All You Need To Know About The Citizenship Amendment Bill And How It Affects You

With promises of attempting to tackle with the pains of Partition and playing the role of the magnanimous sanctuary-provider for those facing persecution, the newest bill proposed by Home Minister Amit Shah, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019, provides grounds to alter the broader parameters of India as we know it. Whether for better or worse, is another question altogether.

What Is The Citizenship Amendment Bill?

The original Citizenship Act, 1955 within Indian law, bars all illegal immigrants (persons who have entered and resided in Indian territory without supporting documents such as passport, visa etc., or persons who have overstayed their designated time period in the respective documents) from acquiring citizenship in the country.

The proposed amendment seeks to change this, allowing a certain group of illegal immigrants to be eligible for citizenship if they are Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis or Buddhists from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh, who have crossed into Indian territory on or before 31st December 2014.

Why This Exception?

Amit Shah in Parliament introducing the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019
Amit Shah in Parliament introducing the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019. Picture Courtesy: Business Today

The reasons, as explained by Amit Shah in the Lok Sabha, are threefold. First, are the dwindling numbers of these religious groups in the three Muslim majority countries. Shah asserted that the falling numbers prove their vulnerable positions in their own countries, and the necessity to protect them. This is why it becomes justifiable to grant them citizenship and asylum in India. In contrast, Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh are not susceptible to any such threats since they are the majority, and thus, need not be endowed with any citizenship rights in India in case of illegal occupancy.

Secondly, Shah drew attention to the corrective function of the act with respect to the suffering faced by these groups during Partition. Many Sikhs, Hindus, Parsis, etc. could not cross over to the Indian mainland after it was divided in 1947 into India and Pakistan, and later with the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Their ancestral homes and cultural roots remain in this country, and the amendment provides the opportunity to recuperate these groups.

Lastly, Shah also seemed to lay significant emphasis on the fact that the Partition of the country took place on the basis of religion. Subtextually, he seemed to suggest the fact that despite India’s secular fabric, it remains a predominantly Hindu nation that should provide asylum to those who face endangerment within Islamic countries.

How Does It Affect Existing Citizens?

a) The North East

The North East is arguably the area which has showcased the most opposition against this move. The conservation of tribal identities at the face of increasing mainstream population explosion and movement has always been a pertinent issue in the North-Eastern states. This amendment, by
specifically identifying religious groups, encourages them to occupy the Indian mainland at the cost of endangering the already marginalized tribal identities.

Anti-CAB student protests are being violently suppressed by the state.

The government has tried to incorporate a mechanism to protect their identity by adding a fourth criterion. Illegal immigrants in certain tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, or Tripura included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution, or areas under the “Inner Line” permit, i.e., Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland will not be provided with the provisions of the amendment.

One might be inclined to think of this as a solution, but a closer examination is necessary. Given that these areas are the ones where India shares borders with other countries, this provision seems instinctively counterproductive. Most illegal infiltration occurs from these regions. Denying them entry from these areas seems to work against the purpose of the bill—to provide asylum. The fourth provision and the basic purpose of this bill stand in conflict with one another.

b) The Rest Of India

The NDA government insists that it does not affect on any other of the existing citizens in the country. When faced with the biased nature of the amendment that purposely disregards Muslim illegal immigrants whilst preferring those with alternate religious identities, one major area the government emphasised on was the fact that existing citizens, Muslim or not, will not face any threat whatsoever. Therefore, the amendment does not violate the secular principles of the nation. Rather, it provides further opportunities to safeguard the interests of various religious groups with Indian roots.

But is the amendment as innocuous as Shah and other proponents of this move assure? Before coming to specific problems, let’s just look at what causes illegal migration. Refugees typically cross borders for survival. Religious persecution is one of the many reasons that cause them to battle with their lives. It is why Jews migrated in mass numbers out of the Nazi-occupied areas in Europe, why Rohingyas are fleeing today from Myanmar. However, there are other reasons for migration as well, including poverty and hunger.

The search for a basic standard of living, of work, food and safe residence are other motivators, especially when the same isn’t available in one’s own country. People have crossed over from Bangladesh to India mostly in search of jobs and livelihoods or to avail health benefits. Why religious persecution seems more justifiable as a threat to life than other needs to earn one’s basic livelihood has not been elaborated on.

However, for the purposes of this amendment, we are looking only at one motivator: facing religious persecution. Further, we are limiting the ambit of scrutiny to three Islamic countries. It is unclear why the government is not extending similar facilities to Tamil Muslims and Hindus in the majorly Buddhist Sri Lanka or Rohingya Muslims escaping Myanmar. One could point out this move is also directed at the rehabilitation of Partition victims, and thus, only accounts for those countries that were born out of the same.

The inclusion of Afghanistan then becomes inexplicable. Also necessary to remember is that Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists are not the only ones facing religious persecution in these countries. One could point at the persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan or atheists in Bangladesh. The magnanimous project that this amendment seems to profess is not one that it truly espouses.

Many foundational points within the amendment—both the three countries and the six religious groups selected are actually inexplicable if one view it purely from the lens of rehabilitating religiously persecuted groups. Another arbitrary criterion is the date—31st December 2014. Few people seem to be talking about why this random benchmark was decided as the make or break date for illegal immigrants.

The Identity Factor

The more insidious and stronger motivation behind this move is the implicit need to reinvent the identity of India as a nation. In his Lok Sabha speech, Amit Shah pointed to the decline in the numbers of Hindus in India, and the increase in the numbers of Muslims. It seems despite being a Hindu majority nation; an unconscious fear remains regarding the overall presence of the Hindu identity. Shah’s constant emphasis on the tragedy of Partition, painted almost entirely as the work of the Indian National Congress hits a deeper and stronger note with Indians who are still recovering from colonialism and the violence of Partition.

We are in search of an identity that has been denied to us by various historical forces, and this amendment is our guilty pleasure, our realization that the non-Muslim identity is the one we are ‘saving’. Thus, enthusiastic proponents of this amendment have labelled protesters and the opposition as chaotic pseudo-liberals fueled by selfish vote-bank politics. They believe that as one of the few Hindu majority nations in the world, it is naturally India’s duty to protect first the Hindu identity and then the non-Muslim identity.

Students at Jamia are protesting against CAB amid violent clash with the Police. Image via Twitter

Meanwhile, the NDA has successfully painted the three Muslim majority countries as breeders of radical Islam without any tolerance for other religions, and the INC as the sole responsible party for the Partition. It remains silent about the merciless massacre of innocent Rohingyas by the Buddhist majority country Myanmar. It remains ignorant of the larger factors that played a role in causing the Partition of India, the most significant being the British imperial state.

This bill is the NDA government’s best shot at providing Indians with a solid identity base by restructuring history and politics. It may claim it isn’t affecting citizens in any way, but it is playing a conscious and active role in refiguring their understanding of what it means to be an Indian.

When one critically views the provisions and reasons behind the bill, it is clear that there are gaps. What binds it together is the larger identity politics of the BJP within the Indian societal framework. And whether we like to acknowledge it or not, most of us who are willing to concede to its claims are those who subscribe to the larger and more dangerous us vs. them rhetoric that they are propagating.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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