Citizenship and Related Issues

[op-ed snap] A Bill that undercuts key constitutional values

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : NRC and Citizenship Amendment Bill

Context

The statement made by the Home Minister on protecting all religions except Muslim community reflect the provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

Citizenship Amendment Bill

  • It makes an amendment to the Citizenship Act – the umbrella law that sets out the elements of Indian citizenship. 
  • The Amendment stipulates that “persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan… shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of that Act”. 
  • These individuals are made eligible for naturalisation as Indian citizens, and the normal precondition for naturalisation — 12 years in the country — is halved to 6 years. 
  • It shields a set of individuals from being declared illegal migrants and it creates a fast-track to citizenship for these individuals. 

The issues with the bill

  • It does so on an explicitly communal basis: it categorically excludes Muslims from its ambit.
  • If the government goes ahead with implementing a nation-wide NRC, then those who find themselves excluded from it will be divided into two categories: 
    • (predominantly) Muslims, who will now be deemed illegal migrants
    • all others, who would have been deemed illegal migrants, but are now immunised by the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
  • The last bit shows that non-Muslims who are left out of a nation-wide NRC will not immediately receive legal immunity. 
  • By dividing migrants into Muslims and non-Muslims, the Citizenship Amendment Bill explicitly seeks to enshrine religious discrimination into law, contrary to our long-standing, secular constitutional ethos.

Flawed logic

  • As the PRS Legislative Research website points out, if the objective is the protection of minorities, then there is no explanation for why Jews and atheists have been left out.
  • There are Muslim religious minorities within these countries who are subjected to grave and serious persecution: the classic example is that of the Ahmadis in Pakistan.
  • There is no explanation for why only these three countries have been singled out. The Rohingya community in Myanmar has been subjected to prolonged persecution, ethnic cleansing, and potentially genocide. 
  • It is evident that the protection of minorities is not the genuine objective of the Citizenship Amendment Bill

Violating the Constitution

  • Some argue that Article 15 of the Constitution — that bars religious discrimination — applies only to citizens. Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees to all persons equality before the law, and the equal protection of law. 
  • Discriminatory treatment that is arbitrary, and classifications that are unreasonable violate the essence of the equal treatment clause. 
  • A state that separates individuals and treats them unequally violates the prescription of Article 14 and the principle of respecting the dignity of all.

Other issues with the bill

  • It dramatically seeks to alter the basis of citizenship in India. During the framing of the Indian Constitution, it was agreed that the primary basis for Indian citizenship would be jus soli — or, citizenship by birth (in the territory of India). 
  • Over the years this principle has been diluted to an extent, with citizenship by descent replacing jus soli in certain respects. 
  • The Bill will be the first time that religion or ethnicity will be made the basis of citizenship. 
  • That would do grave damage to the very idea of India as an inclusive and diverse polity, where religion has no bearing on who can become a full member of society.
  • The Citizenship Amendment Bill is closely linked to plans for a nationwide NRC. It is said that the Citizenship Amendment Bill is required to protect non-Muslims who are excluded from the NRC.

NRC

  • It is argued that NRC is required for national security, and India cannot “run smoothly under the weight of so many intruders”. 
  • There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there is a huge influx of illegal migrants into India. Recent evidence suggests that the rate of migration has been declining. 
  • Assam NRC arose out of a very specific historical experience, and Assam’s own position as a border State.
  • For the rest of India, Assam’s own experience shows that an exercise such as this will only lead to misery and exclusion on a national scale.

Conclusion

A nationwide NRC will replicate the flaws of the Assam NRC on a much larger scale. The discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Bill will protect some based on their religion. Both exercises need to be urgently challenged before the courts.

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