The Indian Parliament Passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019. What will Change?
Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 was tabled in the Indian Parliament on 9 December 2019. This bill will amend the Citizenship Act, 1955.
With Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019, citizenship for minority communities (Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians) from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh living in India prior to 31 December 2014, will get expedited, as naturalization period gets reduced to 5 years from the earlier 11 years. Such persons, subject to meeting criteria contained in CAB, will cease being illegal immigrants.
The Bill will enable minorities from the above 3 countries lacking relevant documents to be on the fast track to Indian citizenship.
India shares land boundaries with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, all of which have Islam as their state religion. Minorities from these countries who have sought shelter in India fear persecution and religious violence and are refugees of faith and belief.
Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 does not change the standard naturalization process for Indian citizenship. The process of becoming an Indian citizen remains open to people of all faith, ethnicity or national origin.
The present amendment aims to seek to provide succour to historically targeted and persecuted minorities from the 3 countries.
Regularization of the status of stateless persons from the 3 countries, many of whom have lived in India, in a limbo, for decades, is primarily a governance issue, who will get to enjoy all the rights and government services available to Indian citizens.
Non-minority migrants from the 3 countries can also apply for Indian citizenship, though they would not automatically be eligible for expedited processing.
Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 does not presuppose that religious minorities in Bangladesh or Afghanistan feel insecure or are persecuted under the current governments there. In respect of Bangladesh, the refugees are primarily from the period 1975 – 2008, when the country was under military rule with BNP/Jamaat government. Likewise, during the Mujahedin/Taliban regimes, religious minorities were deliberately targeted and victimized. There were over 200,000 Hindus/Sikhs in Afghanistan before 1992, which have come down to about 500 families now. In 2001, the Taliban had asked these people to convert to Islam or leave Afghanistan. These people continue to be targeted even today by Pakistan backed terror groups.
Current governments of Bangladesh and Afghanistan have addressed the concerns of their minorities to a considerable extent under their extent constitution and laws. Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is thus not intended to cast aspersions on the current Awami League government in Bangladesh or the post Taliban Karzai/Ghani governments. In Afghanistan, representations have been given to Hindu/Sikhs in their Parliament, facilities given for cremation and maintenance of religious places.
Successive Pakistani governments since independence (1947) have made discriminatory laws against their religious minorities, who face large scale abuse, intimidation and violence on a systematic basis. Churches and Christians in Pakistan have been regularly attacked in Lahore (March 2015, March 2016), Peshawar (2013), Quetta (Dec. 2017) etc. Sikh and Hindu women have been abducted, raped, forcefully converted and married to their assaulters, all for the crime of having spoken out and seeking their rights. Blasphemy laws, with their provision for death sentence, have become a major tool for persecution of religious minorities. Religious minorities, 23% of Pakistan’s population in 1947, are down to 3.7% today.
Precedents exist for Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 in respect of offering citizenship and resettlement to a category of persons from other countries e.g.
1. Under agreements in 1964 and 1974, 461,639 persons of Tamil-origin from Sri Lanka.
2. Erstwhile Burma (1963 onward) : 208,959 persons
3. Uganda (1970s, after Idi Amin’s coup) : 2775 persons
Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 is thus a continuation of this process.
Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 has a specific provision to ensure that states of the North-East region that have Inner Line Permit regime, and tribal areas notified under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, are outside the purview of the legislation. The largely Buddhist and Christian population of these states would thus remain unaffected and the delicate ethnic and religious balance of communities in a large number of these states maintained.
Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 is limited to regularization with retrospective effect i.e. those who are in India prior to 31 December 2014, and not with prospective effect.
Broader Naturalization process would remain in place, irrespective of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019, for people of all faiths and communities, subject to extant constitutional provisions. The secular nature of India and the non-discriminatory process of naturalization would remain unchanged.
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