In news that will not shock anybody, but has surely created ripples of anxiety in the Northeast region, last Monday, the central government decided to introduce the controversial and much-debated Citizenship Amendment Bill despite there being a flurry of opposition voices against in from across India. The bill is being tabled in the Lok Sabha by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah which, if passed, will amend the Citizenship Act of 1955.
Although there has been much furore over the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the country for the past year, the conversation is especially heavy in the North East region of India, the current CAB is different, in the sense that three states under the Sixth Schedule, namely, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura are exempted from being affected by the bill. Along with them, areas that require Inner Line Permit (Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh) are also going to be excused.
In the current CAB, a foreigner can be granted Indian citizenship if they have stayed in the country or served India for 6 years, which was previously 11 out of 14 total years. The new bill allows non-Muslim foreigners from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan to enter the country illegally and still be granted citizenship.
Sikkim is a landlocked state, rubbing shoulders with Nepal in the West, Bhutan in the Southeast and China flanking the North and Northeast, but its close proximity to Bangladesh has citizens and political parties alarmed. The bill is not only hurting local sentiments but also raises concerns about national security.
If we are to only look at the CAB from a Sikkimese point of view, there are serious consequences to letting illegal migrants into the state. The people currently residing in the state have limited access to natural resources and must use what they do have carefully so that it sustains future generations. Apart from that, there is bound to be tension and suspicion when locals have to make room for migrants, which might lead to crimes, communal tension and religious discrimination – things that already plague the nation.
In light of the events that took place, a few days ago the Chief Minister of Sikkim Prem Singh Tamang (Golay) and the Member of Parliament, Indra Hang Subba have written individual letters to the Union Ministry requesting Sikkim’s exemption from the CAB and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
In a press release on the 5th of December, the MP Indra Hang Subba has mentioned that “insecurity among local indigenous people of Sikkim is growing, which might lead to breach of peace in our state” and that “as a young state of the Indian Union, Sikkim and its people aspire to stay protected in terms of culture, tradition and natural resources”.
By virtue of Article 371F of the Indian Constitution, Sikkim has been granted special status (which has been a hot topic of discussion this year) so there is hope that the bill will not apply to the state but the swiftness of decision making by the Government of India regarding major bills this year, have left many wary of what could happen overnight.
“I just learned that SKM Government has asked Home Ministry to exempt Sikkim from the preview of both CAB and NRC. It is a welcome step and I offer my gratitude to Chief Minister P S Tang and MP Indrahang Subba on this historic and Sikkim centric decision,” said Passang Sherpa, a political and social activist from Gangtok. “It is a known fact that legislation like CAB is against the spirit of Article 371F and against the wishes and aspirations of Sikkimese people. We stand in solidarity with the decision of state government on the issue of CAB and NRC.”
The CAB seems to be making a communal statement at this point, more than anything else. It hides in the garb of being tolerant by letting any other religion except Muslims to be granted entry to India, without thinking about the callousness and carelessness of such a decision.
As of now, the biggest twist in the story is as reported by The Economic Times, wherein they have mentioned in a news article yesterday that Sikkim Democratic Front is going to be taking the decision of when it will be introduced.
2019 has witnessed some of the biggest political moves in the decade, with some that will have repercussions for generations and affect the general mental state of citizens down the line. More bills like these, which jeopardize states and their security will throw the nation into an uproar over the ignorance of people’s sentiments and peace of mind. Although political parties and readers have voiced their opinions, not much is heard by the local Sikkimese populace with regards to the CAB.