RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT BILL
The Union Cabinet has cleared the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan if they faced religious persecution there. The bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, in order to grant Indian nationality to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who come to India after facing religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Over the past weeks, the home ministry has held marathon talks with leaders and stakeholders. A large section of people and organisations in the northeast have opposed the bill. Congress, Trinamool Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a few other political parties have been steadfastly opposing the bill, claiming that citizenship can’t be given on the basis of religion. The bill to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, is introduced in the Parliament in this session.
Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019:
- Definition of illegal migrants
The Citizenship Act, 1955 prohibits illegal migrants from acquiring Indian citizenship. The Bill amends the Act to provide that the following minority groups will not be treated as illegal migrants: Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. However, to get this benefit, they must have also been exempted from the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 by the central government.
- Consequences of acquiring citizenship: The Bill says that on acquiring citizenship: (i) such persons shall be deemed to be citizens of India from the date of their entry into India, and (ii) all legal proceedings against them in respect of their illegal migration or citizenship will be closed.
- Exception: Further, the Bill adds that the provisions on citizenship for illegal migrants will not apply to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, or Tripura, as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution. These tribal areas include Karbi Anglong (in Assam), Garo Hills (in Meghalaya), Chakma District (in Mizoram), and Tripura Tribal Areas District. It will also not apply to the areas under the Inner Line” under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. The Inner Line Permit regulates visit of Indians to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.
- Citizenship by naturalization
The 1955 Act allows a person to apply for citizenship by naturalisation if he meets certain qualifications. One of these is that the person must have resided in India or served the central government for a certain period of time: (i) for the 12 months immediately preceding the application for citizenship, and (ii) for 11 of the 14 years preceding the 12-month period. For people belonging to the same six religions and three countries, the Bill relaxes the 11-year requirement to five years.
- Cancellation of registration of Overseas Citizen of India cardholder
The 1955 Act provides that the central government may cancel registration of OCIs on certain grounds, Including: (i) if the OCI had registered through fraud, or (ii) if within five years of registration, the OCI was sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more. The Bill adds one more ground for cancelling registration, that is, if the OCI has violated any law in the country.
Need for the bill:
- There are thousands of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis who have entered India after facing religious persecution in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan without any valid document.
- All the reports clearly say that there is threat perception on the basis of what is perceived as an unfinished agenda.
- These refugees have been facing difficulty in getting Long Term Visa (LTV) or Citizenship
- The existing Citizenship law does not allow anyone granting Indian nationality if he or she can not show proof of documents on country of birth and therefore they have to stay at least 12 years in India.
- Those Hindus who are persecuted due to religion has no other place to go except India.
Issues surrounding the bill:
- It makes distinction on the basis of religion.
- The proposed amendment is, however, unprecedented, in the sense that never before has religion been specifically identified in the citizenship law as the ground for distinguishing between citizens and non-citizens.
- Civil society groups are opposing the bill, terming it “communally motivated humanitarianism.”
- Since Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees equality to all persons, citizens and foreigners, differentiating between people on the grounds of religion would be in violation of the constitution.
- The Bill will stamp these countries as institutions of religious oppression and worsen bilateral ties.
- The proposed law not only provides citizenship rights to such refugees, but greatly relaxes the procedure to avail of them.
- Assam has a major problem regarding infiltration of Bangladeshi illegal immigrants. this bill does not consider Bangladeshi Hindus as illegal immigrants.
- The implicit consequence of such a law is that people only from the Muslim community in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh will be treated as illegal immigrants.
- Provides wide discretion to the government to cancel OCI registrations for both major offences like murder, as well as minor offences like parking in a no-parking zone or jumping a red light.
Legal fallacies of the proposed law:
- The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill also 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.
- Shelter to individuals of a select religion defeats not only the intention but also the rationality of refugee policy.
- Muslims are considerably discriminated against and exploited in the neighbouring countries of China, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The 36,000 Rohingyas Muslims from Myanmar who fled to India in the wake of 2015 insurgency is just one such example.
- Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar are not offered such hospitality. The only way for them to live in India is by obtaining a valid visa and refugee status.
Consequences of these changes:
- Introduced religion as a new principle into the citizenship law.
- By marking out Muslims as a residual category, it reiterates the narrative of partition, without incorporating the principles of inclusion which were present in both the constitution of India and the Citizenship Act of 1955 at its inception.
- While religious persecution is a reasonable principle for differentiation, it cannot be articulated in a manner that dilutes the republican and secular foundations of citizenship in India, and goes against constitutional morality.
Citizenship bill and indigenous people’s interests:
The proposed legislation has polarised the Northeast and triggered a process of social and political realignment. Most disquietingly, it threatens to expose the faultlines that had led to the rise of sub-nationalist politics in the region in the 1980s.The bill is leading to following issues in North east:
- The Citizenship Amendment Bill has not been sitting well with the Assamese as it contradicts the Assam Accord of 1985, which clearly states that illegal migrants heading in from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971, would be deported.
- There are an estimated 20 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam and they have inalienably altered the demography of the state, besides putting a severe strain on the state’s resources and economy.
- Mizoram fears Buddhist Chakmas and Hindu Hajongs from Bangladesh may take advantage of the Act.
- Meghalaya and Nagaland are apprehensive of migrants of Bengali stock.
- Groups in Arunachal Pradesh fear the new rules may benefit Chakmas and Tibetans.
- Manipur wants the Inner-line Permit System to stop outsiders from entering the state.
India has to undertake a balancing act here. India’s citizenship provisions are derived from the perception of the country as a secular republic. In fact, it is a refutation of the two-nation theory that proposed a Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan. Independent India adopted a Constitution that rejected discrimination on the basis of religion and the birth of Bangladesh undermined the idea that religion could be the basis of a national community. Also we need to balance the civilization duties to protect those who are prosecuted in the neighbourhood.
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