Citizenship bestows upon individuals membership in a national political community. Citizens enjoy civil and political rights in a sovereign state. Kudos to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for passing this historic bill in Lok Sabha. PM Modi has rightly expressed delight over the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha, saying the proposed law is in line with India’s century’s old ethos of assimilation and belief in humanitarian values. It is nice that the Lok Sabha passed the Bill with 311 votes in favour and 80 against it a little past midnight after a debate that lasted more than seven hours. Shah has rightly claimed that the Narendra Modi government was correcting the failure of the pact that Jawaharlal Nehru and the then Pakistan Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan sealed in 1950. As stated by Shah, the bill had nothing to do with the National Register of Citizens and promised the NRC would indeed be implemented across the country and not a single “infiltrator” would be spared. According to Citizenship Act 1955, an illegal migrant is a foreigner who enters the country without valid travel documents, like a passport and visa, or enters with valid documents, but stays beyond the permitted time period. Illegal migrants may be imprisoned or deported under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.
It is a step in the right direction for all those suffered at the hands of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Government has taken right decision of accepting the refugees particularly of Hindus who are forcibly converted into other religions than Sikhs, Buddhists. Parsi etc. The Act aims at providing Indian citizenship to 6 minority communities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The communities are Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi and Jain. Currently for a person to get Indian citizenship, he should have resided in the country for 11 years. The Act intends to amend this as 6 years. Introduced on July 19 in the Lok Sabha, the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 seeks to allow illegal migrants from certain minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship. In other words, it amends the Citizenship Act of 1955.
According the Citizenship Act, 1955, illegal migrants can either be sent to jail or back to their own countries. In Assam, the protest is on rights and livelihood of ethnic communities on passage of the bill. 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. It also appeals for the minimum years of residency in India to apply for citizenship to be lessened from at least 11 to six years for such migrants.
The Act is applicable to all states and union territories of the country and the beneficiaries of can reside in any part of the country. According to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, till December 31 2014, facing religious persecution there, will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.
The Union Home Minister has already assured full support for the state governments in the implementation of the Act. There is no doubt that this Act will provide the right to live with dignity to the minorities from these three countries that have suffered religious persecution and lived a hellish life for decades. Let us see the Act in a positive light as it seeks to address the plight of persecuted minorities who had no other option aside from coming to India illegally. The government must also take suitable steps to assure that the rights and socio-cultural identity of indigenous people is not affected.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)