A ready reckoner to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016
With the ongoing state-wide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 which was passed by the Lok Sabha recently, here’s a look at what the original Bill stated, the amendments which are being proposed by the central government and the reasons why the indigenous Assamese people are opposing the proposed Bill.
What is the Citizenship Act, 1955?
The original Citizenship Act of 1955 defines illegal migrants as foreigners who come to India without valid travel documents or those who stay in the country even after their permitted time period.
The 1955 Act prohibits illegal migrants from acquiring Indian citizenship. The original Act allows a person to apply for citizenship if they have resided in India for 12 months immediately preceding the application for citizenship and for 11 of the previous 14 years prior to the 12-month period.
What is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016?
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 by making minority communities namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan to become eligible for Indian citizenship.
The Bill does not talk about other minority communities including Muslims, Jews etc.
The Bill proposes to relax the norms of a person to apply for citizenship by relaxing the 11-year requirement for residing in India to six years for people belonging to the earlier mentioned six religious communities.
It has been argued that the proposed amendments violate Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which grants the right to equality to all persons, whether foreigners or citizens.
Why are people in Assam opposing it?
• The indigenous people of Assam are opposed to the amendments in the Citizenship Act 1955 as they fear that illegal migrants from neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh will settle in Assam as a result of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
• As per popular opinion, indigenous people in Assam feel that they will be reduced to a minority in their own state if the Bill becomes an Act, as it seeks to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants who reside in the country for merely six years.
• The Bill also contradicts the Assam Accord of 1985 which states that illegal migrants coming from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971, would be deported. The Assam Accord also seeks to safeguard cultural, social and linguistic identity of the indigenous people of Assam.
Interestingly, the union cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently also approved the setting up of a committee to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.
On the other hand, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh assured that the government is committed to protect the customs, traditions, linguistic and cultural identity of indigenous Assamese people.
“I want to appeal to the people of Assam that the doubts and confusion which are being sown into the minds of people are baseless. The burden of people coming from other countries will not just be borne by Assam but by the entire country,” said Singh while speaking about the Bill in Lok Sabha on January 7.
Further, while opposing the Bill in Lok Sabha, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) chief Badruddin Ajmal said that the Bill is unconstitutional and should not exist in a secular country like India. He also added that the Bill goes against the Assam Accord.
On the contrary, Guwahati MP Bijoya Chakravarty, said, “I wholeheartedly believe this Bill will safeguard the dwindling population of Assamese people. Even after Assam Accord, there is no stoppage of infiltration.”
The proposed bill recently saw widespread protests in Assam from all quarters. The BJP’s coalition partner Asam Gana Parishad (AGP) has declared that it would no longer support the BJP. Further, the influential All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) called a bandh on January 7 against the Bill. The bandh was successfully observed across the state and also saw minor violence in some areas.
All the other opposing parties including the Congress and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) have spoken out against the proposed amendments.
The protests against the Bill have been ongoing for almost the past entire year and the state was rocked on several occasions. Apart from the frequent demonstrations in various places, a 12-hour Assam Bandh was called by 46 indigenous groups against the Bill in October last year.
NRC VS Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016
The Bill is also at loggerheads with the currently underway National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation process in the state. The NRC process aims to identify all “genuine” Indian citizens residing in Assam and to detect illegal migrants residing here since after March 24, 1971.
The locals feel that the Bill, if passed, will undermine the ongoing NRC process by granting Indian citizenship to people who would have otherwise not been eligible for it.
Finally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while visiting Silchar on January 4, made his stand clear on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 by saying that “the Bill would be placed in Parliament and we shall see to it that it gets passed as well.”
With the BJP determined to pass the Bill, it remains to be seen how Assam would react to it especially with the 2019 Lok Sabha elections round the corner.
Fate of Bill if not passed in the Rajya Sabha
If the Bill does not get passed by the Rajya Sabha, the government has the option of taking the ordinance route. However, an ordinance can be passed only when the parliament is not in session.