Unraveling The Citizenship Amendment Act

Published On: 1st February, 2024

Authored By: Soumya Srijan
College of Vocational Studies, Delhi University

INTRODUCTION

On December 11, 2019, the Indian Parliament enacted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. It was an amendment to the Citizenship Act, of 1955 by provided a catalyst to the pathway of getting Indian citizenship for the persecuted religious minorities of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan are the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jain, Parsis, or Christians who have arrived India before the end of December 2014. The amendment also relaxed the residence requirement for naturalization from a period of not less than eleven years to a period of not less than five years.

The 2019 bill seeks to make illegal immigrants who belong to the – Hindu, Jain, Christian, Sikh, Parsi, and Buddhist from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, eligible for citizenship. An Illegal Immigrant is a foreigner who enters the country without valid travel documents like visas and passports or someone who enters with valid documents but has stayed beyond the permitted period. The Bill also made certain amendments about the OCI cardholders by letting a foreigner register as an OCI if they are of Indian origin or the spouse of that person is of Indian origin, entitling them to certain benefits such as the right to study, work, or travel to India.

BACKGROUND

The implementation of the constitution in 1950 guaranteed citizenship to all of the residents of the country. However, in 1955, Citizenship Act was passed by the government of India by which everyone born in India subject to some limitations was given citizenship. Political developments in the 1980s triggered revisions to the Citizenship Act. The Act was first amended in 1985, signed by then government, granting citizenship to all Bangladeshi migrants that arrived before 1971 subject to some provisos. The Citizenship Act was then amended in 1992, 2003, 2005, and 2015. Under the then (before the amendment bill 2019) laws the illegal immigrants were barred from becoming an Indian citizen through registration or naturalization.

OBJECTIVES:

Being the legislative initiative seeking to amend the pre-existing Citizenship Act 1955, the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 the primary objective of it was to provide a legal pathway for the grant of Indian citizenship to certain persecuted religious minorities from neighboring countries. The persecuted minorities included Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Christian, and Parsi communities who faced persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The major focus of the Act was to Catalyse the process of obtaining Indian citizenship for such individuals who entered India before December 31, 2014. It is seen as a step towards fulfilling the role of India as a haven for persecuted minorities.

PROVISIONS OF THE ACT:

  • The Bill amended that Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jain, Buddhists, and Parsis from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, who entered India before 31st December 2014, would not be considered illegal immigrants provided that they must have also been exempted from the Foreigner Act,1946 and the Passport Act,1920 by the central government.
  • This Act also allows such persons to apply for citizenship by naturalization or registration. It also provided an exemption for the aforesaid minorities for the period required for naturalization from a period of not less than eleven years to a period of not less than five years.
  • The Act has further provided for the cancellation of registration of the Overseas Citizenship of India on certain grounds which include:
  • If the registration of Overseas Citizenship was done through fraud.
  • If the person registered as an Overseas Citizen of India has been sentenced to imprisonment of two or more years within five years of registration.

APPLICABILITY:

  • The above-mentioned provisions for the citizenship of persecuted minorities will not apply to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura included in the sixth schedule of the Constitution.
  • It also doesn’t apply to the “Inner line” areas notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation,1873.

REFUGEES IN INDIA:

India is home to several illegal immigrants, a majority of them hail from Bangladesh. In 2001, the Task Force on Border Management presented 15 million as the figure of illegal immigrants. In 2004, such figures were presented by the UPA government as 12 million. One of the biggest reasons for such a huge scale of migration is a porous border. As per the Bangladeshi scholar Abul Barkat, over eleven million Hindus from Bangladesh left for India between 1963 and 2014.

 There are also uncountable Hindu refugees from Pakistan residing in India. An estimated 5000 refugees enter India every year citing religious persecution or forced conversion. India is not a signatory to either the UN Refugee Convention or the 2967 Protocol. India does not have any national policy for refugees thus citing all such refugees as “illegal immigrants”.

