|Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual introduction.
Body. Key features and need of the amendment act. Concerns related to the amendment.
Conclusion. Way forward.
Citizenship refers to the full and equal membership of any political community. Citizens of a nation enjoy particular civil and political rights in a sovereign state. Recently, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 eased norms for religious minorities from neighbouring nations (non-muslims) to get Indian citizenship by amending the age-old Citizenship Act, 1955.
Key features of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019:
- It says that Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will not be treated as illegal immigrants even when they have entered India without valid documents.
- It includes a separate column in the citizenship form for applicants belonging to these 6 communities from those 3 countries.
- They will not be deported as illegal immigrants under the Passport (Entry into India) Act of 1920 and the Foreigners Act of 1946.
- The amendment reduces the period of residency from 12 years (as mentioned in the Citizenship Act, 1955) to 7 years, for acquiring permanent citizenship through naturalisation.
- It also empowers the government to withdraw registration as OCI due to any violation of the Citizenship Act or any other laws.
Need for the amendment:
- Many persons of Indian origin including persons belonging to the minority communities had been unsuccessfully applying for citizenship under the Citizenship Act of 1955 but were unable to produce proof of their Indian origin. These refugees have been facing difficulty in getting Long Term Visa (LTV) or Citizenship.
- It is needed to provide relief to the victims of the partition (Hindu-Bengalis) who got stuck in East-Pakistan (Bangladesh) in early years. The religious minorities in Bangladesh are being persecuted by non-state actors (Islamic extremists). Many have crossed borders and settled down in Border States illegally and they remain stateless for years now. Thus the amendment would prove to be a huge relief for those people.
- The constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for a specific state religion. As a result, many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries. The amendment will safeguard their interests.
Concerns related to the amendment act:
- Violation of Right to Equality: The bill violates the Right to Equality (Article 14) as it seeks to grant citizenship to illegal migrants on the basis of religion. For example, Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, Ahmadiyya and Shia Muslims from Pakistan and Uighur Muslims from China who face religious persecution have been overlooked.
- Against the Basic Structure of the Constitution: Critics argue that the bill undermines secularism and is thus against the Basic Structure of the Constitution. Secularism as a basic structure has been reiterated by the Supreme Court in S R Bommai vs. Union of India (1994).
- Violation of Assam Accord: Section 6A of the Citizenship Act relates to provisions for citizenship of people covered by the Assam Accord. The bill would undermine the rights of indigenous Assamese people and would be in violation of Clause 6 of Assam accord which ensures constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, to protect, preserve and promote the culture, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.
- Conflict with NRC: CAB is in direct conflict with National Citizens Register (NRC) in Assam where cut-off date is 1971. Assamese are fearful of the fact that most Hindu migrants from Bangladesh are Bengali speaking and with the new cut-off date, Assam’s culture and language will be threatened by Bengali speaking population which will increase by large numbers.
- Vague procedure: The amendment allows cancellation of OCI registration for violation of any law. But the offences covered under this have not been mentioned, hence, OCI can be cancelled for petty offences. e.g. not paying a parking ticket if issued one
- Fails on the tenets of international refugee law: Although India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, granting refuge based on humanitarian considerations is arguably a norm of customary international law. The bill considers persecuted minorities as migrants whereas word migration refers to the voluntary movement of people, primarily for better economic prospects. Contrarily, refuge is an involuntary act of forced movement.
- Concerns over Insurgency: The North Eastern states have vehemently opposed the amendment over concerns that citizenship to illegal migrants would pose a threat to their cultural and linguistic identity and put a strain on resources and economic opportunities. There have already been widespread protests in NE states which further arise concerns over insurgency.
Alleged illegal migration from Bangladesh has been at the heart of Assam’s discontent. Not just the Muslim Bengali, but the Hindu Bengali has also been a reason for political mobilisation in the state. But only Hindu Bengalis are being favoured by the amendment act. While Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians might be naturalised, Muslims will not be offered the same advantage even if they are persecuted. Government must consider suffering Muslims to be included from the vulnerable countries like Myanmar.