The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has sent a directive to all private news channels urging them to be cautious about the coverage of events that may lead to violence or promote ‘anti-national attitudes’.
The missive came in the background of massive protests in North Eastern states, particularly Assam, against a decision by the central government to give permanent citizenship to a section of the people who entered the country illegally over the last four decades.
Residents of states like Assam, which have been at the receiving end of massive inflows of population from neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar, fear that the new law will permanently alter the demographic characteristics of their region.
People these border states have refused to heed the government’s call to adopt a ‘compassionate’ attitude towards the illegal migrants who have settled on their lands.
States in the North East, including Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur, are home to many people who crossed the relatively porous border between India and Bangladesh over the last four decades or so.
These people have largely settled in hilly areas that were earlier inhabited by indigenous tribes, such as the Bodo People of Assam, and this in turn led to armed attacks on these settlers by the tribes. Many indigenous peoples in these regions do not have a concept of personal ownership of the land and consider the land a communal property.
The people of Assam voted the BJP to power in 2016 after the party promised that it will kick out illegal aliens who have settled in the state.
As a follow-up on that promise, the BJP government helped conduct a massive exercise to build up a National Register of Citizens to identify illegal aliens.
In August, the NRC released a list of nearly 19 lakh people in Assam who could not be identified as citizens of India.
This was followed by a backlash from those identified as aliens. Many complained that they cannot go back to Bangladesh as they risked religious persecution in the Islamic country.
To address the concerns, the BJP government at the center passed a Citizenship Amendment Bill or CAB yesterday to allow people belonging to several non-Muslim communities to stay back in India escape deportation.
This has now led to massive protests in places like Assam, where people are eager to send back the migrants to where they came from, irrespective of whether they risk being persecuted for their religious beliefs or not.
In the latest turn of events, wire agency PTI reported an incident of firing at protesters at Lalungaonn today in which several people have been injured. There are no reports any deaths.
Five columns of the army have also been deployed to control protests.
Despite the widespread protestes, the central government has shown no signs of abandoning its ‘compassionate’ stand.
In its advisory to TV channels, the government has directed them to be “particularly cautious with regard to any content which is likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against the maintenance of law and order or which promotes anti-national attitudes..”
People in the hilly areas of India, including Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Mizoram, already enjoy protection from large-scale immigration from the plains.
Restrictions are in place that prevent people from outside the these states from acquiring land.
The latest law too excludes specially demarcated tribal areas from being settled from illegal migrants from outside the country.
However, protesters want a complete repeal of the Act as they believe that giving illegal migrants voting rights will eventually lead to the rise of political parties that try to appease these groups and win them more rights.