Citizenship Amendment Bill: Dilemma of Distortion

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The Citizenship(Amendment) Bill, 2019, of the Parliament of India amended the citizenship Act of 1955 providing a path to Indian citizenship for religious minorities from Pakistan,Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The Bill has passed by both the Houses and the Bill also gets President’s assent.

 

Soon after the act, Assamese people started to protest against the CAA bill followed by the protest in Bengal then Jamia, Lucknow University and now Education Institute all over the India. From Madras University to Osmania in Hyderabad, IIM Ahmedabad to TISS Mumbai, IITs and IISc Bangalore. But the important thing to note that, the reason behind the Protest is not same. Assamese are protesting because of fear that CAB will lead to burdening resources and threatening their language,culture and tradition and violate the Assam Accord. It is to note that States under Sixth schedule and Inner line permit areas are not included in CAA and in Assam out of 9,only 3 Autonomous Councils fall under Sixth-Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Jamia, AMU and Nadva college are protesting because Muslim Citizenship is in danger. While, other colleges are protesting because of the Jamia violence and provisions under this Bill are unconstitutional. One thing we can conclude is that, There’s a still lot of Confusion between NRC and CAA bill. Home Minister Amit Shah also appealed Students to give CAA a chance. Now, its really important to understand the CAB and NRC.

 

What is Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019?

 

The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship of India. In other words, the Bill intends to make it easier for non-Muslim immigrants from India’s three Muslim-majority neighbors to become citizens of India.The legislation applies to those who were “forced or compelled to seek shelter in India due to persecution on the ground of religion”. It aims to protect such people from proceedings of illegal migration.The amendment relaxes the requirement of naturalization from 11 years to 5 years as a specific condition for applicants belonging to these six religions.The cut-off date for citizenship is December 31, 2014, which means the applicant should have entered India on or before that date.

 

What is National Register of Citizens?

NRC was first introduced after the 1951 Census of India and Assam was the first in updating this NRC for including the names of the persons along with their descendants whose name was successfully registered in the NRC of 1951, or was found in any of the electoral rolls till the midnight of 24th March 1971. The main purpose for the introduction and updating of the NRC in Assam was the identification of the illegal immigrants in Assam who had migrated to Assam from Bangladesh during the 1971 war with Pakistan. This is a sensitive issue in Assam as many complain of mass infiltrations from the eastern border that are eroding the Assamese culture and changing the demographics of the region.

 

CAB Criticism:

There is a lot of confusion regarding CAB and NRC bill. Some are saying implemenation of CAB will benefits the NRC, CAB and NRC are the two faces of same coin. Muslims will be deprived of their Citizenship. This law targets the Muslims specifically. Thus, the religious basis of citizenship not only violates the principles of secularism but also of liberalism, equality and justice.It fails to allow Shia, Balochi and Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan and Hazaras in Afghanistan who also face persecution, to apply for citizenship. A key argument against the CAB is that it will not extend to those persecuted in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, from where Rohingya Muslims and Tamils are staying in the country as refugees.Critics argue that it is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to equality.The seemingly unconstitutional provisions of the CAB will deny equal protection of laws to similarly placed persons who come to India as  “illegal migrants” but in fact grant citizenship to the less deserving at the cost of the more deserving.

 

ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR:

 

It is not against Muslims

The Ahmediyas and Rohingyas can still seek Indian citizenship through naturalization (if they enter with valid travel documents). In any case, since India follows the principle of non-refoulment (even without acceding to the Refugee Convention 1951), they would not be pushed back.If a Shia Muslim is facing persecution and is in India seeking shelter, his case to continue to reside in India as a refugee shall be considered on its merits and circumstances.

With regard to Balochi refugees, Baluchistan has long struggled to be independent of Pakistan and including Balochis in the CAB could be perceived as interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.

The CAB, therefore, does not exclude Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to apply for Indian citizenship. They can continue to do so in the same way singer Adnan Sami, for example, applied for citizenship.

It is important to note that even minorities shall not be granted automatic citizenship. They would need to fulfill conditions specified in the Third Schedule to the Citizenship Act, 1955, namely, the good character requirement as well as physical residence in India.

Harish Salve, one of India’s biggest names in national and international law, has stated that the Citizenship Amendment Bill is not anti-Muslim.

Salve stated that the countries specified in the CAB have their own state religion and Islamic rules. He added that Islamic majority nations identify their people as per who follows Islam and who does not. Addressing governance problems in neighbouring countries is not the purpose of the CAB.

Over the issue of Rohingyas, Salve stated that a law that addresses one evil does not need to address all the evils in all countries. It is notable here that Myanmar, though a Buddhist majority nation, does not have a state religion and Myanmar does not feature in CAB.

 

The bill is not a violation of Article 14

Sovereign space

To begin with, the justiciability of citizenship or laws that regulate the entry of foreigners is often treated as a ‘sovereign space’ where the courts are reluctant to intervene.

Thus in Trump v Hawaii No. 17-965, 585 U.S. (2018), the US Supreme Court upheld travel ban from several Muslim countries holding that regulation of foreigners including ingress is “fundamental sovereign attribute exercised by the government’s political departments largely immune from judicial control.”

Indian courts have generally followed a similar reasoning. In David John Hopkins vs. Union of India (1997), the Madras High Court held that the right of the Union to refuse citizenship is absolute and not fettered by equal protection under Article 14.Similarly in Louis De Raedt vs. Union of India (1991), the Supreme Court held that the right of a foreigner in India is confined to Article 21 and he cannot seek citizenship as a matter of right.

 

With respect to North East

  • Citizenship Amendment Bill does not dilute the sanctity of the Assam Accord as far as the cut-off date of March 24, 1971, stipulated for the detection/deportation of illegal immigrants is concerned.
  • Citizenship Amendment Bill is not Assam-centric. It is applicable to the whole country. Citizenship Amendment Bill is definitely not against National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is being updated to protect indigenous communities from illegal immigrants.
  • Further, there is a cut-off date of December 31, 2014 and benefits under Citizenship Amendment Bill will not be available for members of the religious minorities who migrate to India after the cut-off date.

 

Provisions under CAB are not Unconstitutional and not alter the basic structure of Constitution

Under Article 11 of the Indian Constitution, Parliament has the power to regulate the right of citizenship by law. Accordingly, the parliament had passed Citizenship act of 1955 to provide for the acquisition and determination of Indian Citizenship.Entry 17, List 1 under the Seventh Schedule speaks about Citizenship, naturalization and aliens. Thus, Parliament has exclusive power to legislate with respect to citizenship.

 

 

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