What is Citizenship Amendment Act? Why some people are protesting against it?
The new Citizenship law has spread a violent protest to several campuses in the country. The protests were against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which was cleared by the Union cabinet on 4 December 2019, and later passed by both houses of the Parliament turning the bill into an Act of the Parliament. The protests started in Assam on 4 December 2019, after the bill was passed in parliament. Later, protests erupted in all of Northeast India, and subsequently all the major cities of India. The protests against the amended Citizenship Act have led to violent clashes at many places including the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh. Police actions in the Jamia and AMU campuses led to more protests in other universities and places in Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, and Bihar. Jamia campus of Delhi, however, remained the centre of student’s protest against the Citizenship Act that was amended last week with Parliament passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill. On 15 December, police forcefully entered the campus of Jamia Milia Islamia, where protests were being held, and detained the students.
What is the Citizenship (Amendment) Act?
The bills that is now an Act gives the right to acquire Indian citizenship to illegal immigrants belonging to six religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But it excludes the Muslims. The citizenship law has been relaxed for these six categories of illegal migrants – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jain, Parsi and Christians. The Act says the refugees of the six communities will be given Indian citizenship after residing in India for five years, instead of 11 years.
Why some people are protesting against it?
There are two distinct reasons of protests against the Act:
1. In northeast, the protest is against the Act’s implementing in their areas. Most of them fear that if implemented, the Act will cause a rush of immigrants threatening their social, economic and cultural identity.
2. In rest of India, like in West Bengal , Kerala and in Delhi , protest is against the exclusion of Muslims, alleging it to be against the ethos of the Constitution.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act does not apply to tribal areas of Tripura, Mizoram, Assam and Meghalaya because of being included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The Sixth Schedule makes separate provisions for the administration of tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. The objectives are to maintain a distinct identity and exclusiveness of tribals and to keep away intrusive elements. Also areas that fall under the Inner Limit notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, will be outside the Act’s purview. This keeps almost entire Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland out of the ambit of the Act.
Government’s take on Citizenship (Amendment) Act
Citing partition between India and Pakistan on religious lines in 1947, the NDA government has argued that millions of citizens of undivided India belonging to various faiths were staying in Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1947. The constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for a specific state religion. As a result, many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries. Some of them also have fears about such persecution in their day-to-day life where right to practice, profess and propagate their religion has been obstructed and restricted. Many such persons have fled to India to seek shelter and continued to stay in India even after their travel documents have expired or they have incomplete or no documents.
This means the Citizenship Amendment Bill prepares the ground that the fear of religious persecution exists only for those who do not profess a religion as adopted by the countries as their state religion. In this case, all three countries declare Islam as their state religion.
This statement forms the basis of intelligible differentia for non-Muslim immigrants and creates the legal and constitutional basis for leaving out Muslim immigrants who entered India or stayed in India without valid documents.