Analyse the provisions of the Citizenship(Amendment) Bill and the reasons for a stiff opposition to its passage. (15 Marks)

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Answer:

Indian parliament has recently passed the Citizenship(Amendment) Bill which seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955. Opposition over its contentious provisions has led to violent protests across India, especially in the North-East India.

Provisions of the Citizenship(Amendment) Bill

  • 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 from neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will not be treated as illegal migrants: Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.
  • Duration for naturalization: In order to apply for citizenship through naturalization a person must reside in India for 11 of the 14 years preceding the 12-month period of application. For people belonging to the same six religions and three countries, the Bill relaxes the 11-year requirement to five years.
  • 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.
  • Cancellation provision of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) Card: The Bill adds one more ground for cancelling the registration of the OCI Card if the person has violated any law in the country.
  • Exception: Bill adds that the provisions on citizenship for illegal migrants will not apply to the tribal areas under Sixth Schedule to the Constitution or areas under Inner Line Permit System.

 

What is the need for the bill:

  • There are thousands of refugees in India 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.
  • These refugees have been facing difficulty in getting Long Term Visa (LTV) or Citizenship.
  • For Naturalization they have to stay at least 12 years in India.
  • Those minorities who are persecuted due to their religion have no other place to go except India as the three nations are declared Islamic Nations.

Why the bill is being opposed:

    • It violates Article 14 by making a distinction on the basis of religion. 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.”
    • It would greatly alter the demographic profile of North East States such as Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura where illegal Bangladeshi migration is widely prevalent.
    • 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 the infiltration of Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, this bill does not consider Bangladeshi Hindus as illegal immigrants which is violation of Assam Accords,1985.
    • 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.
    • The bill neglects the same humanitarian provisions for other persecuted minorities from other nations such as
      • Sri Lankan Tamils – who already a living in many refugee camps in India
      • Madhesis from Nepal
      • Ahmadias from Pakistan who are not even considered as Muslim in Pakistan.

Way Forward

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. Granting citizenship based on religious identity violates this principle. That being said, we need to balance the civilization duties to protect those who are prosecuted in the neighbourhood.

Hopefully, the government pays heed to the voices of different communities and takes an action only after a consensus is achieved.

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Dipanshu Sharma
9 months ago

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9 months ago

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