Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016

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With the impending elections due for India in mid-2019, yet another major step has been taken by the Government under the leadership of Mr. Narendra Modi. On 8th January, 2019, the Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 which seeks to provide Indian Citizenship to those Non-Muslim persons who have sought for shelter in India due to religious persecution or due to fear of it, who originally belong to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is mainly applicable to persons belonging to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis religion, coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The Citizenship Act of 1955 defines “Illegal Immigrant” under Section 2(b), as a person who has entered India without travel documents or has overstayed the date specified in the documents. With the introduction of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, it intends to give Indian Citizenship to such immigrant persons and appears to be an exception to the above mentioned definition.

The Bill however, has caused a huge controversy and led to backlash from inside and outside the Parliament. The Assamese have risen and held complete blockade even when the Bill was being introduced in the Lok Sabha. They maintain a stand that the any illegal immigrant, irrespective of their religion, should be deported. The Home Minister Rajnath Singh commenting on the Bill said that “the new legislation aims to give Indian citizenship to all persecuted religious minorities from these three neighboring countries like Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis” and sympathizing with them saying “they have nowhere else to go.”

The uproar by the residents of Assam has been due to the fact that the Amendment Bill is in clear contrast to the Assam Accord, 1985 which clearly stated that all immigrants entering into India after 1971 shall be stated as foreigner also coupled with the fact the North-east India is where majority of migration occurs. With the coming into force such Bill, it would be unfair to citizens of North East and the ties between North- Eastern states with the remaining country shall weaken. The Bill is also in complete contradiction to the National Register of Citizen (NRC) arising out of the Assam Accords.

It has been estimated that out of all the immigrants entering into India after 1971, there are 15 lakh Bengalis and remaining Muslims who have been given the status of foreigners, with the coming into force such bill, it shall give immunity to Hindu Bengalis and would single out the Muslim Bengali community. Such a scenario where the citizenship is being given on reason of religion and the Muslims are being singled out, it is clearly against the fundamentals of the Indian Constitution being “Secular” in nature.

It has been the opinion of many that the step taken by the ruling BJP is an attempt to invite the vote bank of the Hindu Bengalis by providing them with such immunity by bribing them with Indian Citizenship, in the upcoming general elections. Simultaneously, enticing the Assam community by promising to look into Assam Accord, ensuring that their cultural identity and ethnicity shall be protected.

With the clashes on opinion on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the question remains whether the Bill shall see the light of the day and be passed, whilst it is going to be tabled before the Rajya Sabha in February, 2019.

Sanjana Bakshi

Senior Associate

The Indian Lawyer

One thought on “Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016”

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