The Citizenship Amendment Bill makes it easier to implement the NRC across the country. Opposition parties are protesting strongly against it, and a dozen people have been killed in violent demonstrations across the country. The Indian National Congress and the Mamata Banerjee-led All India Trinamool Congress and the Marxist Communist Party are spearheading the protests, but many of the student demonstrations in universities have been spontaneous.
Protestors claim the bill undermines India’s democratic system and secularism. CAB has provisions to provide citizenship to Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Persian, Jain and Buddhist refugees who have fled persecution in the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but denies Muslims the same facility. Many also fear that the bill endangers the identity, language and culture of the natives of Assam and neighbouring state, Tripura.
Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, has already declared that she will not let the NRC be implemented in West Bengal. People in northeast states including Assam, Tripura, Sikkim and Darjeeling, have held many protests against the bill.
Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland in Northeast India are exempted from the bill because they are restricted states, where even Indian visitors need permits to enter. That ‘Innerline Permit’ will also be implemented in Manipur eventually. But Sikkim falls under the new law, which has created confusion.
Sikkim was a sovereign country until 1975, becoming India’s 22nd state after annexation in 1975. Sikkim Chief Minister PS Gole has declared that the CAB and NRC will not be implemented in the state. Supported by Sikkim’s opposition parties, he has requested the Indian government to also exempt Sikkim.
In Darjeeling, the Vinay Tamang and Anit Thapa-led Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), and the Dr Harkabahadur Chhetri-led Jana Andolan party have opposed the CAB, but the Gorkha Rashtriya Mukti Morcha and another faction of the GJM support both CAB and NRC.
When he presented the CAB in parliament, Home Minister Shah claimed that all those who were excluded from Assam’s NRC were infiltrators, not Indian citizens. The GJM’s Tamang issued a press statement refuting that allegation, and demanded that before the NRC is implemented Indian Nepalis should be included in the list of ‘Original Inhabitants of India’ and be a protected community.
Nepalis have been living in Indian states like Darjeeling and Assam for more than 200 years, working on tea estates and farms. In fact, Nepali speakers are better settled in northeast India than many Bengali speakers, but many of the Nepalis do not yet have land deeds and it will be even more difficult for them to get the rights if the NRC is implemented.
The 1950 Nepal-India treaty gave Nepali and Indian citizens the right to freely come and go in each other’s countries, although India requires visas from Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. The issue of the identity of Indians of Nepali origin has fuelled an agitation for autonomy in the Darjeeling hills for many years. Subhas Ghising proposed that they be called ‘Gorkha’ to differentiate them from Nepali citizens. But this is not legally, or widely, accepted. There are no Nepali refugees in India.
During the election campaign, Home Minister Shah assured people that the NRC would not affect ‘Gorkhas’. But they are still confused regarding citizenship bill and register. The Nepalis of Assam, where the NRC has been implemented, are especially concerned about how to be counted as Indian citizens.