What is The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019
What you need to know about the bill and an examination of whether it really is anti-Muslim
The BJP has been trying to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) since 2016. The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in July 2016 and referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee in August of the same year. The Committee submitted its report only in January 2019. Since then, the Bill has been hotly debated, with a section of the Indian society in favour of the Bill, and another section firmly opposed.
But what is this Bill all about? Are minority fears being stoked for political gains? Is this Bill actually beneficial for the Indian diaspora and the refugees it seeks to give citizenship to?
I believe these questions can only be answered by trying to understand what the Bill proposes and questioning the inclusions and exclusions in the Bill.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill: inclusion of specific religious minorities from specified nations
So, let us begin.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 makes illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who entered India on or before 31 December 2014, eligible for Indian citizenship. It also brings down the 11-year requirement for citizenship by naturalization to five years for this group of people. India has never before considered religious affiliation to be a criterion for eligibility
The rationale behind this, according to Home Minister Amit Shah, is that India cannot give citizenship to Muslim migrants from across the world. He claims the Bill is only aimed at minorities from three neighbouring Muslim countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh — where minorities are facing persecution. Shah has also stressed that Indian Muslims have nothing to fear as they are and will remain citizens of India.
My immediate question here is, if the Minister was being so magnanimous to persecuted religious minorities, why did he leave out the Rohingyas, who are facing genocide in Myanmar, and Ahamadis and Hazaras, who are facing persecution in the three countries outlined in the Bill?
Mr. Shah answered that already — we cannot give citizenship to Muslims. During the Rajya Sabha debate, he said: “Do you want that Muslims who have come from Pakistan should be made citizens? Muslims who have come from Bangladesh should be made citizens? Muslims who have come from Afganistan should be made citizens? Should we give citizenship to Muslims coming from all over the world? How can we run the country like this?”
This is playing to the sentiments of his party’s ideology and supporters — the BJP and its supporters have regularly asked liberals and seculars (anyone who opposes the government’s line) to “Go to Pakistan”; Pakistan is the Enemy and Muslims are termites who need to be thrown into the Bay of Bengal.
This, I believe, clearly illustrates the current anti-Muslim sentiment in the country and, with the CAB, the BJP only seeks to amplify this sentiment.
My next question is, if the Minister is so concerned about persecuted Hindu minorities and the honor of Hindu women, why did he leave out Tamilians from Sri Lanka? They also face religious persecution and discrimination in the neighbouring island state.
Is the agenda here a genuine concern for Hindu minorities or giving citizenship to those Hindus who were left out of the Assam NRC — and may potentially be left out of a nation-wide NRC?
The other argument that has been put forward is that Muslims have their own countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Dubai, etc.), but there is no country for Hindus.
There are three rebuttals to this contention:
- India is not a Hindu country, it is a secular democracy. The Constitution of India states that no one will be persecuted or differentiated against on the basis of religion.
- Christians and Buddhists have their own countries, so if not having a country of their own is a criteria, why include Christian and Buddhist minorities in the Bill?
- Hyper-national Hindus have not welcomed Christians in the country. Remember Graham Stines and his young sons who were burnt alive by a group claiming affiliation with the fundamentalist outfit named Bajrang Dal — which is affiliated to RSS — in Orissa in 1999?
So how is citizenship acquired in India?
Under the Citizenship Act, 1955, there are five methods by which a person can get a Indian citizenship — by birth in India, by descent, through registration, by naturalisation (extended residence in India), and by incorporation of territory into India.
The Act prohibits illegal migrants — those who enter India without valid travel documents or extend their stay — from acquiring citizenship.
But the CAB exempts illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan, who entered India on or before 31 December 2014, and belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian religious communities from being imprisoned or deported.
CAB will allow these illegal migrants to apply for citizenship by naturalisation, provided they have resided in India for at least 5 years.
Is differentiation on religious lines among illegal migrants reasonable?
Referring to the same article linked above, the simple answer is NO.
One is due to the questions I have already raised above — there is no rationale provided for including specific religious minorities from only these three countries.
The other is that any provision which discriminates on religious lines could violate the standard of equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution, and is therefore against the Constitution of India.
So how does CAB have anything to do with Indian Muslims?
After all, they are already Indian citizens. Why are they unnecessarily agitating?
Here, my friend, you need to connect the dots that the BJP has so helpfully laid out.
For those who don’t understand Hindi, what Shah said is that first CAB will be implemented, which will give all refugees (from 3 countries, except Muslims) citizenship of India. After that, a nation-wide NRC (National Register of Citizens) will be conducted. And then, anyone who is not on the NRC list will be declared a foreigner and deported.
Now the problem is, there is absolutely no clarity on how a nation-wide NRC will be carried out.
How will the government determine citizenship?
Logically, though, how does a government know if a person is a citizen or not?
On the basis of data — things like election card, ration card, passports — in other words, government issued documents.
So who are the people who may not have these documents?
The poor — tribals, Dalits, adivasis. People who have lost their belongings — including their papers — in a fire. Those who have been displaced due to natural disasters. In rural areas, women often do not have any documents proving who they are.
Now, assume that 2 people are left out in NRC. And assume both people are, actually, Indian citizens. Theoretically, the poor Hindu can claim that she is a persecuted minority from Pakistan and gain citizenship. (How will a migrant prove that is another question, and why an Indian citizen should have to be put through this trauma is beyond comprehension, but it will be relatively easier for a Hindu to win back citizenship.) The Muslim, however, will be sent to the detention centre — essentially the government will potentially throw out a legitimate Indian citizen just because he or she is a Muslim.
What the government has done is that it has passed an anti-poor law and sold it to its core Hindutva, right wing base by painting it as a Hindu-Muslim Bill.
The other thing it has done is that it has passed the burden of proving you’re an Indian citizen onto…citizens. It should have this data already (census data, birth and death registry), we shouldn’t have to prove our citizenship!
So are we jumping the gun here? After all, we still don’t know how the government will conduct the NRC or what the burden of proof for proving citizenship will be.
I do not think so. While it is true that a certain section of society will not be impacted by the Bill, this is not the time to sit quietly. The fact is that a huge number of genuine Indian citizens are going to be put through the trauma of trying to prove their citizenship. Many will fail. Sitting quietly would make us complicit in this tragic travesty.
Having followed the CAB debate over time, reading the Act, observing the racist and xenophobic statements made by the BJP (all of which are in the public domain), and listening to people like Kanan Gopinathan, who stands for the secular, democratic ideals of India, I believe the CAB is a disingenuous way of disenfranchising the Indian Muslim population, and is also anti-poor.
There is absolutely no justification for a government to put its people through the trauma and stress of having to prove their citizenship. The Adhaar debacle should have taught the government that already. The government has still not been able to cover Indians across the country under the Adhaar scheme, and there are regular reports about people dying of starvation due to not having an Adhaar card and therefore not receiving government rations.
In a populous nation such as ours, NRC, like Adhaar, is likely to be a disaster of a magnitude that we probably still do not realize.
Sources and further reading:
More in The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 series: