Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019: A new morning for stateless and persecuted minorities of undivided India

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Partition of India has given many wounds to India. Citizenship eligibility is one of them. It is due to a lack of collective consensus and clear understanding among leaders. Thus, It has been a heated debate in India since independence. About 70 years after the independence, once again debate is surfaced due to citizenship amendment bill 2019. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was again introduced in Lok Sabha by the Minister of Home Affairs after 2016. The bill was passed in Lok Sabha again in December 2019 after January 2019. It has been approved by the union cabinet on December 04, 2019 and now it is being placed before the Rajya Sabha. 

The proposed bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. Citizenship Act 1955, defines an illegal immigrant as a person who enters India without a valid passport or stays in the country after the expiry of the visa permit. The act prohibits illegal migrants from acquiring Indian citizenship. This act also sets some qualification criteria for a person to become a naturalized citizen of the nation. First, Person must have resided in India for the 12 months immediately preceding the application for citizenship. Second, Person must also be residing in India for 11 of the 14 years preceding the 12-month period. 

The new Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, in order to grant Indian nationality to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who come to India after facing religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. For people belonging to the same six religions and three countries, the Bill relaxes the 11-year requirement to five years for Citizenship by naturalization. Bill adds that the provisions on citizenship for illegal migrants will not apply to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, or Tripura, as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution. It will also not apply to the areas under the Inner Line” under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. 

Opposition parties are alleging that present Indian government hates Muslims. In reality, present opposition parties hate non-Muslims since Muslims have been natural vote bank for them. They are not able to digest the fact that how non-Muslims can be given space in India. For what reasons there are hue and cry? Persecuted non-Muslims are getting peaceful space to get rid from the persecution of Islamic republics. Couple of months ago same people were arguing for Rohingya Muslims that it will not make difference to India if India accepts Rohingya Muslims in India on Humanitarian basis.

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Central idea of this bill is that there are thousands of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis who have entered India after facing religious persecution in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan without any valid document. The existing Citizenship law does not allow anyone granting Indian nationality if he or she cannot show proof of documents on country of birth and therefore they have to stay at least 12 years in India. Those Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Parsis who are persecuted due to religion has no other place to go except India. India is saving those people who have been made stateless. It is not a law which grants citizenship based on religion but one that grant’s citizenship based on religious persecution.

Congress committee proposal made in 1950 to argue that Congress itself had promised shelter and refuge to only ‘non-Muslims’ coming to India from Pakistan. Mahatma Gandhi also had promised on 7th July 1947 ‘Hindus’ and ‘Sikhs’ explicitly that whenever they feel to come back to India they would be welcomed. Not only has the Indian state given such people citizenship in the past on a case-by-case basis, but leaders across the political spectrum from Jawaharlal Nehru to Jayaprakash Narayan and even Manmohan Singh have also expressed the need to grant them citizenship. 

Nehru-Liaquat Pact, was signed between India and Pakistan in order to provide a framework for the treatment of minorities in the two countries. Failure of this act compel India morally to welcome minorities of Pakistan and Bangladesh. 

Opposition parties have been alleging that this bill is unconstitutional. According to them, It makes distinction on the basis of religion. According to them, Article 15 of the Constitution guarantees that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of race, religion, caste, sex and place of birth. First, Article 11 gives powers to the Parliament of India to regulate the right of citizenship by law. Thus, it is an exclusive right of parliament to make laws for citizenship. Second, We must know that Article 15 is the Fundamental rights available only for Indian citizen. This bill talks about ‘non-citizens’ of India. Thus, there is no discrimination against the ‘citizen’ of India. 

It is also being questioned through the assertion that it has been clashing with constitution. Reason against this assertion is being through Article 14 which states that the state not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. Let’s even if take ‘non-citizens’ for equality test as claimed by critics, then ‘Equality before the law means that equality among equals‘. It implies that equality is not absolute and it can’t be tested against unequal circumstances. Social realities between Muslims and Non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan is totally different. Thus, technically this bill passes the equality test. 

It is being often quoted the judgement of S.R. Bommai case of 1994, which cites that in case of fundamental right Vs religion, fundamental rights will prevail. It implies that all citizens are equal and that the religion of a citizen is irrelevant in the matter of his enjoyment of Fundamental Rights. If we ponder upon by the same logic, then, not giving reservation to ST & SC in JMI and AMU also violates fundamental rights of SC and ST over the religion because here religion is getting priority over the fundamental rights enshrined in the Article 15(4) of Indian constitution. The JMI and AMU are central universities but the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government made them minority institutions. Hence reservation for SC and ST students does not apply there.

In fact, this is an affirmative action which can’t be seen as discrimination. It’s perception that minority implies only to Muslims because it has been made common sense in India. Citizenship Amendment Bill is also affirmative action on humanitarian basis to give safe place for stateless minority people of undivided India. Affirmative action ‘or’ positive discrimination is nothing but the practice or policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups known to have been discriminated against previously. 

