On November 30, a rally was undertaken by the Naga Students’ Federation to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Two effigies were burned at stakes in the state capital Kohima.
Were they supposed to represent illegal immigrants? Or did they represent an uncouth yet symbolic protest against the tenets of the said bill? And does a differentiation on this really matter?
With a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill scheduled to submit its report very soon, the aforesaid bill is causing worry. And arguments that foster this worry are admittedly based on realities that Nagaland and its neighbouring states face.
The North East has had a long history of conflict and tragedy caused by its inability to deal with unchecked immigration across state and international borders. In Nagaland, there is definitely truth to the arguments that the state’s economy is being dominated by non Naga communities; and many a times they happen to be people who’ve entered the state or the country through dubious means.
In this backdrop, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill’s objective to remove the tag of ‘illegal migrants’ from members of minority communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Parsis — from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who have entered the country without legal documentation or whose documents have expired, is understandably drawing angry reactions from several civil society organisations.
The angry protest which witnessed effigy burnings also slated the Nagaland State Government’s apparent ‘wait and watch’ policy in the bill; which according to some civil society organisations portrays an image that the state is in agreement with the implementation of the bill.
While the state government has been relentless in its rhetorical efforts to deal with the issue of illegal immigration, ground realities tell a different story. This letdown to bring about any comprehensive means to address the issue has given space to protests featuring voices, sometimes considered and other times brash and dangerous.
When we see images like the ones seen on November, they should serve as reminder that our actions to address the illegal immigration issue should be principled and steered through a prism of conscience—not necessarily a religious one but one based on common human feeling. In an age of unfiltered platforms—a requirement for true freedom of expression— it is important to recognize that these platforms also bring out the best and worst of humanity.
It is wrong to silence voices, even those which have prejudiced and xenophobic undertones. But history has taught us to be wary of the same language and arguments which we see in some corners of Nagaland’s immigration debate.
Prejudiced sentiments have a precedent of always being exploited by demagogues, resulting in tragic consequences.
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