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Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016

By Rangdajied Marwein

In India the conferment of citizenship is dealt with in Part II (Articles 5-11) of the Indian Constitution. Article 11 gives powers to the Parliament of India to regulate the right of citizenship by law.  The legislation related to this matter is the Citizenship Act 1955 which is an act to provide for the acquisition and termination of Indian citizenship. This Act has been amended numerous times, namely by the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 1986, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 1992, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2003, The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2005 and Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2015.
The present NDA government, in keeping with the fashion of amendment, introduced an amendment bill known as the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 in the Lok Sabha on July 15,2016. The idea originated in the 2014 General Elections when the BJP had promised to grant citizenship to Hindus persecuted in the neighbouring countries. In its 2014 parliamentary election manifesto, the BJP had declared India to be a natural home for persecuted Hindus around the world and welcomed them to seek refuge. While making a distinction between Muslim and Hindu refugees during an election rally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, “We have a responsibility towards Hindus who are harassed and suffer in other countries. India is the only place for them. We will have to accommodate them here”.

The Act proposes three main changes:
i)      With The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, the government plans to change the definition of illegal migrants .Persons belonging to minority communities, that is, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan shall not be treated as illegal immigrants.
ii)    The Bill also seeks to reduce the requirement of 11 years of continuous stay in the country as mandated in the third schedule of the 1955 Act to six years to obtain citizenship by naturalisation.
iii)   OCI ( Overseas Citizen of India) card holders are susceptible to lose their status if they violate any laws of the country.

Judging from such changes, it is a clear indication that India is going backwards as a country rather than progressing. At present only a person who is born in India, has an Indian parent, or has lived in India for over 11 years, is eligible for Indian citizenship. Clearly illegal migrants to do not fit this category.  Granting citizenship to any person based on religion clearly violates the secular fabric that this country upholds. Never before has religion been specifically identified in the citizenship law as the ground for distinguishing between citizens and non-citizens. It dilutes the secular foundations of citizenship in India, and goes against constitutional morality. Granting refuge based on humanitarian considerations is arguably a norm of customary international law, but this Bill terms refugees as “migrants” coming from Muslim countries and does not take note of the Muslim refugees in India who have fled due to persecution; rather it singles them out. As such this Bill does not comply with Article 14 of the Constitution that the state will not discriminate on the basis of caste, religion, ethnicity. Chantal Mouffe, political theorist once wrote, “In a democracy, the source of all authority — the legitimate basis of all power — is the collective body of the people, the citizens of the polity. There is popular sovereignty of the citizens and thereby of government by consent of the governed. A citizen is a full and equal member of a polity, such as a democratic nation-state.” In  a country with widespread diversity in religious, racial, and ethnic identities  a common and overarching civic identity has to be the glue that holds citizens together in a single democratic political order, not by the colour of the saffron flower.

Just as the Bill fails constitutionally, so does it fail in the social and economic sphere. In 2017, the estimated total population in India amounted to approximately 1.32 billion people. India currently has the second-largest population in the world and is projected to overtake top-ranking China within forty years. With population explosion comes myriads of hardships like unemployment, poverty, destruction of the environment and threats to the natural resources of the country. Rapid growth in population requires the building up social infrastructure in a way that a welfare state like India is pledged to meet the social needs of the people adequately and for this, the government has to spend a lot on providing basic facilities like education, housing and medical aid. The North East as a region has always had to bear the brunt of housing refugees to whom Government of India has offered shelter. Over and above that there are illegal migrants due to India’s proximity with the borders of various countries. For example the influx of Bangladeshis has greatly affected the indigenous population of the region especially in Assam. The NRC drive conducted recently by the Assam Government is a clear indication that illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are overtaking the local indigenous population. While the NRC has done its job in ridding illegal immigrants how long will the results actually last? The Bill violates the provisions of Assam Accord 1985 favouring deportation of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. A possible Hindu influx will further exacerbate the population woes of the state.

If such a Bill is passed then I shudder to think about the local indigenous people of the North-East because as usual the region will become its dumping ground. If the people resist, they will inadvertently be labeled as a communal or racist lot. The Indian government is yet to be able to cater to its own population and now it wants to convert India into the hallowed land of safety and prosperity for all religiously acceptable minorities of the world. Poverty is a significant issue in India, despite being one of the fastest-growing economies in the world (which we like to believe)  which clocked a growth rate of 7.11% in 2015, and is a sizable consumer economy. The World Bank reviewed and proposed revisions on May 2014, to its poverty calculation methodology and purchasing power parity basis for measuring poverty worldwide. According to the revised poverty calculation methodology of the World Bank in May 2014, the world had 872.3 million people below the new poverty line, of which 179.6 million people lived in India. According to the Washington Post( November 6, 2015) 300 million Indians are yet to have access to electricity. In the face of such damning information I fail to understand why our country is prancing around offering citizenship to more people when it is yet to be able to cater to its own citizens. How is the country supposed to alleviate the problems of hunger and poverty if it invites more people to the party to share the cake? Why was the government in such a rush to table such an Amendment? However, I am thankful to the MDA (Meghalaya Democratic Alliance) government for making its stand very clear on the matter; in fact as a concerned citizen I am impressed by their positive actions(though I am usually not impressed by politicians).

As a youth I strongly feel that citizenship should not be granted to anyone based on their religion. I feel that India should be for Indians first, and that the government of India should cater to Indians first rather than aliens. Parents would first see that their children are well-fed, well -clothed and well-sheltered before they start spreading their acts of kindness to others. In the same way we expect Government to do the same.  In conclusion I would like to share with readers a funny SMS I received from a friend of mine who is equally concerned about illegal immigrants. It says, “If an illegal immigrant is found in Malaysia he would be fined and jailed, if an illegal immigrant is detected in Saudi Arabia he would be deported back or spend 6 months in jail with a heavy fine, but if an illegal immigrant is detected in India, he is provided with EPIC, ration card and can also contest for polls.”
(The writer is a student of Masters of Law, 1st Semester).


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