New Delhi: Amid ruckus and uproar in the Lok Sabha, the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019—which seeks to give Indian nationality to non-Muslim refugees who entered India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014—was passed on December 10. This has led to intensifying protests across the country against the contentious proposed legislation.
Opposition parties, civil society organisations and student groups have been protesting against the legislation, saying that the stated intent of the Bill—to provide citizenship to persecuted minorities from three neighbouring countries—is laudable but “it is deeply troubling that the proposed law uses religion as a legal criterion for determining Indian citizenship”. Recently, over 900 scholars and scientists issued a statement against the Bill.
The statement reads, “Since independence, Indian citizenship has been firmly rooted in the Constitution. In its citizenship provisions, the Constitution insists on the fundamentals of equality, regardless of gender, caste, religion, class, community or language.”
“But the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 tears to shreds the inclusive, composite vision of India that guided our freedom struggle. In the amendments it introduces to the Citizenship Act of 1955, the new Bill violates every single one of these fundamentals of the Constitution. In fact, it is not a mere change in statute. It is a Bill that will alter, fundamentally, the character of the Indian republic,” adds the statement.
The scientists and scholars further allege that, “There is a statutory attempt to offer privileges to certain faiths. For the first time, there is an attempt, by statute, to exclude Muslims from the possibility of amnesty and citizenship—for no reason other than their religion. In fact, nowhere, under the successive reigns this country has had through millennia, is it possible to find the articulation of an official position that has denied migrants or refugees a place on the basis of religion.”
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The scientists and scholars also believe that “the Citizenship Bill, as well as a nationwide NRC (National Register of Citizens) will unleash widespread division and suffering among people across the country, instead of addressing the critical needs of the people—from food security and employment to the freedom to speak and worship.”
Talking about the violation of the Constitution, advocate Tamanna Pankaj, a Delhi-based lawyer, said the Bill is in violation of Article 14 as it enacts an impermissible, religious-based classification. “The protection of Article 14 applies to ‘any person’, i.e. both citizens and foreigners. Equality before the law prohibits discrimination by the State,” she told NewsClick.
She further argued that the proposed law is also in violation of Article 15 of the Constitution as along with the exercise of NRC and subsequent reference to Foreigners’ Tribunals, it intends to create non-citizens among the existing citizens and then create an artificial classification based on religion between them.
“In the Navtej Singh Johar judgment that decriminalised Section 377 of the IPC, the Honourable Supreme Court observed that where a legislation discriminates on the basis of an intrinsic and core trait of an individual, it cannot form a reasonable classification based on an intelligible differentia. If protection of minorities in neighbouring countries is the objective of the Bill, the question arises why such protection has not been extended to Tamil Eelams from Sri Lanka or Rohingya from Myanmar or Ahmadiyyas, Shias and Balochs of Pakistan,” she said.
The Bill if passed, she added, will mean that Muslims who are left out of pan-India NRC will be subjected to prosecution under Foreigners’ Act and forced to prove their citizenship. However, the non-Muslims will have to prove that they migrated from the countries mentioned above and will have to admit that they were illegal immigrants living in India.
“So, the Bill is in violation of the basic structure of the Constitution as it violates the principles of secularism,” she concluded.
Anupam, a political activist associated with Swaraj India, said the CAB is part of the government’s “macro-narrative, which is communal and decisive”. Adding that the proposed legislation is an attack on the idea of India, he said, “The government is pushing limits under the garb of the CAB. This is an onslaught on the foundation of citizenship as it is base on religious lines.”
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He added that if the government is actually worried about minority persecution, it should protect the minorities of the country who are being systematically targetted.
Mohammad Jawed, Congress MP from Bihar’s Kishanganj district, said that he hopes the Bill doesn’t stand in front of judicial scrutiny. He also claimed that the contentious legislation will be defeated in Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament), where the BJP does not have majority. “All non-BJP parties, excluding few, are opposing it. And we will ensure that the Bill gets defeated in Rajya Sabha,” he told NewsClick.
On being asked about BJP’s floor management tactics in getting earlier controversial bills passed, he said, “Our whips will take a call. We are in contact with major Opposition parties and they are opposing it tooth and nail.”
Advocate Seema Joshi said that they would have supported the Bill if there was any merit to it. “But the proposed legislation is aimed at making this country a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation), which is not acceptable. It is targetting the Muslim community. We have an inclusive culture and it is the strength of our democracy,” she said.
The BJP, she alleged, is using CAB as a threat tactic — ‘vote for us, else we will put you in concentration camps’. “The BJP knows it well that they are going to lose in the next general election, given the chaos they have created. There is a perception that Muslims don’t vote for the saffron party, though it is baseless and a wrong understanding. Therefore, they have come up with a Bill to threaten minorities,” she added.
Several people have raised questions on the government’s concern about persecuted minorities, which, however, is not extended to refugees such as Rohingyas from Myanmar, Tamils from Sri Lanka and Shia and Ahmadiyyas from Pakistan.
“Why only Hindus, Sikhs, Budhdhist, Parsis and Christains, why not Muslims of Mayanmar? We want democracy, which does not allow discrimination,” said Hijam Rajen, an activist from Assam.
“We know our land, our home, our mountains, our dams and our waters. We live together as a composite society. We don’t want to get involved in political conflicts. The prime minister and the home minister don’t know the social and political diversity of Assam. We want democracy to prevails, not a legislation which is aimed at dividing communities and societies on religious lines,” he added. He said that this violates the Assam Accord of 1985 that resulted from a six-year-long anti-illegal foreigner movement in the state.
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“The Narendra Modi government is imposing the CAB on the people of the Northeastern region in the interest of its vote bank. Assam can no longer take the burden of additional foreigners who had entered India till December 2014 as the state, on behalf of the country, had already taken the burden of all who have come till 1971,” he said.
“Why does the government want to accommodate people from different countries in Northeast states? Accommodate them in Gujarat, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh as the states have plenty of land,” he said.
During the updation of NRC, he said, all welfare and development work got stalled because officials were busy in the Supreme Court-monstered project. It caused a loss to the national exchequer. The government further wants to slow down the development works in Northeast states by bringing the CAB and then NRC.
Dr M Shanti Kumar Singha from Assam said that the government just wants to create chaos by bringing a decisive, contentious and unconstitutional Bill, which violates Article 14 of the Constitution. “The Constitution is under threat and everyone must oppose it tooth and nail,” he added.
A large section of people and organisations in the Northeast are opposing the bill, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.
Majority of people NewsClick spoke with said that India needs a refugee policy in line with international law, not a law dictated by an ideology that makes use of religion for political gains.
The Bill will be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on December 10 for discussion and voting.