Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Frequently Asked Questions: Assam Accord and Citizenship Amendment Act

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The Assam Agitation dates back to the late 1970s, when students across the state-led agitations and protests, pressurizing the Union government into identifying and expelling illegal immigrants and to provide constitutional, legislative, administrative safeguards to the indigenous Assamese people. It is estimated that from 1947 to 1971, there was large scale immigration from East Pakistan (current day Bangladesh) to Assam.

What is Assam Accord?

The Memorandum of Settlement signed state on 15th August 1985 between the Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress government and the All Assam Student’s Union, led by Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who went on to become the youngest chief minister of an Indian state and Assam Gana Sangram Parishad. The Assam Accord was signed by the three of sides to bring an end to the Assam Agitation which lasted for five years, 1979 to 1985.

The Assam Accord 1985 has three major agreements:

  • Immigrants who had entered Assam between 1951 and 1961 were to be granted full citizenship; including the right to vote.
  • Immigrants entering Assam after 1971 were to be deported.
  • However, the immigrants entering the state between 1961 and 1971 were to be denied voting rights for the first ten years but would be allowed to enjoy all other rights of citizenship.

Cut to 2019, the recent Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) provides citizenship to non–Muslim immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. A move that had led to widespread protests and disruption across the country. According to the opposition and protesters, this law infringes the fundamental rights of the Indian citizens. But for Assam, it annuls the 1985 Assam Accord, violates the accord which cut-offs the date for citizenship at March 25, 1971 but now that date has been brought forward to December 31, 2014.

How the Citizenship Amendment Act violates Article 14?

Article 14 states that “the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”.

The recently amended Citizenship Amendment Act aims to provide citizenship to non – Muslim citizens (Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities) of India’s three neighbouring countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who has arrived in India before December 31, 2014, on the grounds of religious prosecution. This bill has been widely criticized as being “anti–Muslim” in nature, as it excludes Muslims from the Act and has been criticized due to its communal nature.

“Article 14 is not confined to the citizens. It gives benefits of equality to any person within the territory of India even to a foreigner. The Act by excluding Muslims, attempts to create two classes of refugees. For any legislation to pass the test of Article 14, it must satisfy two conditions:

1. The classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes person or thing that are grouped together from others left out

2. The differentia must have a direct nexus to the object sought to be achieved by the statute in question.”

The classification of people on the basis of their religion (by leaving Muslims out of the ambit of the Act), has no relation, whatsoever with the objective of the Act i.e., eligibility of citizenship. Hence the Act would prima facie violate Articles 14.

What is the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution?

The sixth schedule of the Constitution deals with the administration of the tribal areas in the four North-Eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram as per Article 244. The sixth schedule includes 10 autonomous district councils in the four states.

These regions and the areas under covered under “The Inner Line” notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 are exempted from the purview of this act.

The Citizenship Act – Changes so Far

In India, an individual can acquire Indian citizenship through five methods –  by birth in India, by descent, through registration, by naturalisation (extended residence in India), and by incorporation of the territory into India.

In 2015 and 2016, the Union government exempted certain groups of illegal immigrants from being deported or imprisoned.  Earlier, it was made compulsory for an individual to stay in India for at least 11 years to acquire citizenship naturally, which was later reduced to 6 years. However, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 reduces this period to only 5 years.

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