Controversy rages over new Indian Citizenship Bill

Controversy rages over new Indian Citizenship Bill

Venkat Raman

Violence, rallies, burning of vehicles, protest marches and a postponed Summit with Japan are among the aftermath of new controversial legislation passed by the two houses of Parliament and ratified by the President in India last week.

The international press has criticised The Citizens (Amendment) Bill 2019 as ‘an insult to India’s 200 million Muslims’ as the new law excludes their community.

Many have said that CAB 2019 shakes the foundation of Indian polity which is based on secularism and pave the way for unrest and anarchy.

About CAB 2019

The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 to give a path to Indian citizenship to illegal immigrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The condition is that these people should have entered India on or before December 31, 2014.

The legislation, passed also relaxes the requirement of residence in India for citizenship by naturalisation from 11 years to five years for these migrants.

The Bill will immediately about 30,000 people.

The Bill was approved by the Union Cabinet (On December 4), Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha (Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament) on December 10 and December 11 and by the President on December 12, 2019. But it is yet to come into force.

The Bill has been challenged in the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

The Assam Accord

The Indian government signed ‘The Assam Accord,’ a Memorandum of Settlement with the Leaders of the ‘Assam Movement’ in Delhi in 1985, which allowed only Bangladeshis who came as refugees following the 1971 War to be granted citizenship. But under CAB, people of six religions (Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Jains) not only from Bangladesh but also Pakistan and Afghanistan will obtain citizenship of India.

Assamese objection

New Zealander Parash Sarma said that CAB 2019 is completely against the ethos and values enshrined in the Constitution.

“Specifically, as far as Assam is concerned, this could lead to a repeat of history. During the British rule, the government had employed a lot of Bengali speaking clerks and other officials from West Bengal in Assam. These employees were able to convince the British that Assamese was simply a dialect of Bengali language and were able to impose Bengali as the official language of Assam. It was only in 1873 that the Assamese language gained its rightful place,” he said.

Writing for The Wire (India), Justice Markandey Katju  a former judge of the Indian Supreme Court and Dhruti Kapadia, an advocate on record, Supreme Court and Solicitor, Bombay High Court said that the Bill discriminates against Muslims.

“The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government justifies this discrimination by saying that Muslims did not come into India due to persecution, whereas people of other religions did. But this is only a pretext. The real reason is that the BJP knows that Muslims will vote against them in elections, and so wishes to deny them citizenship (which carries voting rights),” they said.

“Also, what is overlooked is that many Muslims in Pakistan (for instance, Shias and Ahmadiyyas) are also persecuted there, and may come to India to avoid persecution. While by a constitutional amendment Pakistan has declared Ahmadiyyas to be non-Muslims, the Kerala high Court has declared them Muslims, and Ahmadiyyas regard themselves Muslims. However, they are treated horrifically in Pakistan,” they added.

Japan Summit postponed

One of the effects of the ongoing riots is the cancellation of the annual Summit between the Prime Ministers of Japan and India, respectively Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi.

The meeting was to be held in Guwahati, the capital of Assam from December 15 to December 17, 2019.

Guwahati was chosen as the venue by both countries since it reflected India’s ‘Act East Policy’ and the involvement of the Japanese government in North East India.

Unless the next meeting occurs within the next 15 days, it effectively means that bilateral summit which occurs annually, will not take place in 2019.

The Economist said its editorial that in the interest of social stability, of India’s reputation as a liberal democracy and of preserving the ideals of India’s constitution, the Supreme Court of India should speedily and unequivocally reject it.

“After all, Article 14 of the Constitution reads: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. To accept religion as a basis for speedier citizenship is to cock a snook at India’s own founding fathers, who proudly contrasted their vision of an open, pluralist society against the closed, Islamic purity of next-door Pakistan.”

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Assamese film actors joint a hunger strike organised by All Assam Students Union protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, in Guwahati (PTI Photo)

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