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Citizenship Amendment Bill: All You Need to Know

Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019

Lok Sabha has passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 on January 08, 2019 which amends the Citizenship Act 1955. This amendment confers eligibility for citizenship on migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians and who have come to India fearing religious persecution from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Let us take a look at how the government took the lead on the Bill since 2014:

Timeliner:

2014 – Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his election rallies talked about the plight of persecuted minorities in neighbouring countries.

2015 – Bringing immediate relief to the migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, the government issued a notification which exempted them from the provisions of Foreigners Act, 1946. The government considered the cut-off date as December 31, 2014, or in other words, migrants who came to India before such a date were eligible for the exemption. This brought clarity to their status and their fear of being deported back was addressed.

2016 – To provide them Indian citizenship, government introduced the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 in Lok Sabha.

2019 – Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 on January 08, 2019.

Pakistani Hindu migrants at Gangana village in Jodhpur.            Source: Indian Express photo by Rohit Jain Paras

Highlights of the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019
  • As explained above, the bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make non-Muslim migrants or minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for Citizenship in India, in case they migrate to India fearing persecution in these three countries.
  • Under the Citizenship Act 1955, some of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation are,
    • Applicant must have resided in India for 12 months immediately before the application for citizenship.
    • Applicant must have also resided for 11 of the previous 14 years preceding the said period of 12 months.

However, under the amendment bill, this requirement has been relaxed to 6 years instead of earlier 11 years.

Assam Angle to the Bill

A negative campaign looks to have misguided people in north-eastern states, especially Assam where people protested the passing of Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 in the Lok Sabha.

The bone of contention is the cut-off date. According to Assam Accord 1985, migrants who came to India before March 24, 1971, were the only to be given citizenship. However, under the new law, this cut-off date has been pushed to December 31, 2014. Thus, the locals apprehend that this will increase influx of a greater number of people in the state of Assam which will negatively impact their businesses and livelihoods. However, here are some facts that should be considered before drawing such conclusions.

  • There has been less clarity on the fact that the new law will continue to filter out the large proportion of migrants from getting the citizenship (including the illegal migrants from Bangladesh which have a greater impact on the demography of north-eastern states). Only persecuted minorities from Bangladesh will be exempted.
  • Also, the said bill will have an effect all across the country and it’s not only specific to North-East or one particular state of Assam. The persecuted people who migrated from Pakistan to Rajasthan or other bordering states on western frontier will also get relief.
Conclusion

The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 passed in Lok Sabha upholds Indian ethos of giving refuge to people persecuted in their original countries. Since ages, communities like Parsis or Jews sought refuge in India when they were religiously persecuted in their countries. They are today, in fact, part of the nation-building process. On the similar lines, the government is steering the current bill which provides refuge to persecuted minorities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.