Pitfalls behind citizenship amendment bill

Shilajit Kar Bhowmik | Update:

Demonstrators hold placards during a protest against the government`s Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Guwahati on 13 December 2019. Photo: AFPIntellectuals in Tripura believe that enactment of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 shall bedevil Bangladesh-India camaraderie and lead to demographic changes in the northeast Indian state. Overall, this bill shall prove detrimental for the interests of the state and its people at large.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 has been ratified in the Upper House of Indian parliament, the Rajya Sabha, on 11 December. Previously it was ratified by the Lower House of Indian Parliament, Lok Sabha, on 9 December. Consequently, fear among the indigenous community of Tripura over reduction to minority status has been stoked.

Nicknamed CAB, the bill seeks to grant Indian citizenship to individuals belonging to Hindu, Christian, Parsi, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain communities escaping persecution from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan as claimed by the prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It was introduced in the Lok Sabha in July 2016. The cut-off date for granting citizenship is 31 December 2014. Precisely, individuals belonging to minority communities of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan coming to India till the date mentioned shall be granted permanent Indian citizenship. Muslims are clearly excluded from the benefits of this controversial bill.

The indigenous community of Tripura, Tiprasa, fears the bill would relegate them to minority status. There would be a preponderance of illegal migrants from outer countries as claimed by them. And thus they are vociferously opposing the bill.

Veteran Journalist Biman Dhar said, “Enacting this bill shall trickle an avalanche of Bangladeshi Hindus, Buddhists and Christians in Tripura. They’ll be resettled in the plains of this state. This would result in population increase and lead to job crisis and many other socio-political ills.”

“Besides, the Muslims from Bangladesh sheltered in India are likely to be deprived of political rights if not economic rights. Precisely, they’ll not be able to vote or contest elections,” Dhar added.

Apart from the Bangladesh factor, he also touched on the history of demographic change in Tripura owing to migration from Bangladesh and other reasons as well.

“The monarchs of Tripura used to invite fishermen, washermen, farmers as well as academics from Chakla Roshanabad in erstwhile East Bengal for uplifting Tripura. Chakla Roshanabad comprised large tracts of Cumilla, Brahmanbaria, Sylhet and Chattogram in present-day Bangladesh and was the Tripura monarch’s demesne,” he said.

“At the end of the 19th century, the monarchs of Tripura invited dexterous non-tribal cultivators from Chakla Roshanabad. These cultivators were encouraged to be settled temporarily for cultivation in the plains of Tripura. There cultivation used to generate revenue which went to the royal coffers. It is because the indigenous community which used to reside in hilly Tripura sustained on shifting cultivation which was not profitable,” he added.

He also explained today Indians work in the US with work permits. This was the case of non-tribal cultivators in Tripura. However, with due course of time these cultivators were permanently settled in the plains of Tripura as their job was of economic advantage for the erstwhile princely state.

“Apart from this, there were riots in Raipur of erstwhile Dacca in East Bengal in 1939. Refugees poured in for safety in a place called Camper Bazaar which is close to the Bangladesh-India border and was provided asylum by Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya. On the other hand, there was the Noakhali riot as well as unrest emanating from the partition of India. These events triggered massive exodus from East Bengal to Tripura. The Maharaja of Tripura in sheer magnanimity sheltered them in his soil. And thus, Tripura’s demography began to undergo a paradigm shift,” Biman Dhar further elaborated.

Dhar also recalled the influx trickled during the Bangladesh Liberation war in 1971.

Tripura Congress vice president Tapas De said, “Bangladesh is a secular country. However, by enacting this bill, the BJP is encouraging the migration of Bangladeshi Hindus, Christians and Buddhists in Tripura. That might turn it into a Muslim country. And thus, our relations with Bangladesh shall be strained.”

Apart from this, he said, “During the immigration bout of the 50s and 60s, chief minister Sachindra Lal Singha provided the migrants land and ration cards in places like Mandai, Takarjala, Jampuijala, Khowai and Kalyanpur sub-divisions of Tripura.”

De also made a point that in the 50s, India’s home minister Gobind Ballabh Pant stated in parliament that Tripura has become a saturated place and should not be encumbered by the burden of immigration.

“However, his statement fell on deaf ears as the influx continued unabated,” De added.

Senior journalist Jayanta Debnath said, “Official records suggest the number of refugees in Tripura from erstwhile East Pakistan from 1950-58 is an overall 365,000 and they were rehabilitated under the Colony Scheme, Prototype Scheme and Land Purchase Scheme. Precisely, they were rehabilitated under overall 41 colonies under the Colony Scheme.”

“Besides they were rehabilitated under the Prototype Scheme in 27 colonies. And under the Land Purchase Scheme, they were rehabilitated in 7 colonies.”

Debnath added that in 1964 there was an influx of 139,784 refugees. At that point of time, the government of India decided to rehabilitate the refugees in some other parts of the country.

And thus, 20,198 refugees were sent to places like Dandakaranya in Orissa and a few other places out of Tripura. But thence, Leftist stalwarts Nripen Chakraborty, Dasarath Deb took strong exception and demanded to rehabilitate the refugees in Tripura itself. To this effect, Nripen Chakraborty took a fast-unto-death in Durgabari area of Agartala and his demands were ultimately conceded by settling the refugees in Kailashahar, Sadar and Arundhatinagar.

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