The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 approved by the Cabinet sets a cut-off date of 2014 for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to have entered India. It also reduces the 11-year clause for such people to prove their residency in India to five years. The main Act, according to reliable sources, does not mention religious persecution as the reason for the amendments, though the statement of objects and reasons do. The Bill is likely to be tabled in Parliament next week.
The Bill states, “On and from the date of commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, any proceeding pending against a person under this section in respect or illegal immigration or citizenship shall stand abated on conferment of citizenship to him: Provided that such person shall not be disqualified for making application for citizenship under this section on the ground that the proceeding is pending against him and the Central government or authority decided by it in this behalf shall not reject his application on that ground if he is otherwise found qualified for grant of citizenship under this section.”
The provision has been incorporated freshly; it was not there in the CAB 2016 that was passed by the Lok Sabha. Between 2016 and now, the NRC exercise in Assam has been completed with an estimated 19 lakh people left out of it, many of them Hindus that has caused unrest not just in the region in general but also among Assam BJP office-bearers.
The amended Section 2 of the Bill reads: “… provided that any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on it before the 31st day of December 2014 and who had been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause © of sub section (2) of section 3 it the Passport (Entry into India) Act 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners’ Act 1946…”
These special provisions for citizenship will not be applicable in the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura that are included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and the area covered under the Inner Line notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.
The Bill in the statement of objects and reasons traces itself from the history of Partition and the trans-border migration that has been continuously happening between India and Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The Bill is based on the ground that given that the Constitution of those three countries provide for a state religion — Islam — minorities face religion persecution forcing them to flee to India. Often they stay beyond the period their documents allow and end up facing prosecution.
“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, process 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 if their travel documents have expired or they have incomplete or no documents,” reads the statement.
The Indian government exempted these migrants from prosecution through notifications issued in 2015 and 2016 and also made them eligible for a long-term visa to stay on In India through orders issued in 2016. The Bill would make them eligible for Indian Citizenship. The Bill also repeats the clause in the 2016 Bill for cancellation of registration of an Overseas Citizen of India cardholder for any illegal acts. Such action against journalist Aatish Taseer has already caused much criticism.