Important Topics: Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016
The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship. Under the 1955 Act, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years. The Bill relaxes this 11 year requirement to six years for persons belonging to the same six religions and three countries.
The 1955 Act provides that the central government may cancel registration of OCIs on various grounds, including: (i) if the OCI had registered through fraud, or (ii) if within five years of registration, the OCI was sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more. The Bill adds one more ground for cancelling registration, that is, if the OCI has violated any law in the country.
- The bill proposes to remove disparity between Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders.Concerns Raised Over The Bill
- The proposed amendment seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from Muslim majority countries. According to civil society organizations, this is a “communally motivated humanitarianism” as it would enable Hindu migrants from Bangladesh living in Assam to become citizens while Muslims who migrated to Assam from East Bengal a century ago would continue to be harassed as ‘illegalmigrants’ from Bangladesh.
- The Bill makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article - 14 of the Constitution which guarantees right to equality. The proposed act also violates India’s long-standing refugee policy that does not differentiate between victims and see refugees as a sufferer of humanitarian catastrophe.
- The proposed amendment will also put our international relations in jeopardy.
- The Bill will portray these countries as institutions of religious oppression and worsen bilateral ties in an already skewed regional socio-political atmosphere.
- The Bill does not provide citizenship to the people of Indian origin from Sri Lanka who fled to Tamil Nadu as refugees following the communal holocaust in July 1983.
Special case of Assam
- Assamese feel that this will not only dilute Assam Accord of 1985 but also put the ‘indigenous language and culture’ at peril.
- Post-accord, due to the insertion of Section 6A in the Citizenship Act, 1955, the cut-off date for citizenship in Assam is 25 March 1971. The proposed piece of new legislation seeks to extend this to 31 Dec’2014, rendering Section 6A infructuous.
- Cancellation of registration of OCI card holders on the grounds of violation of law is very wide and vague that may cover a range of violations, including minor offences (e.g. parking in a no parking zone, violation of a traffic light etc).
Attack On Secularism
- Granting citizenship rights to non-muslim minorities migrants will render muslims as illegal migrants prone to harassment.
- Muslim sects like Shias and Ahmediyas also face persecution in Sunni-dominated Pakistan but the Act doesn’t have provision for them.
- This would not only violate Article 14 that preaches right to equality, but also lead to a dent in secular image of the country.
- It can also create further discord among the communities thus threatening the democratic fabric of the nation.
The Bill comes as a relief for the above mentioned refugees as they will acquire Indian citizenship by the process of naturalisation. Otherwise, they would have been illegal immigrants. It is also beneficial for the Chakmas and Hajongs of Bangladesh who were displaced because of the construction of the Kaptai Dam and they continue to be refugees since almost 65 years.
- But unfortunately the Bill does not take note of the refugees in India from among the Muslim community who have fled due to persecution and singles them out on the basis of religion, thereby being discriminatory. For example, the Ahmadiyyas are not considered Muslims in Pakistan and are subject to many acts of discrimination. Other groups include members of the Rohingyas, who being Muslims are subjected to discrimination in Myanmar and have fled to India.
- It would have been appropriate if the Bill had used the term “persecuted minorities” instead of listing out non-Muslim minorities in three countries. Such a gesture would also have been in conformity with the spirit of religious and linguistic rights of minorities guaranteed under our Constitution.
Meanwhile, India’s law of the return should be given a relook by inviting a wider public consultation followed by the all party discussion for it severely undermines the otherwise secular socio-legal framework of our nation.
Supreme Court, while addressing the rights of Chakma refugees, gave equal protection before the law and rights under Article - 21, Right to life, to all the immigrants, including those who are termed illegal. (National Human Rights Commission vs. State of Arunachal Pradesh).
If this amendment is passed, by way of naturalization, they would be entitled to enjoy the benefits of rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India, including freedom of speech and expression, right to vote, right to work, right to food, etc. Therefore, the Bill should not restrict itself to minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh but should include refugees from persecuted minorities of all religions who have made India their home.