats to one’s distinct identity, often precipitate the process of transformation of a religious or ethnic or linguistic or cultural identity into a political movement designed to ‘protect’ the so-called distinct identity.

India’s NE states are characterized by great religious, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity. Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland are Christian majority states; Sikkim has a Buddhist majority; Tripura has a Hindu majority; Arunachal Pradesh has a Buddhist and Christian majority, while Manipur has a Christian and Hindu majority (in equal measure).

The 'Outsiders' in NE

The native people of Assam have, for long, resented the presence of outsiders amidst them. By ‘outsiders’, we mean the illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh who have poured into Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya, and Tripura.
The Assamese accuse the Bangla-speaking illegal Muslim migrants of grabbing the local economic resources, grabbing land, and imposing their way of life on the hapless natives. In some parts of Assam, illegal Bangladeshi migrants constitute nearly 40 per cent of the population.

In her incisive monograph titled, ‘Illegal Migration from Bangladesh’, for the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Pushpita Das, writes that:

  • The unrelenting migration from East Bengal/East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) into Assam, Tripura and West Bengal was clearly brought out in the census data on population growth of these bordering states. For example, in the first three decades after independence, Assam registered an overall population growth of around 35–36 per cent, way ahead of the national average of around 21–25 per cent, indicating a rise of population through migration.
  • The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 triggered yet another massive inflow of refugees into India. It was estimated that close to 10 million people from East Pakistan had entered India.
  • To make matters worse, most of the migrants who were deported from Assam in the 1960s re-entered the country. The steady rise of Muslim population in the state from 24.68 per cent in 1951 to 28.43 per cent in 1991 to 34.2 per cent in 2011 is also taken as an indication of large-scale migration from Bangladesh, an assertion further reinforced by the increase of Muslim population in the bordering districts of Goalpara, Nowgong and Cachar, from 42.94 per cent, 34.18 per cent and 38.49 per cent in 1951 to 51.31 per cent, 38.42 per cent and 45.47 per cent respectively in 2001.
  • Post-independence, Tripura also witnessed massive inflow of people from East Pakistan, a majority of whom were Hindus. As a result, in the first decade after independence, the state’s population increased by 78.71 per cent, which was highest in the country. In the subsequent three decades, the population growth rate continued to hover around 30–35 per cent. The share of tribal population in the state, on the other hand, decreased from 53.16 per cent in 1941 to 31.50 per cent in 1961, which further decreased to 28 per cent in 1981. (end of excerpt)

In this context it is pertinent to know that perhaps the bloodiest fight over resources between the natives and the illegal migrants took place in Nellie in Assam’s Nagaon district in 1983, when over 2,000 migrant Muslims, including women and children, were killed in attacks by local tribals.

An Aside on Demographics of Bengali Speakers in NE India

The total number of Bengali speakers in India, as per Census 2011, is 9,72,37,669 (9.72 crore approx.). Of these 7,86,98,852 (7.86 crore approx.) reside in West Bengal. A total of 1,85,38,817 (1.85 crore approx.) Bengali speakers reside outside WB.

Where does most of the 1.85 crore Bengali speakers reside? The table below lists the absolute number of Bengali speakers in NE states, most of which are predominantly tribal.  

Source: Census 2011
Most importantly, large-scale illegal migration into West Bengal and NE states has led to a sharp fall in the availability of land for cultivation and great scrambling for mostly unskilled jobs. The native folks residing in various NE states deeply resented (and continue to resent) the presence of illegal migrants who were not taking away their sources of livelihood but were also, in some places, imposing their way of life on the natives.

As you can see, the people of Assam and NE states are protesting not just against people of a particular religion, but against all ‘outsiders’ who they accuse of nibbling away at economic opportunities and swamping their way of life.
As for the CAA in general, all it has done is to reduce the window of waiting period for the persecuted minorities in three countries to get Indian citizenship from 11 years to five years.

Last Word

As you must have observed, most of the ‘violent’ anti-CAA protests are taking place in BJP-ruled states. In states ruled by the Congress or where the Congress is in power via coalition, no violent protests have taken place. Even in Hyderabad’s Old City area, a stronghold of the AIMIM, a staunch Muslim party, there have been no violent protests. 
What this tells us is that the protests by the Muslim community in BJP-ruled states are politically sponsored by anti-BJP forces.

I think a great failing of the BJP has been ‘communication’. The party has several effective public speakers, yet they have failed miserably in communicating to the public, especially Muslims, that the CAA has nothing to do with Indian citizens.

It is pertinent that the Central Government carefully manages the aspirations of distinct groups, as this is critical to ensuring social stability and maintenance of peace and order. Also, it would be great if the BJP runs an effective information campaign about the CAA to counter the misinformation and malacious propaganda about the CAA.