The recently proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 was in the news when Rajya Sabha appointed 10 of it’s members to the joint committee of parliament to go through and analyze this bill thoroughly. The bill is under the scrutiny of the opposition as well as the Intellectual fraternity of the country. In this article, we are going to discuss the original Citizenship Act and the proposed amendments by the current union government. We will also analyze the bill with a perspective of Indian Constitution.
What is Citizenship Amendment Act?
The citizenship act 1955 came into the existence to provide for the acquisition and determination of citizenship of India.  The bestowal of a person as the citizen of India is governed by Article 5 to 11 of the Constitution of India. By this act, the citizenship of India is granted by birth, descent, registration, naturalization & by incorporation of territory in India. The law also regulates the registration and benefits conferred on overseas citizens of India. Since it’s inception, this Act is amended for various times. The recently proposed amendment by Union Minister of Home Affairs seeks few fundamental changes in the original law.
What is Citizenship amendment bill, 2016?
The Citizenship Act defines illegal migrant as a foreigner who enter India without valid passport and documents or the one who stays beyond the permitted time. By According to the newly proposed amendment to the bill,
A) The Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will not be considered as illegal migrants.
B) The people who have been exempted from provisions of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, and the Foreigners Act, 1946 by the central government will not be considered as illegal migrants.
C) The bill creates an exception for the migrants from communities mentioned above to grant them citizenship with neutralization.  People from these communities can apply for citizenship after six years. (The previous requirement was to complete 11 years before such application.)
What is the purpose of this amendment? 
This amendment will provide relief for the minorities who are living in the countries mentioned above and grant them citizenship. For example, the Chakmas and Hajongs of Bangladesh. These two communities in Bangladesh was displaced because of the construction of the Kaptai dam. These two communities are living the life of refugees for last 65 years. The bill confers Indian citizenship to such refugees. The citizenship will provide them with life and liberty and various fundamental rights entitled to the Indian Citizen.
Why is the amendment bill under constant criticism?
The bill is under a lot of scrutiny in India as it is non inclusive and discriminatory. The bill is mostly focused on the Hindu community and the communities associated with Hinduism such as Buddhist, Jain, Parsis.
A) The bill directly contradicts the genesis of the idea behind Indian constitution, which confers citizenship and fundamental rights to its citizens.
B) Concerning Tibetan refugees, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru has given three principles to be followed for the treatment of refugees in India. They are,

  • All the refugees should be provided a generous welcome.
  • An issue of refugee is a bilateral issue.
  • Once the homeland of refugees is normal and fit to live, they should head back to home.

C) The current amendment bill contradicts these basic principles as it lists out only non-Muslim minorities from these three countries.
D) In Pakistan, around 2-5 millions of Ahmadiyya community is under persecution and discrimination by the Sunni majority in Pakistan. Many fundamental Islamist groups in Pakistan have started and organized the anti-Ahmadiyya movements for past many years.
E) In Myanmar, the Rohingya people of the muslim minority community are considered stateless entities as the Myanmar government does not recognize them as one of the ethnic groups in the country. Rohingyas have faced an outbreak of mob violence by the Buddhist monks.
F) The Indian constitution upholds the secular character of the Indian state by granting the spiritual and religious rights to its citizens without considering the religion. But the currently proposed amendment singles out the persecuted and tortured Muslim communities in our neighboring country.
How is the bill incapable of solving the issue of Tamils in Sri Lanka?
This bill does not provide the citizenship to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, specifically to those Tamil people of Indian origin who fled to Tamil Nadu due to the Tamil massacre in Sri Lanka in 1983. For the development of tree plantations in Sri Lanka, the British colonists took Malaiha Tamils to Sri Lanka in 19 & 20th centuries. After the independence of Sri Lanka, the Maliaha Tamils have faced a massive discrimination in the hands of Sinhalese. The later PMs like Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi changed their stance towards solving the issue of Tamil Immigrants in Sri Lanka. The aggressive policies led to the persecution of Tamils and was answered with the formation of LTTE with a demand of a separate Tamil state.
Over the years thousands of Malaiha Tamils have receded in in India seeking for the Indian citizenship. But the current Act does not recognize their plea for citizenship. The reason being that the ‘Tamil’ is an ethnic identity, not a religious identity as required by the proposed amendment.
Why does this new amendment bill not mention Nepal and China?
In the Chinese province of Xinjiang, the mass persecution of a Turkic-language speaking group Uyghur was carried out. SO, the India which welcomes the Tibetan refugees with both hands is reluctant on the Uyghur issue.
In Nepal, natives of the Madhesh plains of Southern Nepal in Terai belt of South Asia are an indigenous ethnic group called Madhesis. They are considered as dual-citizens, Indian and Non-Nepalis by other major communities of Nepal. But, the Madhesis being an ethnic group and not a religious group has no recognition in the currently proposed amendment bill.
What should be our ideal approach?
The current move of the Indian government is to appease the Hindu community in India by declaring India as the Homeland of all the Hindus across the world. Even the other mentioned religions in the bill are of the Hindu ethos. If passed, this bill will help to allow citizenship to many Bangladeshi Hindus and boost the Hindu vote bank in West Bengal.
It is true that the situation of coming refugees is an extra burden on economy and administration any country. But dealing with these issue with a global outlook with humanity is expected. Such a significant shift in India’s policy should be studied and analyzed thoroughly, rather focusing on temporary electoral gains.
India should welcome the people of all the persecuted communities and ethnicities and grant them a standard livelihood in our country. We should assess the specific situations and issues in each of our neighboring countries and create specific norms for people from every country. The current bill proposes us as a Hindu Nationalist nation, interested in the rights of only Hindus across the world. We are a secular country with a constitution which believes in the right to liberty without any discrimination.  We should reach out and take a universal stance over the refugees in all of our neighboring countries.

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