Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 cleared: What you can expect?

After the six hours of continuous debate, Rajya Sabha has declared the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019 which was tabled by Home Minister Amit Shah earlier. The bill was passed with 125 members voting for it while 105 were against the motion. President Ram Nath Kovind has to put his signature on the bill which will become an act. This will pave the way for non-Muslim refugees to gain citizenship in India from 3 Muslim majority countries Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

  • Why this bill is brought in?

The main aim of the CAB bill was to grant fast-track Indian citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Muslims countries who faced severe persecution.  The illegal immigrants living without documentation in India from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh those who are Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christians are focused in accordance with this Bill.

However, after the bill was subjected to debate the opposition argued that the Bill tends to discriminate against Muslims and also violates the fundamental rights of equality that is in the Constitution.

  • Beneficiaries of the Bill

The legislation of this bill applies to those non-Muslim immigrants who have forced or persecuted in their countries. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh are included in this rescue to protect the people from proceedings of illegal migration. The basic eligibility requirement for naturalization is that the person or family should be living in Indian land for a minimum of 12 years.

This bill will essentially be the first step towards creating the pan India NRC that will segregate Indians with or without documents. The basic political ploy of this bill is to create communal unrest in large parts of Bengal which will be going to vote in 2021. Hindu refugees from Bangladesh will play a vital part in consolidating the Hindu vote bank in the border district of West Bengal. Matua Mahasangha, which is the largest congregation of schedule caste Hindus from Bangladesh have openly celebrated the bill, sending a clear message that their right to live in India will be rewarded with electoral dividends.

As CAB will lead to NRC, let us focus on the documents that you will need in the process of proving your citizenship.

Documents regarding the cutoff date of the citizenship

In the case of NRC in Assam, the documents which were accepted as a proof of citizenship include:

  • Land and tenancy records
  • Citizenship certificate
  • Refugee registration certificate
  • Birth certificate
  • Passport
  • LIC policy
  • University/Board certificate

All these documents had to be before 1951 in the initial draft of Assam accord, which was later pushed to 1971, 24th March. In the case of a nationwide NRC states that would be heavily affected will include West Bengal and the North East. The above list is for Indians who have to prove their citizenship again.

  • Why is this bill significant?

This bill speeds up the citizenship process of persecuted non-Muslim minorities in Islamic nations. Generally, the naturalization process of India demands a continuous stay of 12 years to be considered eligible for citizenship. Now that CAB is passed, it is reduced to 7 years of stay and refugees without documents can also apply in this process. Moreover, these refugees will be able to access all government facilities as normal Indian citizens which will mean an improved quality of life.

  • Subsection

The approved bill also proposes to feature a subsection to section 7. This is provided to cancel the registration of the OCIs (Overseas Citizen of India) which is the cardholder violated any provision of the Citizenship Act or any other law that is in force at present.

  • Exemptions under the law

Areas under the 6th schedule of the Constitution don’t apply for this CAB bill. This includes the independent tribal-dominated regions in Meghalaya, Assam, Mizoram, and Tripura. States which don’t have the inner line permit regimes such as Mizoram, Nagaland and Andhra Pradesh also won’t get covered by the Bill.

  • Why are the people of the Northeast protesting about it?

Amongst all the states in the North East that the bill covers, Assam is witnessing the immense outrage against CAB.  Besides Assam, there are 6 North-Eastern states which are going to get affected by the implementation of this bill.

The reason for this protest is that a large part of Assam is gets covered by this legislation while many of the states have been exempted from it. Therefore a fear arises about the Illegal Bengal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh which may threaten the linguistic identities and culture of the state immensely if CAB regulation takes over the state.

Violating the Assam accord

Apart from this, a large section of opposing people also says that the implementation of this bill tends to nullify the provisions of the 1985 Assam Accord. This Accord fixed the cut-off deportation date of all illegal immigrants on March 24, 1971, irrespective of religion. National Registry of Citizens was a legal promise enshrined in the Assam Accord to recognize and deport any foreigners. However, when the final list of registered citizens was declared it was found that 12 lakh Hindus were excluded which includes the Hajong, Chakmas, Gorkhas and other indigenous tribes. Furthermore, AGP (Asom Gana Parishad) claims that Assam accord has the potential to insulate the state from the adverse impact of CAB.

  • Parties who have opposed this bill

Congress, CPM, Trinamool Congress and a few other parties were opposing the bill right from the beginning of the session claiming that citizenship can’t be given on the basis of religion.

Shiv Sena didn’t vote in favor of CAB in Rajya Sabha saying that the draft law should not have been focused or debated on basis of religion it should be humanity which deserves a debate on the draft law.

  • Challenges of a nationwide NRC

While the bill is focused on rescuing the immigrants who were persecuted in their countries, claiming it a completely favorable move is sure quite a tricky task for the government. As on one hand, India can become a homeland for Hindus and persecute reflecting its glory while on others, people opposing it have their own considerable and probably reasonable reasons. The reason for this is, many feel that the region’s demography will be disturbed if the illegal immigrants are subjected to permanent settlement in the Nation.

On the other hand, the increase of the burden on resources and a decrease in employment opportunities will be seen which can be a catastrophe for indigenous people.

The opposition party in Rajya Sabha Argued that “India welcoming refugees from other countries based on religion to establish Muslims as the second citizen of India is violating Article 14 which depicts about the fundamental right to equality to all persons”. They continued that the constitution is not meant to be reshaped by the parliament even if the governor mentioned that the bill is not to discriminate or violate the right to equality.

Political ramifications

The West Bengal and Assam elections scheduled in 2021 and 2022 will be an acid test for BJP, as this issue will come to the forefront once again. In Assam AASU, AGP, Congress, and AIUDF all have been protesting and are visibly angry with the government. So Assam will be a tough contest.  However, West Bengal will see a head-on collision with TMC upping the ante, its party chief Mamata Banerjee saying that she will not let the bill be implemented in her state even though legally it is not possible. BJP will focus on the Muslim appeasement issue and look to consolidate the Hindu vote bank. The stage is set for a polarized contest in the coming years. We will have to wait and see how the game unfolds.