On Wednesday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told the Matua community that they do not require citizenship under CAA as they are already Indian citizens. But the CM was not telling the truth, as most of people from the community, who immigrated from Bangladesh after the partition, are officially not Indian citizens.
Addressing a rally in Gopalnagar in Matua-dominated Bongaon in North 24-Parganas district in an attempt to appease the people from Matua community, the CM alleged that BJP was trying to divide people by promising citizenship under CAA. “There are many refugees here. We have wholeheartedly accepted you. Know this, all you are citizens. You don’t need any certificate. Now, if they ask for grandfather and grandmother’s certificates, will you be able to provide?” the CM said. Saying that Matua people are already Indian citizens, Banerjee said, “I’m saying all Matua people are Indian citizens. There’s no need for a certificate for it.”
Mamata Banerjee reiterated her opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens, and said that she will not allow them to be implemented in Bengal. The CM announced that the state govt will establish a university named after Harichand Thakur and Guruchand Thakur, the founders of Matua community. The community dominates around 90 assembly constituencies and 10 parliamentary constituencies in the state.
The assertion by Mamata Banerjee that Matua people are already Indian citizens and they don’t need citizenship under the CAA is not correct.
Matua people are Namasudra or lower caste Hindus who had migrated to West Bengal from Bangladesh. The community was founded by Harichand Thakur (1812-1878) and his son Guruchand Thakur (1846-1937), who lived at Faridpur in Bangladesh. Although their families came to Bengal in 1946, most of their community members entered India ‘illegally’ after 1971. Over time, most of them had managed to get their names included in voter lists, and bought land to settle down permanently in India. They also have other documents like PAN cards and driver’s licences.
But the 2003 edition of NRC tagged them as ‘refugees’ and illegal immigrants. Although they continue to vote, they are denied Caste Certificates and Passports. Therefore, although they are Namasudras, classified as Scheduled Caste (SC), they can’t get any benefit reserved for SCs due to lack of caste certificates.
The voter card does not guarantee citizenship, and the Matua people are often harassed by police over citizenship issues. They are often arrested as illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators under the Foreigners Act. The community says that they live in constant fear due to lack of citizenship fear.
Although Mamata Banerjee may be right in saying that “We have wholeheartedly accepted you”, as in principle the Matua community has been allowed to live in India, she is absolutely wrong in claiming that they don’t need documents to prove their citizenship.
Matua community welcomed CAA
In fact, the Matua community is actually demanding the immediate implementation of CAA in the state, as they want a certificate saying they are Indian citizens. After the Modi government had passed the CAA in parliament, the community had welcomed the move, and had thanked the central government for the same. When the bill was passed in December last year, the Matua community had celebrated with their traditional musical instruments.
When the Mamata Banerjee had opposed the CAA, the community had strongly criticised the same. They had alleged that the CM had betrayed them by opposing a law that would grant them permanent citizenship of India. The community members had alleged that TMC was playing vote bank politics, and was ignoring the demands of the Hindu group to appease the minority community.
Matua community criticising BJP for delay in implementing CAA
Actually, BJP already facing the heat from the Matua community for the delay in implementing CAA. They are demanding immediate notification of rules of the Act. Last month, BJP MP and joint president of All India Matua Mahasangh Shantanu Thakur said that the community would be forced to take a fresh call if the promise of citizenship is not fulfilled immediately. The BJP MP said that he was facing questions from the community over implementation of CAA, but he was unable to answer. The Matua leaders have said that a large number of community members are frustrated over the delay in implementing the CAA.
Last month, the All-India Matua Mahasangha had also written to PM Modi urging to announce a timeframe for implementing the provisions of the CAA. The Mahasangha, which had supported BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, is planning to launch a state-wide campaign in Bengal for immediate implementation of CAA.
Shantanu Thakur and other BJP leaders from the community fear that if CAA is not implemented soon, TMC will be successful in convincing people that CAA was just an election gimmick by BJP, and the party is not serious about it.
Therefore, while the Matua community is demanding immediate implementation of CAA, it will be interesting to see how they will react to Mamata Banerjee saying now that they do not need citizenship certificates. The CM claiming that they are already India citizens and do not need citizenship certificates is certainly not correct, as according to the law they are not Indian citizens, and they are denied important documents like Passport and caste certificate due to this. Mamata Banerjee is misleading the community by saying they are Indian citizens, as the law treats them as refugees at present, not citizens. They will be granted citizenship after the CAA is implemented, but the CM is misleading the community in her opposition to the law.