The Citizenship Amendment Bill which may be tabled in the Monsoon Session of Parliament seeks to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955. It seeks to relax the requirements for Indian citizenship for migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who are Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians.
Presently, the Constitution of India provides for citizenship by naturalisation – for people who have lived in India for the past 12 months and for 11 of the past 14 years. It also provides for people whose parents or grandparents were born in India to become Indian citizens. However, the Citizenship Amendment Bill seeks to make migrants from these countries belonging to the six religions mentioned legal residents even if they do not have valid visas. It also reduces the requirement of residency from 11 years to six years.
The questions that are being widely asked are – why is there a reference to religions when India is supposed to be a secular country? And why are Muslims excluded from those who can avail of relaxed norms for legal residency and eventual citizenship of India?
The British colonialists divided India on communal lines, on the basis of religion. They divided Punjab and Bengal on communal lines to split the unity of the masses of India who were uniting and challenging the mighty Empire. When the time came for them to leave India, they partitioned it in a most arbitrary manner, leading to one of the biggest migrations of peoples in modern times. We are still feeling the impact of this dastardly act. Thousands of families of many religions were divided. Tens of thousands of people landed up “on the wrong side” of hastily redrawn borders. Is the Citizenship Amendment Bill meant to help such people or their descendants? If so, why is there mention of specific religions and the obvious exclusion of Islam? Millions of people of the Muslim faith voluntarily chose to remain in India at the time of Partition. Isn’t it possible that there were more people of the Muslim faith (or their descendants) in these three countries who legitimately wanted to choose India as their homeland in 1947 but could not make it across the border?
The stated objective of the Bill is to help migrants from the three neighbouring countries who are classified under the present laws as ’illegal’. But then why is it that only people belonging to these six religions are being helped? Why not those who do not profess any religion and specifically why not those who are Muslim?
Assisting people who face persecution in their country of residence because of their beliefs, because of their conscience, is indeed laudable, if that were to be an objective. But people are often persecuted not because their religion, but because of their nationality or because of their political beliefs. The Bill does not make provisions for such people irrespective of their religious belief or lack of it! In fact, it is also known that people belonging to certain sects of Islam too face persecution in these countries – so why does the Indian State not want to give them shelter? Democratic people must demand that our country, India, must provide shelter to all those who are facing persecution on grounds of conscience – due to their political or religious beliefs, nationality, etc.
In sum, it can be said that the Bill is another attempt to communalise the polity by extending facilities only to people professing certain religions to the obvious exclusion of Islam.