Introduction In 2016, the Indian government brought out a draft legislation i.e. a bill which sought to modify the prevalent criteria for granting citizenship. By citing the reason as religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the bill sought to relax the criteria of granting citizenship for migrants fleeing religious persecution in these countries. Currently, the bill has led to a great deal of conflict as it allegedly attacks the secular character of the Indian nation. The bill and the conflicts surrounding it will be the focus of this article.
Before the bill was tabled, the centre had earlier brought out a notification stating that Hindus, Parsees, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians who have migrated from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh shall not be covered under the Foreigner's Act or the Passport Act. In 2016, the bill was tabled in the parliament and then referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee for further discussion.
What is the bill all about?
The bill seeks to amend certain clauses of the prevalent version of the Indian Citizenship Act. The bill makes exception for migrants of Hindu, Parsee, Jain, Buddhist, Christian or Sikh communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh. According to the bill these migrants will become naturalized citizens after having stayed in India for a minimum period of 6 years (for all others, the minimum period is 11 years).
Why Was The Bill Brought In?
The centre claims that the aforementioned communities have been victims of religious persecution in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. India, being a welfare state ought to welcome these communities. on the other hand, critics argue that the bill is a manifestation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's communal character. The bill would alledgedly also help the BJP to secure electoral victories in Assam and Tripura which have a sizable population of Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh.
The Stumbling Blocks
The bill directly clashes with the Indian ideal of secularism, by listing out specific religious communities for special treatment. Moreover, it also clashes with the Assam Accord, which provides for deportation of all illegal immigrants from Assam who have entered after 1971. the ongoing process of updating of the National Registrar of Citizens in Assam may also cause conflicts. Needless to say, the opposition to the bill is the strongest in Assam. The Khasi Student's Union of Meghalaya has also strongly condemned the bill whereas in states like Rajasthan and Gujarat, there seems to be a quiet support for the bill.
Rajendra Agrawal, the chairman of the committee reviewing the bill says that the bill can be passed without sidelining the Assam Accord by making exceptions for the state of Assam. Exception can also be made for Bangladesh by leaving Bangladesh's minorities out of the scope of this bill. According to him, the bill does not come into conflict with the secular character of the Indian constitution as the state is empowered to make special provisions for the disadvantaged sections and those fleeing religious persecution are indeed disadvantaged.
Updates on the bill
The bill has now been passed in the Lok Sabha. In order for it to become a law, it now has to be passed by the Rajya Sabha and then signed by the President. Even after that, the bill might have to stumble over several Supreme Court petitions before being implemented. As the example of this bill shows, democratic institutions make hasty decisions impossible, even though certain decisions may be delayed.