The citizenship Amendment bill 2019 was passed by the Lok Sabha yesterday with 300 yes and 80 No amid massive protests across the country. On Wednesday, the bill will be tabled in Rajya Sabha.
What does the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) say?
The bill seeks to protect non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It reduces the duration of time people from these communities need to get citizenship. It amends the clause in the Citizenship Act 1955 from stating that “persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have been exempted by the Central Government… shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of that Act.”
The bill grants rights to a new class of migrants from these three countries, and relaxes the requirement of residence in India.
Extending the rights of migrants from other countries is welcome, but the bill exclusively denies that rights to Muslims, which is the problematic part of the Bill. The bill violates the constitution for discriminating on the basis of religion. This policy is aimed at sending a clear message to Muslims from Bangladesh. The Bill would give the state more power in harassing Bengali Muslims across the country.
The many criticisms of the bill are that the bill works on the colonial logic of seeing conflict in the region through a religious lens. many opposition parties have also compared Amit Shah with Mohammad Ali Zinnah (founders of Muslim league) and Savarkar (proposed two-nation theory). Both wanted pre-independent India to be divided based on religion.
Why the push for the Citizenship amendment now?
After trying to push the NRC in Assam, the BJP found many Hindus were also excluded, and their plan to focus on Muslims alone backfired. NRC was an important tool for the BJP to attack the Muslim population as it assumed people were guilty until proven innocent. Rampant abuse of NRC would lead to detention and deportation of Hindus as well as Muslims, undermining their plan. The citizenship amendment bill would give them the ability to focus their harassment to Muslims alone.
Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or by place of birth by the State. The Citizenship Amendment Act is in violation of the law in principle as it has conditions both on religion and place of birth. Unlike other laws regulating travel to and from Pakistan, the Amendment specifically mentions the religion of the people involved.
The extension of NRC would lead to a disaster as any Muslim who can be accused of being Pakistani, Afghanistani or Bangladeshi would be vulnerable to a test of citizenship. If they are poor or if they come from a transient community, they are very likely to fail the test. By dividing the non-Muslim population out, the BJP would get free rein, as they could easily create a smokescreen of fear and deception to justify a crackdown. As in the case of 1992, even if they are not in power, right-wing Hindu forces can use the law to create false cases anywhere in the country.
Many communities across the North East have protested how this bill, not only refuses to acknowledge their historical concerns about the demographic shift on ethnic or linguistic lines but promotes a Delhi-centred ideology regarding what the demographics of the population should be. Each state has had a complicated history regarding their autonomy, and the bill has been seen as Dehli ignoring their historical demands of self-determination as the center is deciding who has the right to be in their state.
With the implementation of NRC in Assam, the BJP has adopted in its strategy to attack the Muslim community as each region has a different communal equation. In Assam, tension is more on linguistic lines, and local groups complained that the state was selectively appropriating their rage by not inquiring into Bangladeshi Hindus in the region. Certain areas have raised the citizenship issue against certain communities.
The Citizenship Amendment Act will give BJP all the ammunition it needs to attack the Muslim population in and outside India. Time and again, BJP politicians have attacked Muslims for terrorism, trying to overtake the Hindu population. One can only imagine how it their propaganda machine will be once it is made a law. Remember during the Rohingya crisis, where Muslims were the persecuted minorities when the rhetoric of “bringing terrorism from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
All signs point to further abuse of citizenship law to further an agenda of hate. The Bill in its present form is supported by the NDA parties including JD(U) and Lok Janshakti party, which were uncertain earlier. Amit Shah has met with local leaders from the North East to get support for the bill, in spite of protests against it. Even though it broke with the NDA, the Shiv Sena supports the bill. The bill has been opposed by INC, SP, NCP, RJD, JD(S), TMC, CPM, CPI, BSP, and AAP.