• December 10, 2019, 2:51 pm

The Lower house of the parliament has approved a bill that would grant residency and citizenship rights to non-Muslim immigrants, sparking protests that brought the country's populous north-east to a near standstill.



The Citizenship Amendment Bill seeks to allow illegal migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian religious communities coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan to not be imprisoned or deported. It also 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. The Bill, however, does not extend to illegal Muslim migrants. It also does not talk about other minority communities in the three neighboring countries, such as Jews, Bahais etc.


Key features of the amendment

The Citizenship Act of 1955 labels a person an “illegal immigrant” if they have entered India without travel documents or overstayed the date specified in the travel documents. The purpose of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 is to provide Indian citizenship to those who had been forced to seek shelter in India because of religious persecution or fear of persecution in their home countries, primarily Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They can apply for citizenship and can stay in any state in India.

Citizenship would only be given to people after scrutiny and recommendation of district authorities and the state government. The bill was introduced in 2016 and was later sent to the joint parliamentary committee, which submitted its report on Monday.


Assam and NRC

Assam has been grappling with illegal migration for a while. The Assam Accord was signed on 15 August 1985 and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was also launched to tackle the problem of illegal migration. There is a belief that the Accord has not been implemented properly. The Citizenship Amendment Bill has not been sitting well with the Assamese as it contradicts the Assam Accord of 1985, which clearly states that illegal migrants heading in from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971, would be deported. Protesters are angry not because the bill excludes Muslims, but because it would grant citizenship to undocumented Hindus who failed to prove their citizenship and hence were excluded from the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) published last July.

The issue of immigration from Bangladesh has spurred periodic public uprisings in Assam since the Indian government granted rights to Bangladeshis who entered the country before 1971 – the year Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan. Now this issue has added feather to its cap.


What is the Citizenship Act 1995?


Under Article 9 of the Indian Constitution, a person who voluntarily acquires citizenship of any other country is no longer an Indian citizen. Citizenship by descent: Persons born outside India on or after January 26, 1950, but before December 10, 1992, are citizens of India by descent if their father was a citizen of India at the time of their birth. From December 3, 2004, onward, 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.


Who is an illegal immigrant?

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. Also, the immigrant who uses false documents for the immigration process.


What are the guidelines to become an Indian citizenship?

Citizenship is granted to an individual by the government of the country when he/she complies with the legal formalities, so it’s like a judicial concept.

In India, the Citizenship Act, 1995 prescribes five ways of acquiring citizenship:





Incorporation of the territory.

The bill has brought in contentions and wide ranged debates regarding violation of key constitutional provisions such as,


Article 14 – The bill leaves out Muslims, who should have been treated at par with citizens as per article 14 which guarantees equality for all. Article 14 applies for Indians as well as foreign nationals which is in contradiction with the introduced bill.


The National Register of Citizens(NRC) is aimed at giving effect to the Assam accord, which was signed by the Center, Assam government, the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and All Assam Gan Sangram Parishad (AAGSP). As per the Accord, it was agreed that immigrants who came to Assam before 1 January, 1966, would be given citizenship and those who entered Assam from 1 January, 1966, to 24 March, 1971, would be “detected in accordance with the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order 1964.” They would remain disenfranchised for 10 years. Added to that, those who came to Assam after 24 March, 1971, would be detected and expelled.


The government has planned to implement National Register of Citizens (NRC) all over the country. The NRC faced a dramatic failure in Assam since, contrary to expectations, more than 60% of those who couldn’t prove their citizenship were Hindus. This has led to the process of NRC is being repeated second time, though it is not clear how, the second time the result will differ. Additionally, CAB does trigger the fear of communal violence. The government is also vague about what it plans to do about those who cannot prove their citizenship. The Bill makes an arbitrary classification based on religion as some Muslim sects also face persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh due to their faith for whom CAB will add to distress. A federal US commission on international religious freedom has said that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is a "dangerous turn in wrong direction" and sought American sanctions if the bill is passed by both houses of the Indian Parliament


In defense of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), one can argue that Muslim minorities have Pakistan or Bangladesh as Muslim majority nations while Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Parsis have no other country to support in the neighborhood or there is a probability that ISI or ISIS can infiltrate our borders in the pretext of persecution or migration. Nevertheless, the CAB which states ‘Religion’ as a base for citizenship is a clear contradiction to the constitutional values. Unlike Pakistan, India was not born on the principle of religion but on pluralism, secularism and unity in diversity.