On December 9, 2019, and on December 11, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, respectively, passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which aimed to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955. After the President’s assent, the bill became an Act.
The bill seeks to provide citizenship to immigrants and refugees who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. The reason behind granting citizenship is that these religious communities are minorities in the above-mentioned counties, and have been subject to state-sponsored discrimination. The Bill excludes the Muslim community.
According to the provisions of the Bill, it will not apply to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura, included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution, as well as the areas which are regulated through the Inner Line Permit (ILP).
The Bill also relaxes the 12-year requirement for citizenship by naturalization to 6 years for persons belonging to the same six religions and three countries. It means now they only need to spend 5 years of their last 14 years in India, and the last 12 months in India. These people will not come under the ambit of Passport Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act, 1946 which allows the Indian government to detain any non-Indian citizen till the time they are deported back to their country, and shifts the burden of proving citizenship on the person detained.
From the land of Lord Rama and Swami Vivekanand, where other religious and ethnic identities were not only accepted but were protected and cherished, to the land of Savarkar and Amit Shah, where people are classified and treated differently based on their religious identities, India has come a long way.
From being an epitome of tolerance, multiculturalism, and unity in diversity, India is fast becoming a nation following the footsteps of Nazi Germany and Israel. Indian law doesn’t mention citizenship on the basis of religion, which this bill seeks to do.
The Bill is against the very core values of the Indian Constitution, i.e. secularism, equality, and justice. The Preamble of India declares it to be a secular state, but a bill like this clearly puts Indian secularism in question. The Bill is in clear violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which prohibits religious discrimination and is applicable to even non-citizens.
The defence of “Reasonable Classification” that the government is claiming, is a vague and concocted justification, as it clearly says that classification must not be “arbitrary, artificial or evasive“. Also, if the government is so concerned about minorities in the neighbouring countries, then why hasn’t it included minority communities of Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and China?
Tamil Eelam Hindus and Muslims in Sri Lanka, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Uighur Muslims in China are facing state-backed persecution, but the Indian government has seemed to turn a deaf ear to their cries, or maybe, they are not potential vote banks.
Not to mention, the Shias and Ahmediyyas of Pakistan, as the government believes that they face discrimination, not due to religious, but sectarian differences. It sounds funny that, according to government logic, there is a ‘hierarchy‘ of discrimination, where sectarian discrimination lies below religious discrimination.
The government delivers yet another controversy to deviate people from the actual issues of unemployment, the economic slowdown, and inflation. The government has also faced criticism internationally, after the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called for sanctions against Amit Shah and “other principal leadership” over the passage of the Bill, on December 9, 2019.
The rationale behind including Afghanistan is not clear, as it has never been a part of ‘undivided’ India. If, just on the basis that it is a neighbouring country and has an official religion, this has been taken into consideration, then the exclusion of Sri Lanka is not justified, as it declares Buddhism as it’s official religion.
Even Nepal fits into both the criteria upon which Afghanistan is included. The RSS’s idea of ‘Akhand Bharat’ (Undivided India) also includes Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Afghanistan. The Home Minister, in the Parliament, said that Rohingya Muslims will not be treated as refugees, but as ‘illegal‘ immigrants. This also shows false concern on the government’s behalf about minorities in neighbouring countries.
The CAB has been met with several protest and demonstrations in Northeastern states where people fear that if ‘illegal‘ immigrants are not deported, the whole of the Northeast would end up losing their identities, as well as opportunities, to ‘outsiders‘.
The idea of granting citizenship to persecuted people is worth appreciating, but arbitrary exclusion of Muslims, especially at a time when the government is planning to implement a pan-India NRC which is supposed to exclude more than a crore ‘illegal‘ residents, wherein all, except Muslims, would be granted citizenship. This will jeopardize the future of Muslims in the country and a sword of being stateless is left hanging on their heads.
The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and Jairam Ramesh of the Indian National Congress (INC) have challenged the CAB, not an act, in the Supreme Court. The Amendment Act is now subject to severe scrutiny, and the petitioners claim that it is against the basic structure of the Constitution, as it violates Article 14, 15, and 21 of the India Constitution. It also poses a threat to Indian secularism, which in itself forms the basic structure of the Constitution.