he Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 on December 09, this year which amends the Citizenship Act 1955. This amendment confers eligibility for citizenship to migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians and who have come to India fearing religious persecution from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. This Act is widely opposed by citizens of North Eastern States where the influx of the population from Bangladesh will challenge the Ethnic identity of the region. This was one of the poll manifestos of NDA during the 2014 General election. The Act proposes any non-Muslim living in illegal immigrants camp for six years to get India’s citizenship which is discriminating Muslims from getting the citizenship. Muslim sects like Ahmediya and Shia are under continuous persecution of Pakistan and other fundamentalist groups. If these Muslims cross the border and enter the Indian land for survival, they won’t be considered for the eligibility of citizenship. If the illegal immigrants, other than Muslims, in the camp are given citizenship, it will make a big impact on the demography of the region and make the right wing to have strong fold in the region. Hence the local political parties are opposing the same. People are migrating to India for their livelihood. Even Muslims are migrating from Muslim countries to India in the hope that India will provide a better opportunity for them which is not possible in their mother land. So, India has to consider their aspirations in drafting the policies.
The reason behind the opposition to the Act is that it targets Muslim migrants from those three countries. In Assam and other north eastern states, the percentage of Muslim immigrants are far in excess of those six religions. Some of the BJP allies are the supporters of these migrants. The implication is that it advances a bad precedent in that laws for immigrants are made based on religion which is against Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. That is all religions other than Muslims are allowed Indian citizenship with easy terms while Muslims from neighbouring countries are prohibited from acquiring Indian citizenship which is arbitrary and against the canon of equality. This seems to be against the spirit of the Indian constitution. It may have serious reparations in the North Eastern States.
Let us take a look at how the government took the lead on the Bill since 2014: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his election rallies, talked about the plight of persecuted minorities in neighbouring countries. 2015: Bringing immediate relief to the migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, the government issued a notification that exempted them from the provisions of Foreigners Act, 1946. The government considered the cut-off date as December 31, 2014, or in other words, migrants who came to India before such a date were eligible for the exemption. This brought clarity to their status and their fear of being deported back was addressed. 2016: To provide them Indian citizenship, the government introduced the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 in Lok Sabha.
2019: The Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 on December 09, 2019. As explained above, the bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make non-Muslim migrants or minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for Citizenship in India, in case they migrate to India fearing persecution in these three countries.
Under the Citizenship Act 1955, some of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation are: Applicant must have resided in India for 12 months immediately before the application for citizenship. Applicant must have also resided for 11 of the previous 14 years preceeding the said period of 12 months. However, under the amendment bill, this requirement has been relaxed to 6 years instead of earlier 11 years. A negative campaign looks to have misguided people in north-eastern states especially Assam where people protested the passing of Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 in the Lok Sabha. The bone of contention is the cut-off date. According to the Assam Accord 1985, migrants who came to India before March 24, 1971, were the only to be given citizenship. However, under the new law, this cut-off date has been pushed to December 31, 2014. Thus, the locals apprehend that this will increase the influx of a greater number of people in the state of Assam which will negatively impact their businesses and livelihoods. However, here are some facts that should be considered before drawing such conclusions. There has been less clarity on the fact that the new law will continue to filter out the large proportion of migrants from getting the citizenship (including the illegal migrants from Bangladesh which have a greater impact on the demography of north-eastern states). Only persecuted minorities from Bangladesh will be exempted.
Also, the said Act will have an effect all across the country and it’s not only specific to North-East or one particular state of Assam. The persecuted people who migrated from Pakistan to Rajasthan or other bordering states on the western frontier will also get relief. Let me first make the distinction between ‘differentiation’ and ‘discrimination’ clear. Differentiation means separating or assorting two different things in different categories so that they can be managed or worked upon more easily. Discrimination, on the other hand, means treating one category more unfavourably than the other, due to previous bias or conscious division. The former is to make things clearer while the latter is harmful to society.
In summary, it says a person who can submit valid proof which establishes that they or their ancestors have moved to India before on or before Aug 15th 1947 (1971 for the Bangladesh bordering states and except J&K). Person who cannot submit proof but are non-Muslims and willing to reside in India will be inducted as “religious refugees” from neighbouring countries. Cases other than the above will be termed as “illegal immigrants”. Even this Act goes against the fabric of secularism in our Constitution. According to the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955, a person may become an Indian citizen if they are born in India or have Indian parentage or have resided in the country over a period of time, etc. However, illegal migrants are prohibited from acquiring Indian citizenship.
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