Written by S. Ashita of BVDU New Law College, Pune
Edited by Annanay Goyal
“To give citizenship to religious minorities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who had to leave their homeland in the face of persecution, the BJP government adopted changes to the citizenship law. Protests erupted in Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University after the Bill was passed in Parliament and received the President’s approval. Soon, the protests were joined by more students from different universities and colleges around India. Violence has broken out in some places.”
WHAT THE BILL PROPOSES?
According to the Bill, members of the Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Zoroastrian groups who came from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh until December 31, 2014, will not be treated as illegal aliens, but granted Indian citizenship, facing religious persecution. “It also relaxes the” Citizenship by naturalisation “requirements. The bill cuts the citizenship period from the original 11 years to only five years for persons belonging to the same six religions and three counts[i].
WHO ALL DOES IT COVER?
The Act includes six groups, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christian refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. According to the Citizenship Act of 1955, undocumented aliens cannot acquire citizenship in India. Illegal migrants are identified as persons who either have entered the country without proper paperwork or have remained past the time authorised. In 2015, the Government made amendments to the passport and foreigner’s acts to allow non-Muslim refugees from those countries to remain.
WHO DOES IT LEAVE OUT?
Leading opposition parties argue the law is unconstitutional as it labels Muslims who make up for nearly 15 per cent of the population of the country. The government makes it clear that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are Islamic republicans with a plurality of Muslims, but they should not be regarded as marginalised minorities. It also promises that the government would review the appeal on a case-by-case basis with every other group.
WHAT IS THE GOVT’S LOGIC ON THIS?
The NDA administration, citing the division between India and Pakistan on religious lines in 1947, claimed that from 1947, millions of people of undivided India belonging to different religions remained in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The particular state religion is provided for in the constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. As a result, in those countries, many citizens belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian sects have faced discrimination on grounds of religion. In their everyday lives, some of them even have doubts about such oppression, where their right to observe, profess and spread their faith has been obstructed and restricted. Many such individuals have fled to India to seek refuge and continued to remain in India even though their travel documents have expired or they have inadequate or no documentation, “the Bill says.
WHAT IS THE BACKGROUND OF LAW?
It was among the NDA government’s election pledges. In January 2019, ahead of the general elections, the Bill was introduced in its previous form. It again tried to give Indian citizenship to the six non-Muslim communities-Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Parsi, Jain and Sikh. It reduced the mandatory minimum of 12 years stay in India to seven years to be qualified for citizenship if they do not possess any paper. The earlier Bill was referred to Joint Parliamentary Committee, but the Bill lapsed as it could not be taken up in Rajya Sabha.
WHO IS THE OPPOSITION?
The biggest opposition to the Bill is that Article 14 of the Constitution, the Right to Liberty, is claimed to be violated. The bill has been steadfastly opposed by Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI(M) and a few other political parties claiming that citizenship based on religion must not be given. There have also been major demonstrations across North East in Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim.
WHAT ARE THE OBJECTIONS THAT HAVE COME UP?
In north-eastern states, where many fear that permanent settlement of illegal immigrants would disrupt the nature of the area and further strain infrastructure and decrease job opportunities for indigenous people, the Act has caused massive demonstrations. A major section of citizens and organisations protesting the Act also says it would nullify the terms of the Assam Agreement of 1985, which set March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.
WHICH STATES WILL BE AFFECTED?
All 7 North-Eastern states may have been covered by the Act. However, the Centre has decided to provide protections for NE states after many rounds of negotiation. It notes, “Tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered by the ‘Inner Line Permit’ authorised under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Law, 1873, shall not be included in this clause.” These areas need Indians from other states to get ‘Inner Line Permission’ to join or travel through them. Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland now come under the Inner Line Permit. There have been fears that if the CAB is introduced, Manipur will end up losing the most. On Monday, Home Minister Amit Shah declared in the Lok Sabha that Manipur would be placed under ILP.
HOW MANY WILL IT ADD TO INDIA’S POPULATION?
There are no official estimates other than documents issued before the JPC by the Intelligence Bureau reporting that there are 31,313 Long Term Visa individuals belonging to this minority group residing in India. On account of religious persecution, they found shelter here. Home Minister Amit Shah in Parliament said the bill will give new dawn to lakhs and crores of people. Parties such as Shiv Sena were calling for a precise figure.
Image courtesy: Northeast Now