ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Citizen Finds a Home

Identity Politics in Karbi Anglong

On a fact-finding trip to the Karbi Anglong district of Assam, the authors find that the “crisis of citizenship” is a structural phenomenon rooted in the history of capitalist development and community dynamics in the state. The current political dispensation of establishing the “Hindu” Bengali as the “citizen” is not only a breach of the universal principles of “citizenship,” but also has deeper implications for the unresolved ethnic conflicts in the state.

The authors acknowledge the invaluable help and comments from Sanjay Barbora and Surjyasikha Pathak over the course of writing this article.

The “citizen,” it seems, is once again in crisis. In keeping with its long-held position on the matter of providing asylum to Hindu refugees fleeing religious persecution in the Asian neighbourhood, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in the last Parliament session. The bill explicitly promises Indian citizenship to all Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, Buddhists and Christians living in India, who are refugees from religious persecution in “Muslim” countries—Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan—and reduces the stipulated period of residency to six years. Its real import, however, lies in its exclusions of the Muslims from this amendment. As critics have pointed out, the bill attempts to attach to the universal principles of “citizenship” a specific religious identity. Their prescriptions, likewise, look to restore “citizenship” in transcendence over specific identities (Garg 2016; Suryanarayan and Ramaseshan 2016).

The effects of this proposed amendment, however, are not restricted to mere legalities. In Assam, for example, the issue of “illegal immigrant” has had a long and tenuous history. Even though the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill promises to have a significant effect on politics in Assam, there has been a renewed effort to evict encroachers from reserved forests and national park areas (Assam Tribune 2016). The government as well as the media have liberally played upon the slippage between “illegal encroacher” and “illegal immigrant” in its representation of the Bengali-speaking Muslims in the main. They are presently bearing the brunt of the eviction drives. Although the new-found enthusiasm in these initiatives seems to have emerged from the changed political dispensation in the state since the 2016 Legislative Assembly elections, but their unfolding is embedded in the longer history of migration and ethnic conflict in Assam.

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Updated On : 4th Dec, 2018
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