The Citizenship Amendment Bill was tabled by Amit Shah and introduced in the Lok Sabha today. It laxes the way illegal immigrants can attain citizenship, namely for non-Muslim communities from several Islamic states. The BJP has declared the Citizenship Amendment Bill a humanitarian effort to help those suffering from religious persecution.
However, the bill has faced severe criticism from opposition parties and as well as citizens for several reasons. However, a majority of the Lok Sabha voting in favour of its introduction and constitutes of the Hindu Nationalist BJP; it may well be on its way to becoming the law of the land. Hence, we decided to review the bill in detail and examine how it could impact different communities if passed.
Immigrant Communities Covered By The Citizenship Amendment Bill
The new bill, as proposed, allows Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to apply for Indian citizenship even if they had entered India illegally. It requires the individual applying for citizenship to prove that they migrated on grounds of religious persecution.
Aside from this being rather difficult to prove, there are further complications due to the flawed implementation of the NRC in Assam, which the BJP claims can be corrected by the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The majority excluded from the NRC are Bengali Hindus, who Amit Shah claims can retrieve their citizenship through the amended bill.
The NRC required individuals to declare themselves as Indians in order to register. On the other hand, the Citizenship Amendment Bill is specifically targetted at migrants. Hence, anyone appealing for citizenship through the bill after having been excluded from the NRC will contradict their previous statements. The BJP still hasn't elaborated on how exactly this discrepancy will be countered. Moreover, the process for applying for citizenship takes a long time; even decades sometimes.
Current North-Eastern Populations
The inhabitants of northeast India, where a majority of refugees are received, are the most vehement opposers of the bill. It is argued that the bill is based on discriminatory principles by mentioning specific communities instead of simply refugees who suffered religious persecution. Critics suspect that this is an attempt for BJP to push for its vote bank in the northeast, where they haven't been winning as many seats.
Another major concern is the impact on the demographics of the regions. Northeastern Indians feel that their population's cultural and societal demographic shall be impacted and diluted by the ease of immigration for specific communities. While tribal communities' regions have since been excluded from the Citizenship Amendment Bill, individuals could still move to these areas after having acquired citizenship. This defeats the purpose of the exclusion of the areas in the first place.
Excluded Immigrant Communities
Another glaring loophole in the Citizenship Amendment Bill is the exclusion of several communities. Myanmar, which shares a large border with India, has a large population of Rohingya Muslims who remain severely persecuted for their religion. Similarly, Sri Lanka has persecuted several Tamil Hindus on an ethnic and religious basis. However, both the countries remain excluded from the specified countries in the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
To add to this, even Islamic states have sects of Muslims who are discriminated against, such as the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Sunni-dominated Pakistan. However, there remains no provision for refugees from these communities. In strict terms, the issue is sectarian rather than religious, but in practicality, there is no difference in the discrimination against such communities vs the ones included in the bill. This raises questions about the non-secular nature of the bill. It goes directly against the constitution that requires laws to remain non-discriminatory and secular.
The BJP may be able to convince their Hindu vote bank that they're staying true to their promise of a Hindu Rashtra. However, very few individuals even from the communities mentioned in the bill are likely to actually prove religious persecution. Moreover, talks of implementing NRC in the entirety of India have raised questions about the secularity of the party's ideologies.
While the bill is yet to be passed, it seems likely due to the sheer majority of BJP in the parliamentary houses. Impacts can only be guessed at this point in time. However, there does not appear to be any community that will significantly benefit from the implementation. Which raises the question; what truly even is the purpose of the Citizenship Amendment Bill?