Late on Monday night, the Lok Sabha passed the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 with a large majority. The controversial Bill passed after an intense debate on its implications. While it was a given that the Union government would easily sail through the motion in the Lok Sabha, a range of political parties came out to oppose the Bill.
After over seven-hour-long debate, the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 was passed in the Lok Sabha with 311 members favouring it and 80 voting against it. Several amendments brought by opposition members, including one by Shiv Sena MP, were defeated either by voice vote or by a division.
According to the proposed legislation, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, till December 31, 2014 and facing religious persecution there, will not be treated as illegal immigrants and will be given Indian citizenship.
The Bill also makes amendments to provisions related to OCI-(Overseas Citizen of India) cardholders. A foreigner may register as an OCI under the 1955 Act if they are of Indian origin (e.g., former citizen of India or their descendants) or the spouse of a person of Indian origin. This will entitle them to benefits such as the right to travel to India, and to work and study in the country. The Bill amends the Act to allow cancellation of OCI registration if the person has violated any law notified by the central government.
The bill also exempts certain areas in the North-East from this provision. The Bill also makes amendments to provisions related to OCI cardholders.
How will the bill benefit refugees
The Bill says that on acquiring citizenship: (i) such persons shall be deemed to be citizens of India from the date of their entry into India, and (ii) all legal proceedings against them in respect of their illegal migration or citizenship will be closed.
Is the bill applicable throughout India?
The Bill says 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. These tribal areas include Karbi Anglong (in Assam), Garo Hills (in Meghalaya), Chakma District (in Mizoram), and Tripura Tribal Areas District. It will also not apply to the areas under the Inner Line” under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. The Inner Line Permit regulates visit of Indians to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.
Some of the BJP’s allies who supported the Bill also made it a point to say that they were not happy with the alleged partisan approach of it. None had any objections to the idea that India should welcome persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries as citizens.
However, the point of contention to the CAB was two-fold. One, why were only Muslims left out from the list of persecuted minorities? The opposition parties, and some BJP allies as well, questioned the government’s intentions and said that the exclusion of Muslims is a continuation of the BJP’s unhesitant anti-Muslim political stance.
Two, many parties asked why only three Muslim-majority nations – Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – had been singled out to be included in the Bill. The Bill lists the three countries from where persecuted minorities will be recognised as Indian citizens.
So why not Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China or the Maldives, the parliamentarians asked.
Amit Shah’s response
The home minister responded to the many criticisms of the Bill by saying that the oppositions’ claims were false – the Bill did not violate Article 14, the right to equality or the constitution. “We could have said it violated Article 14 if we had named just Hindus, or just Parsis, or just Sikhs, and so on, but when we talk of the protection of persecuted communities, Article 14 doesn’t come in the way,” Shah said.
Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan had declared themselves Islamic countries and minorities were not being treated well there, he continued. India, Shah said, then had the duty to take in those who were being persecuted. “There is a difference between a refugee and an infiltrator. Those who come here due to persecution, to save their religion and the honour of the women of their family, they are refugees and those who come here illegally are infiltrators,” he said.
To the question of why only three Muslim-majority countries were included, the home minister said that at each juncture the citizenship law was tweaked to serve a “specific purpose”. What he meant was in this case the amendment was being brought to accommodate only minorities from these three countries who have already been living in India in very poor conditions.
However, he added that the Rohingya would never be allowed to become citizens of India, as “they came via Bangladesh”. He also said that India already has an agreement with Nepal, so inclusion of its name in the amendment was not necessary.
Responding to the opposition’s attack, he said, “CAB and NRC are not a trap but will seem (like a) trap to those who want to use ‘ghuspaithiye’ for vote bank politics. Don’t you want Bengali Hindus get citizenship?”
He assured all the minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan that whether or not they have a ration card or other documents, they could become an Indian citizen through this law.
Shah, however, pedalled the age-old Hindutva hypothesis to attack the Muslim-majority states. He gave some data in terms of percentages to show that the population of minorities in the three countries had come down over the years, while in India it had done up. He said the minorities in the three countries were “either converted, killed, or forced to come to India”.
“In India, in 1991, there were 84% Hindus while in 2011, their numbers went down to 79%. In the same period, the population of Muslims rose from 9.8% to 14%. We didn’t discriminate on the basis of religion, we won’t in the future,” he said, to present a contrasting picture of India.
When asked why the government defined the amendment in terms of religion despite the fact that persecution happens along identitarian lines too in the three countries, he said that had the Congress not accepted Indian Partition in 1947 on the basis of religion, there would have been no need of a law like CAB.