Thinking Together

What is the CPI(M)’s position on the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016?Is it not a gross violation of the concept of citizenship which should not be defined by religion?
S Choudhury, Hyderabad

The Citizenship Amendment Bill now being considered by a Joint Select Committee of Parliament seeks to provide citizenship to people who suffer religious prosecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.  This would cover Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Parsis who are religious minorities in these countries.  

The basic aim of the amendment is objectionable. The Citizenship Act prohibits illegal migrants from acquiring Indian citizenship.  The amendment seeks to make certain sections of illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion.  This opens the way for a religious criteria for citizenship and thus violates Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to equality.

At present, under the Act, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years.  The amendment relaxes this eleven year requirements to six years for persons belonging to the six religious communities from the above three countries.

The Bill seems to be endorsing the Hindutva idea that India is a land of the Hindus and all Hindus living outside the country can come back and have special privileges to claim citizenship.

In this Bill, only the Muslims are singled out for exclusion.  The BJP leader and minister in the Assam government, Hemanta Biswa Sarma, has said that it was his party’s policy to differentiate between Hindu and Muslim migrants.  

Rajnath Singh, the union home minister, has in a recent interview to The Indian Express justified the amendment, which is discriminatory towards Muslims, by stating that “India was divided on the basis of religion”.  By this, he implies Pakistan is for Muslims and Hindus, Jains, Sikhs etc living in Pakistan have a claim to be in India.  This is nothing but the two-nation theory being put in practice.  

There should be a rational policy on refugees.  The process of their naturalisation as citizens must be on a secular basis and not on religious affiliation.

The proposed amendment has already met with strong opposition from parties and organisations in Assam who fear that the Assam Accord which provides March 1971 as cut-off point to determine who can be accorded citizenship will be undermined.  This is a legitimate apprehension and nothing should be done to bypass the Assam Accord which was arrived at after a prolonged agitation and widespread consensus.  

While the CPI(M) is opposed to any move to introduce a religious criteria for citizenship, it is necessary to make provision for the  large number of Bengali refugees who had left the erstwhile East Pakistan and then Bangladesh and come to India. A large number of these refugees belong to the scheduled castes, viz., Namasudra community.  They have been living in the country for a long period of time.  There should be a special provision for granting them citizenship with a suitable cut-off date.

Newsletter category: