Mr. Mantre Passah and Rev. Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh, who have been part of progressive people’s movements and part of collectives including Thma U Rangli-Juki (TUR) and Workers Power of Meghalaya (WPM), have filed a PIL in the Supreme Court of India on the 13th of January 2020, challenging the constitutionality of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) which has been notified in the gazette by the Central Government on 10th January 2020. Their challenge bases on the arbitrariness of CAA and its attack on the freedom of religion, reality of transborder tribal lives and privacy of individuals. They are being represented in the court by a group of lawyers whose knowledge of the constitutional jurisprudence is well respected in the legal circles. The group includes Mr. Gautam Bhatia, Vrinda Bhandari, Malavika Prasad and others. You can read download the original petition here and also read a statement by the petitioners below.
A Short Statement about the Petition by Mantre Passah & Rev Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh
We are challenging the said Act because it attacks the fundamental rights of the individuals belonging to the tribal communities, with respect to their persecution as a trans-border tribal community as well as their status in neighbouring countries, including the Khasi-Pnar, Garo and other smaller tribal communities here in the state of Meghalaya bordering the country of Bangladesh.
First, that the said Act fails “to take into account the lived realities of the inhabitants of those border regions, many of whom follow indigenous religions and do not identify as being of a part of any of the six selected religious communities”. This is a blatant design of creating a divide among the various tribal communities, especially those who follow the indigenous traditional belief system like the Niam Tynrai and Songsarek (which are distinct belief systems and are not part of any mainstream religion like what certain elements want us to believe), followers among the Khasi-Pnars and Garos, who do not fall under any of the religions mentioned in the CAA (Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian).
It must be understood that historical factors like the drawing up of borders during the Partition of India as well as colonial British policy have played a role in affecting the relationship and connections of these tribal communities. This Act fails to to take into account this fact in addition to being arbitrary and motivated by religious discrimination. That is why we as the petitioners feel that this Act is clearly motivated by insidious thinking and planning of the present ruling regime, the Hindutva ideology of which is based on the belief of Hindu majoritarianism and supremacy in the nation state of India, and which treats minorities, religious or otherwise, as secondary.
The original Citizenship Act, 1955 was enacted on the same principles as the Constitution, and no religion based requirements or conditions were imposed for the acquisition of citizenship. “The impugned Act violates the right to privacy of refugees belonging to indigenous tribes following traditional religions and imposes unconstitutional conditions upon them.” That is why we the petitioners believe that the Act does not stand scrutiny as it does not follow the constitutional principles of secularism and equality and that it “should not enact a binary of citizens and illegal immigrants, but ought to recognise the layered and complex character of migration, as well as the identities of those who migrate”, the government should also “respect the legitimate concerns of indigenous citizens, who inhabit border states, with respect to the preservation of their language, land, and culture (a principle already recognised in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and in the judgments of this Honourable Court).”
We the petitioners would also like to highlight that “the… Act and… provisions would impact various persecuted tribal communities in countries such as Bangladesh and Myanmar, including members of the Chakma, Hajong, Rabha, Khasi and Garo communities.”
Therefore, we the petitioners request the Supreme Court to exercise its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution in order to issue guidelines for a just, fair, and equitable immigration regime, until such time that Parliament sees fit to enact a constitutionally valid law. In addition to the unconstitutional legal aspects of the CAA, we would also like to highlight the manner in which the CAA has been brought about by the NDA government and the prevailing atmosphere of fear that this Act and its passing has created in the country as a whole and here in the North-East of the country. Religious minorities all over the country, particularly that of Muslims and including those who do not profess any religious beliefs are living in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in the backdrop and aftermath of the passing of the CAA.
It is our firm belief that the CAA and other legal mechanisms that the NDA government has brought about and those that it is planning to bring in the near future, go against the basic principles and structure of the Constitution including the protections afforded to the tribal communities of North-East India through the Sixth Schedule and other constitutional and legal protections. While so-called exemptions have been accorded to some of the north-eastern states including Meghalaya, which we also contend as pointless, useless and diversionary, that does not wash away the fact that the foundation of the Indian state and its constitution is being threatened by the present NDA regime and its allies, in the Centre and in the states. We need a secular democratic republic with protections for tribal rights and all religions and cultures.
We believe that the struggle to protect our rights as tribals in India can not be divorced from the struggles against a system which tries to create a monolithic India based on religious majoritarianism.