Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016: A bill that poses threat to the secular fabric of India

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which was tabled in the parliament by Home Minister Rajnath Singh in the monsoon session, poses a grave threat to the secular fabric of the country. That too, very explicitly. The Bill had been referred to the joint select committee of Parliament, which will present its findings in the upcoming session of the Parliament.

For details, refer to this explainer.

What the bill aims to do?

“At the core of the bill is the proposal to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 so that members of minority communities — Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Parsi — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh could acquire Indian citizenship faster than at present. Now it takes 12 years of residency for any non-citizen to acquire Indian citizenship by naturalisation. The amendment proposes that a person from any of the aforesaid countries could acquire citizenship (by naturalisation) within seven years even if the applicant does not have the required documents.

However, and here lies the problem, this provision is not extended to Muslims from these countries. The move to relax the conditions for acquiring Indian citizenship is unexceptionable, but surely the enabling criterion cannot be based on the applicant’s religion.” [1]

Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees equality to all persons, citizens and foreigners and differentiating between people on the grounds of religion — as is being done in the case — is in violation of the constitution.

Threat to secular values

“The intent of the amendment arguably draws from the BJP’s poll manifesto that declares India a ‘natural home for persecuted Hindus’ who ‘shall be welcome to seek refuge’.” [1]

“Of course, India has accommodated scores of refugees — people targeted for their faith, political beliefs and so on — from its neighbourhood and should continue to do so. But in so doing, governments in the past have not made a religious distinction or discriminated against people of a particular faith. In fact, the refugee influx from Bangladesh in 1971 included a large number of Muslims, and over the years, many Afghans, who are Muslims, have taken refuge in India due to the political turmoil in their country.” [1]

“The Constitution, drawing from the syncretic and accommodating spirit of the Indic civilisation, imagines the Indian nation as a secular state with no special preference for any faith. The citizenship bill should be reworked according to the idea of India in its largest and most capacious version.” [1]

Why are people in Assam not happy about it?

“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.” [2]

More on this here

What the Assam BJP Minister has to say

Further, it was chilling to read these comments of Assam BJP Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, as he was replying to queries on the opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Assam.

“Sarma said Assam needs to chose its ‘enemy’. ‘Who is our enemy, the 1–1.5 lakh people or the 55 lakh people?’ he asked. The ‘people’ Sarma referred to are the illegal migrants in Assam, though there is no official data that supports his figures. He then argued that the ‘1–1.5 lakh people’, presumably migrants of Hindu faith from Bangladesh, were acceptable in Assam and suggested that the BJP wanted to protect the Bengali-speaking Hindu migrants and to keep them segregated from the Bengali-speaking Muslim migrants. Sarma further said that it was the BJP’s policy to differentiate between Hindu and Muslim migrants from Bangladesh. ‘After all, the country was divided in the name of religion. Thus it is not a new thing,’ he said. “[3]

In October, the minister told The Telegraph: “Hindus constitute about 68 per cent of the state’s population. Considering the rapid population growth, particularly among immigrant Muslims, the community is all set to become a majority in the state. Under such circumstances, granting citizenship to Hindu migrants from Bangladesh will prevent Assam from becoming a Muslim-dominated state.”

Framing the Assam’s migration issue as a communal problem, as is done by Sarma, is deeply troubling. It reflects the world view of BJP — the ruling party in Assam and at the centre. There needs to be a larger public debate around this issue and the amendment to the bill must not be let passed in the current form.

Most of the text in this article was taken directly from news stories. References below.





Originally published at on November 6, 2016.

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