Opposition parties are also alleging that this bill is anti-minority. In fact, this bill is pro-minority. Persecuted minority community of undivided India is getting safe place to get rid from being stateless. Since independence they have not been given chance to revamp their decisions. At least they should have been given opportunity to correct the mistake of being Pakistani. Non-Muslims were in illusion during the independence that they would be safe in the Islamic state like Pakistan. Those minorities are being punished again and again for their wrong choice. Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 is giving them space to correct their decisions. 

It is being wrongly manipulated by the politicians and lobbyist in media that Indian government are making Muslims of India stateless. Current citizenship amendment bill has never talked to weed out existing Indian Muslims. Tired and defeated congress are trying to prepare the ground to revive itself through such fear politics. It would be unjust if Bill excludes the Indian Muslims. This bill is excluding foreign Muslims. Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 has not opened up for the whole world but only for those countries which were the part of undivided India. 

This bill deny only Muslims from getting citizenship because nations like Pakistan, Bangladesh came into existence on the basis of religion. They were formed to act as a safe haven for Muslims. This bill is intended to protect those who face religious persecutions in these Islamic nations. There should not be any doubt about the persecution of minorities in these Islamic states since bunch of world reports are crying the same things. Even if the Muslim population residing in these nations which were formed for them want to come back to India, they can still apply through the natural process of getting citizenship of India.

Apart from this one more popular argument against the bill is that it may destroy the culture of Northeast in general and Assam in particular. For the rest of India, this is not a concern but for Assam and Northeastern states, this has been a serious concern since decades. It is because they have a unique identity and tradition which has been eroding since long due to illegal immigration from Bangladesh. But according to the  report published in Times of India,  9 out of 27 districts of Assam are Muslim majority. Thus, the existential threat to the culture of Assam is from Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants not from Hindu immigrants. 

A report published at Swarajmag, Muslims are already a decisive factor in 40 of the 126 assembly constituencies in Assam. If the Bangladeshi-origin Hindus are declared ‘foreigners’ and lose their voting rights, Muslims will become a decisive factor in at least 57 assembly segments in Assam when the next assembly polls are held in the state in 2021. If the indigenous people of Assam will lose political power to the illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants then the possibility of saving the identity and culture of Assam will vanished and Assam will become the next Kashmir which is a horrible dream.

One more serious allegations are being imposed on Indian government. It is alleged that Citizenship (Amendment) Bill fails on the tenets of international refugee law. First, India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, granting refuge based on humanitarian considerations. Thus assertions like Shelter to individuals of a select religion defeats the rationality of refugee policy is baseless. Second, Muslims come to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan for the ‘pull factor’ not ‘push factor’. It implies that they don’t come to India due to persecution but due to the attraction of better life style. 

It is also being alleged that ‘secular fabric’ of India will be adversely affected due to this bill. ‘Secular’ is most misused and abused word in India. There is nothing to do Secularism with citizenship amendment bill 2019. Politicians are deliberately trying to connect citizenship amendment bill 2019 with secularism in order to misguide the masses and make this attempt fail. Is India harming any minority community of India by introducing CAB? No. India is just helping the minorities in our neighbour. Is helping the persecuted against secularism? Citizenship amendment bill 2019 never claims to amend the religious freedom enriched in Article 25 to Article 28.  

Even former prime minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh has supported citizenship for neighboring minorities in 2003 when he was the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha. The excerpt of Dr. Manmohan Singh dated December 18, 2003 published in the ‘Times of India‘ read,” After partition of our country, the minorities in countries like Bangladesh, have faced persecution, and it is our moral obligation that if circumstances force people, these unfortunate people, to seek refuge in our country, our approach in granting citizenship to these unfortunate persons should be more liberal.”

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Swami Vivekananda had rightly spoken at world’s parliament that “I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all nations of the earth.” World knows and even India slammed Pakistan at UNGA 2019 by claiming that Pakistan is a country that has shrunk the size of its minority community from 23% in 1947 to 3% today. Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 is practically fulfilling the idea on which Swami Vivekananda was feeling proud. If India can give shelter to the persecuted refugees of all nations of the earth, then, why not our neighbour which is a part of undivided India. 

Thus, Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 passes not only constitutionality test but also morality and humanity test. It has been wrongly interpreted by political class it clashes with constitutional principles. This bill is an attempt to give a new zest to the life of the people of undivided India who have been persecuted by the Islamic republic i.e. Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. CAB is allowing non-Muslim minorities to became Indian citizenship not because they are non-Muslim but because they are persecuted and living as a second class citizens. It won’t affect the Muslims living in India anyway because this amendment has nothing to do Muslim citizens of India. 

Now I will just repeat the words of Smt. Indira Gandhi, which she spoke about during the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971. “To be silent during the genocide is nothing but supporting the genocide”. It implies that if we won’t do anything to stop the genocide, we are indirectly supporting the genocide. Let’s not be the criminals by supporting the persecution of minorities of the subcontinent. Thus, it is our moral responsibility to welcome them.

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