As is evident, the country is not happy with the newly minted Citizenship (Amendment) Act. From Assam to Chennai, West Bengal to Maharashtra — citizens are up in arms against this legislature. Even though the Government has been doling out assurances, calling these fears mostly false, recent events have indicated otherwise. In Odisha, for example, “touts are having a field day as illiterate migrants scramble for documents to prove domicile status”, leading to utter chaos across the state.
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“Shabir Hossain, 39, has his tasks cut out for the day. Along with some of his acquaintances, he will visit the person who had promised to prepare documents for them and inquire into the status of the papers needed to prove that India has been their country of residence since before the cut-off date mandated by the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. “It will take a lot of time,” the ragpicker and father of three says quietly.
In a slum in Odisha’s Bhubaneswar, which is home to hundreds of Muslim migrant families, like Shabir’s, scores of children are busy playing near a large cluster of dingy, muddy structures with polythene sheets serving as roofs, while others are sitting on tricycle rickshaws. One of them is Shabir’s son Imtiaz, long-haired, aged around 10 years.
In the sea side Hariabanka village under Kharinasi Panchayat of Mahakalapada block, 87-year-old Subodh Chandra Samanta was one of the earliest migrants to arrive in the area from Mahisagote in East Medinipur district of West Bengal in 1948.
Even though age seems to have had an impact on his memory, Subodh recalls that when he reached Hariabanka, the entire region was dense forest and while walking, they had to keep their eyes fixed on the ground to avoid snake or scorpion bites. “Only 120 families lived in this Panchayat then,” Samanta says. Today, its population has grown to over 12,000, with a majority of the inhabitants being from Bangladesh. According to the octogenarian, the process of immigration (both Hindus and Muslims) continues on a regular basis.
However, after the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill got the Parliament and President’s nod, migrants went on an overdrive to procure as many documents possible to prove their domicile status. “In the process, they are being looted by touts, who charge hefty amounts. They can’t read and hence, would not know if the papers they receive have any authenticity or legal value,” a Bhubaneswar-based entrepreneur says, adding that the touts are “having a field day”.”
Chaos is not limited to Odisha alone. In Uttar Pradesh, hundreds of activists have been detained, Internet has been cut off in various parts of the state, and Section 144 imposed every week. In Delhi too, the police force has been on an overdrive, arresting people from different rallies and making it difficult for them to attain bail.
So, what now?
According to experts, these new legislatures by the Indian Government may “reopen wounds of Partition…”
“The Indian idea of citizenship – as embodied in the Constitution and the law – is in the throes of a profound and radical metamorphosis. The twin instruments of this transformation are the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Act. If the former is carving out paths to statelessness for disfavoured groups, the latter is creating paths to citizenship for preferred groups. While the first is, despite the looming threat of its extension across India, presently limited to the state of Assam, the second is designed to be pan-Indian in its application.
In Assam alone, there is the ongoing construction of a large detention camp, with a capacity of 3,000 detainees, with ten others planned to fit a thousand people each. A detention centre in Nelamangala, near Bangalore, is being touted as a first in south India.”
Things are sure to get even more controversial, before they take a turn for the better.
Keep your eyes on this space. We’ll keep you updated.