CONTROVERSIES:

The Citizenship Amendment Act, of 2019 in India sparked significant controversy due to the potential implications it could have for the secular framework of the country. Aiming to expedite the process of getting the Indian citizenship of persecuted religious minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who entered India before 2015, was majorly criticized for the non-inclusion of other religions which raised several concerns.

 Critics argued that the selective approach used to formulate the Citizenship Amendment Act violates the secular principles entrusted in the Constitution of India, which is very well known for providing equality to all citizens regardless of what religion they follow.

Another aspect of the Citizenship Amendment Act that concerned critics was its perceived connection with the National Register of Citizens, which is a proposed exercise nationwide to identify and expel illegal immigrants. It was a concern as critics thought that the religious communities that were not included in the Citizenship Amendment Act,2019, would not be able to provide the necessary documentation as proof to prove their Indian citizenship. Such fear of exclusion fueled apprehensions and resistance. People also argued that providing citizenship predominantly based on religion would lead to demographic shifts and a lot of communal tensions in the country. People also viewed it as a departure from the country’s lifelong tradition of inclusivity and pluralism, saying it also violated Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to equality Such concerns raised protests against CAA through rallies, demonstrations, and public campaigns. People also argued that countries neighboring India such as Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal were not included in the above-mentioned Act.

THE ASSAM ACCORD AND THE CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT,2019:

The Assam Accord  – The Assam Accord, signed by then Rajiv Gandhi and the All Assam Student’s Union(AASU) fixed 24th March 1971 as the cutoff date for foreign immigrants. Those who were caught as an illegal immigrant after such a date were deported irrespective of their religion. The introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Act moved the date to December 31, 2014, for the people belonging to the six earlier-mentioned religions.  Such change was not well accepted by the people of Assam, who insisted that all illegal immigrants be treated as illegal. Assam has a burning issue of migration as the massive number of immigrants from Bangladesh fuels various problems.

POLITICAL AND LEGAL CHALLENGE :

The Indian Union Muslim League filed a petition in the Supreme Court of India to declare the bill illegal. A petition was signed by more than 1000 Indian scientists and scholars opposing the bill. A similar number of Indian academicians and intellectuals released a statement in support of the legislation. The bill was also opposed by the Indian National Congress, stating it could cause communal tensions and could polarise the country.

CLARIFICATIONS FROM THE GOVERNMENT:

The government cleared its stand by stating that the bill aims at gaining citizenship rather than taking anyone’s citizenship also the government will examine the application from any other community on a case-to-case basis. The bill will act as a boon to all those in the mentioned countries who have been victims of partition or subsequent persecution. After independence, India has twice proved to be a Responsibility holder of the minorities of its neighborhood countries. The first instance was right after the independence and the second one was the Indira – Mujib Pact in 1972 when India agreed shelter to about 1.2 million refugees, both the time the aforesaid minorities who had come over to the Indian side. In January 2019, the government notified the High-Level Committee for implementation of clause 6 of the Assam Accord and urged the respective committees to submit their report at the earliest to the Central Government. Thus government has assured the people of Assam that their linguistic, cultural, and social identity would be preserved.

STATUS OF THE BILL:

The legislation became an Act on December 12, 2019, the day the President of India gave his assent. The Act came into force on 10th January 2020 and a citizenship certificate was given to seven refugees from Pakistan by the Union Minister Mansukh Mandaviya. As per the Minister of State (Home Affairs) Ajay Kumar Mishra, the rules for the Citizenship Amendment Act(CAA) will be framed by the Centre by 30th March 2024 while he was addressing the Matua community at Thakurnagar in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district.

REFERENCES:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizenship_(Amendment)_Act,_2019#:~:text=Frontier%20Regulation%2C%201873.-,Analysis,Act%20does%20not%20mention%20Muslims.
  2. https://www.scobserver.in/cases/indian-union-muslim-league-citizenship-amendment-act-case-background/
  3. https://www.thehindu.com/topic/citizenship-amendment-act/
  4. https://loksabhadocs.nic.in/Refinput/New_Reference_Notes/English/09122019_104728_1021205239.pdf
  5. https://indiancitizenshiponline.nic.in/UserGuide/E-gazette_2019_20122019.pdf

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