Syllabus: General Studies Paper 2 (Indian Polity)
Enumerate the features of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016. How does the bill seek to distress the interests of indigenous people? (250 words)
The Citizenship amendment bill 2016 seeks to amend 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. The Bill was recently passed in the Lok Sabha. Nagaland, along with other north-eastern States, has witnessed several protests following the passage of the Bill in the Lok Sabha.
Citizenship act 1995:
In India, the Citizenship Act, 1995 prescribes five ways of acquiring citizenship
- Incorporation of the territory
- Citizen: Under Descent condition, a person born outside India on or after January 26, 1950, but before December 10, 1992, is a citizen of India if his/her father was a citizen of India at the time of his/her birth.
- According to the Citizenship Act (1955), an illegal immigrant is defined as a person who enters India without a valid passport or stays in the country after the expiry of the visa permit.
- An immigrant who uses false documents for the immigration process is also an illegal immigrant.
- In short, illegal migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian religious communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan will be imprisoned or deported.
- Not a citizen – Under Article 9 of the Indian Constitution, a person who voluntarily acquires citizenship of any other country is no longer an Indian citizen.
- From December 3, 2004, onwards, persons born outside of India shall not be considered citizens of India unless their birth is registered at an Indian consulate within one year of the date of birth.
- In Section 8 of the Citizenship Act 1955, if an adult makes a declaration of renunciation of Indian citizenship, he loses Indian citizenship.
Key features of the citizenship amendment 2016 bill:
- The Bill amends the Act to provide that that the following groups of persons will not be treated as illegal migrants:
- Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan
- Who have been exempted from provisions of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, and the Foreigners Act, 1946 by the central government. The 1920 Act mandates foreigners to carry passport, while the 1946 Act regulates the entry and departure of foreigners in India.
- Citizenship by naturalisation:
- It appeals for the minimum years of residency in India to apply for citizenship to be lessened from at least 11 to six years for such migrants.
- Cancellation of Registration of OCIs:
- The Bill provides that the registration of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders may be cancelled if they violate any law.
Issues over the bill:
- Violation of Right to Equality:
- The bill violates the Right to Equality (Article 14) as it seeks to grant citizenship’s to illegal migrants on the basis of religion.
- It fails the test of reasonability contained in Article 14. This is because it does not provide any concrete reasons for limiting eligibility of citizenship to 6 minorities of only 3 countries.
- For example: Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, Ahmadiyya and Shia Muslims from Pakistan and Uighur Muslims from China who face religious persecution have been overlooked.
- Against the Basic Structure of the Constitution:
- The bill undermines secularism and is thus against the Basic Structure of the Constitution.
- Conflict with NRC:
- There is an apprehension that the Bill would be in conflict with the ongoing exercise to update the National Register of Citizens in Assam, for which the cut-off date is March 25th, 1971
- Vague procedure to cancel OCI registration:
- The Bill allows cancellation of OCI registration for violation of any law. But the offences covered under this have not been mentioned, hence, OCI can be cancelled for petty offences.
- Violation of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP):
- The bill particularly violates Clause 1 of the Declaration which states that indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture
Citizenship bill and indigenous people’s interests:
The proposed legislation has polarised the Northeast and triggered a process of social and political realignment. Most disquietingly, it threatens to expose the faultiness that had led to the rise of sub-nationalist politics in the region in the 1980s.The bill is leading to following issues in North east
- Violation of Assam Accord:
- Section 6A of the Citizenship Act relates to provisions for citizenship of people covered by the Assam Accord. The Act fixes March 25, 1971 as the cut-off date for granting citizenship to Bangladeshi migrants in Assam. However, the Bill makes December 31, 2014 as the cut-off date.
- The bill would undermine the rights of indigenous Assamese people and would be in violation of Clause 6 of Assam accord which ensures constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, to protect, preserve and promote the culture, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people
- There are an estimated 20 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assamand they have inalienably altered the demography of the state, besides putting a severe strain on the state’s resources and economy.
- Concerns over Insurgency:
- The North Eastern states have opposed the bill over the concerns that citizenship to illegal migrants would pose a threat to their cultural and linguistic identity and put a strain on resources and economic opportunities.
- There have already been widespread protests in NE states which further arise concerns over insurgency.
- Views of NE states:
- All NE states (Tripura partially) have been opposing the bill.
- Mizoram is concerned that Buddhist Chakmas from Bangladesh may take advantage of the law
- Meghalaya and Nagaland are apprehensive of influx of Bengali migrants
- Arunachal Pradesh fears that the law would favour and benefit the Chakma, Hajongs and the Tibetans
- The Bill should be seen in a positive light as it seeks to address the plight of persecuted minorities who had no other option aside from coming to India illegally.
- However, the government must look to accommodate the Ahmadiyyas, Uyghurs and Rohingyas who are persecuted minorities and have approached India to seek refuge in time of need.
- Further, the government should also formulate policies and take appropriate measures to provide education, employment and a decent living to the concerned migrants.
- The government should take necessary steps to assure that the rights ad socio-cultural identity of indigenous people is not affected.
India’s citizenship provisions are derived from the perception of the country as a secular republic. In fact, it is a refutation of the two-nation theory that proposed a Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan. Independent India adopted a Constitution that rejected discrimination on the basis of religion and the birth of Bangladesh undermined the idea that religion could be the basis of a national community. So citizenship bill amendments need to be on this line.
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