The Republic of India, since its inception, has had majority of Hindus living on its land. Despite the trauma of partition, it refused to be a state where Hindus were the largest stakeholders or the Muslims were legally discriminated against. India became a democratic republic while Pakistan became an Islamic one, after partition.
Yet, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is a threat to India being a secular republic and not a religious one. The bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955. The Act of 1955 defines an illegal immigrant as a foreigner who manages to get entry into India with forged documents or an invalid passport. Anyone staying in the country without a visa permit is also considered an illegal immigrant.
If the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is indeed passed, it will not treat religious minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh: namely Hindus, Jains, Parsis, Sikhs and Christians as illegal immigrants. It does not include religious minorities from the Muslim community such as the persecuted Ahmadi community of Pakistan. Or even Muslims who may not believe in the religion and are persecuted for their views. Such as the atheist bloggers of Bangladesh.
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. According to the Hindu, Kavita Krishnan said, “India is not like Israel, which is a Jewish state, offering the “right to return” to Jews anywhere in the world. Since India is constitutionally secular, this amendment tries to bring Hindu Rashtra into the legal framework through the backdoor.” It is true that this bill includes people from religious minorities other than Hinduism. Yet, it must be noted that the number of people from these communities are very few in number in the state of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Only Christians constitute a large enough population in Pakistan. The other communities have a very marginal presence. For example, there are only 1,500 Parsis living in Karachi, Pakistan. Hindus on the other hand have been historically persecuted in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
For anyone else from any part of the world hoping to acquire citizenship, it is a wait for 11 long years. The success of this bill will ensure that religious minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh can get citizenship by living in India for six years. Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar are not offered such hospitality. The only way for them to live in India is by obtaining a valid visa and refugee status.
Activists on September 29, 2016 protested in Delhi against the bill, claiming it to be communally motivated. One of the protesters in the rally told The Hindu, “This amendment makes plain the BJP’s communal agenda in Assam. It aims to consolidate the Hindu vote through this amendment.” Assam has a major problem regarding infiltration of Bangladeshi illegal immigrants. Interestingly, this bill does not consider Bangladeshi Hindus as illegal immigrants. Hindus constitute 10.7 % of the population in Bangladesh
The fact that the bill does not include persecuted minorities within the Muslim community in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh raises serious questions. Will a communal bill like this deflate the secular credentials of India?