The Citizenship Act, 1955.
The Citizenship Act, 1955 regulates who may acquire Indian citizenship and on what grounds. A person may become an Indian citizen if they are born in India or have Indian parentage or have resided in the country over a period of time, etc.
Definition of illegal migrant
An illegal migrant is a foreigner who has entered India:
- without a valid passport or other travel documents; or
- With valid passport or other travel documents, but stays beyond the permitted time period.
Illegal migrants may be imprisoned or deported under
These two Acts empower the central government to regulate the entry, exit, and residence of foreigners in India.
Modifications to the 1920 and 1946 Acts.
In 2015 and 2016, the government issued two notifications exempting certain groups of illegal migrants from provisions of the 1920 and the 19246 Acts. These groups are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from three countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
This implies that illegal migrants belonging to these religions will not be deported or imprisoned for being in India without valid documents. The same does not apply to individuals belonging to other religious groups.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 19 July 19, 2016, to amend the Citizenship Act.
The amendment seeks to make it easier for illegal migrants belonging to the aforementioned six religions and three countries to become Indian citizens.
The bill reduces these religious groups from the three countries from the ambit of being an “illegal immigrant”. The requirement of 11 years to acquire “citizenship by naturalisation” has been reduced to six years for these religious groups
The bill also makes amendments to provisions related to Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card holders.
A foreign national can register for an OCI card if they are of Indian origin or if they are the spouse of an Indian-origin person. OCI cardholders are entitled to benefits like the right to travel, work, and study in India.
The bill allows the cancellation of OCI registration if the cardholder has violated any law.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill has raised eyebrows and drawn widespread criticism for its religious bias and possible unconstitutionality.
Persecution in India’s neighbourhood.
Persecution of religious minorities in India’s neighbourhood is not recent news, and neither is it a rare phenomenon. Shias and Hindus in Pakistan, atheists in Bangladesh, Buddhists in China, Tamils in Sri Lanka, Muslims in Myanmar, and Shias in Afghanistan – many demographics have been subject to systemic or vigilante persecution.
Refugees already in India.
India has a large refugee population which, mostly, has been treated kindly. The current Secretary-General of the UN has said that India’s treatment of refugees is an “example for other countries“.
However, India has not signed the UN Refugee Convention. This, along with the lack of a coherent refugee policy, has meant that many of these refugees are directly administered by the United Nations rather than the Indian government.
Approximate numbers of refugees already in India.
- Refugees from Tibet: 150,000
- Kashmiri Pandits (internally displaced): 100,000
- Bangladeshi refugees (who fled during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War; not including illegal immigrants): 10 million
- Afghan refugees: 11,000
- Hindus from Pakistan: 1,500
- Muslims from Myanmar: 30,000
- Sri Lankans: 60,000
Key issues with the proposed amendment: 1) Possible unconstitutionality.
The bill pertains to only certain religious groups from certain countries. It overtly discriminates in favour of the groups mentioned over, for example, atheists in Bangladesh or Shias in Pakistan.
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution states: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”
Therefore, the proposed amendment could be in violation of the Constitution.
Key issues with the proposed amendment: 2) Measurement of persecution.
Firstly, the nature of systemic persecution is that it tends to be denied by the State responsible for the same. Pakistan will not openly say persecution of Shias and Hindus is a major problem; similarly, Bangladesh will not say atheists and secularists are being targeted across the country. There will always be reluctance, ambiguity or insufficiency in the State’s response.
Secondly, how would the Indian government determine and measure religious persecution? Besides the fact that religious persecution is not the only form of persecution, is there a barometer of measurement and regulation? The wording of the amendment is very inconclusive.
Key issues with the proposed amendment: 3) Attack on secularism and majority appeasement.
By openly declaring that it will make it easier for people of certain religions to become citizens, India would degrade its image as a secular nation. Secularism mandates maximum distance between government and faith; the proposed amendment, however, is open collusion between the same.
The amendment would, in fact, be one step further from the widely-criticised seven-nation ban enacted by Donald Trump in the United States. The difference being that the Trump administration made massive efforts to brand the ban as irreligious and not a “Muslim ban”, while the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is overtly discriminatory in nature.
Key issues with the proposed amendment: 4) Ambiguity – could provide for wide OCI cancellation.
Under the 1955 Act, an OCI card holder’s registration may be cancelled if he violates a law
- for which he is sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more, or
- within five years of his OCI registration.
The amendment allows the cancellation of OCI registration if the cardholder has violated any law. Due to the nonspecific language of the bill, this would include serious offences like murder as well as minor offences like parking offences.
The ambiguity of the bill means the ambit of OCI cancellation would be greatly enlarged.
The Logical Indian take.
- The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is, to put it bluntly, an abomination.
- It is highly ambiguous; will affect OCI card holders adversely.
- Discrimination on religious grounds is never justified, especially when the perpetrator is the government and the target includes refugees.
- Citizenship is something which anybody eligible should be able to avail, and the criteria for the same should be the same for people of all religions. India does not belong to one faith or group of faiths.