Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016: Why Assam is on boil?

Oct 23, 2018 15:20 IST
Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 has been gaining momentum amid protests against the Bill by Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) and 44 other organizations in Assam.

These organisations called for the 12-hour shutdown in Assam to protest against the Centre's proposal to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in the Winter Session of Parliament.

Moreover, Assam Government has refused to take part in the proposed rally of organisations from West Bengal in support of the Bill. Earlier on October 11, 2018, BJP President of West Bengal, Dilip Ghosh announced BJP Rath Yatras to be held in December 2018 to garner support for the Assam NRC and for the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill.

The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) would undertake three Rath Yatras covering 42 Lok Sabha constituencies, highlighting state-level issues as well as constituency specific issues.

Purpose behind Rath Yatras

During the 2014 General Elections, the BJP had promised to grant citizenship to Hindus persecuted in the neighbouring countries. In its election manifesto, the BJP had promised to welcome Hindu refugees and give shelter to them.

Why Assam opposes the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016?

BJP's ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has termed the Bill as “Anti-Assam” and has threatened to end the coalition, if the Bill is passed. The Parishad considers that the Bill works against the cultural and linguistic identity of the Assamese people.

Over 45 local organizations have opposed the Bill including NGOs such as ‘The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti’ and students' organisation ‘All Assam Students’ Union’.

They all believe that if the Bill becomes an Act, it will nullify the updated National Registration of Citizenship (NRC) of Assam. The process of updating the NRC is currently underway in Assam.

Moreover, earlier in October 2018, when the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Bill visited Assam and Meghalaya, it witnessed protests against the Bill, claiming that the Bill would make Assam a “dumping ground for Hindu Bangladeshis”,

The opposition parties such as Congress and the All India United Democratic Front have also opposed the Bill for its provision of granting citizenship to an individual on the basis of religion.

How will the Bill impact the Assam NRC?

The NRC does not distinguish migrants on the basis of religion. It deports anyone of his or her citizenship who has entered the State illegally post March 24, 1971, irrespective of their religion.

On the other hand, the Bill provides citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. However, it excludes Muslim sects like Shias and Ahmediyas, who face persecution in Pakistan.

If the Bill becomes an Act, it will erase the need for the non-Muslims to go through any deportation process, thereby nullifying NRC process, an unjust move against the Muslims identified as undocumented immigrants.

Assam NRC

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a list that contains names of Indian citizens of Assam. It was last prepared after Census in 1951.Assam, which had faced an influx of people from Bangladesh since the early 20th century, is the only state having an NRC.

The Assam government on July 30, 2018 released the second and final draft of the state’s National Register of Citizens (NRC). The draft includes the names of Indian citizens who have been residing in Assam before March 25, 1971.

As per the Draft, the total number of persons included in the list is 2,89,83,677 leaving a total of 40,70,707 as ineligible for inclusion. Out of 40,70,707 names, 37,59,630  names have been rejected and 2,48,077 names are kept on hold.

What is the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016?

The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 was proposed in the Lok Sabha on July 19, 2018. The Bill referred to a Joint Select Committee in August 2016. It seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955.

Three key amendments:

Once the Bill is passed in Parliament, illegal migrants from certain minority communities such as Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered India before December 31, 2014 will become eligible for Indian citizenship and hence, would not be imprisoned or deported.

As per the bill, the citizens would gain permanent citizenship of India by naturalisation after six years of residency in India instead of 11 years, as mentioned in the Citizenship Act, 1955.

In case of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI), their registration may get cancelled, if they violate any law.

Key Issues with the Bill

The Bill makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees right to equality.

The Bill allows cancellation of OCI registration for violation of any law. This is a wide ground that may cover a range of violations, including minor offences such as parking in a no parking zone.

Bill changes definition of the Illegal Immigrant

The Act defines Illegal Immigrant as a person who enters India without a valid passport or stays in the country after the expiry of the visa permit or an immigrant who uses false documents for the immigration process.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 changes the definition of illegal migrants.

Citizenship in India

Citizenship in India is currently covered under two legislations: Part II of the Constitution of India, 1950 and the Citizenship Act, 1955.

The Articles 5 to 11 under Part II of the Constitution of India deal with the citizenship. As per Article 9, a person who voluntarily acquires citizenship of any other country is no longer an Indian citizen.

Citizenship by descent: Persons born outside India on or after January 26, 1950, but before December 10, 1992, are citizens of India by descent if their father was a citizen of India at the time of their birth.

Persons born outside India from December 3, 2004 onwards shall not be considered citizens of India unless their birth is registered at an Indian consulate within one year of the date of birth.

The Citizenship Act, 1995 prescribes 5 way of acquiring citizenship i.e. by Birth, Descent, Registration, Naturalisation, and Incorporation of the territory.

The Section 8 of the Citizenship Act states that if an adult makes a declaration of renunciation of Indian citizenship, he loses Indian citizenship.

 

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