The Citizenship (Amendment) Act was passed in the Parliament and became effective on Friday the 13th of December 2019.
The Act amends the Citizenship Act of 1955, which lays down the various ways in which citizenship of India may be acquired.
The said amendment primarily incorporates two aspects:
- It will enable illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians and had illegally entered India on or before 31 December 2014 to escape religious persecution in the Islamic states of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, will be eligible to apply for Indian citizenship.
- Amends provisions related to OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) cardholders. OCI is an immigration status permitting a foreign citizen of Indian origin to live and work in India indefinitely. The Bill amends the Act to allow cancellation of OCI registration if the person has violated any law notified by the central government.
The Citizenship Act-1955 dictates that any person born on or after 26 January 1950 (in case born prior to the commencement of 1986 Act applicable with effect from 01 July 1987), is a citizen of India by birth or a person born in India on or born after 01 July 1987 is a citizen of India if either parent was a citizen of India at the time of the birth.
Citizenship of India by naturalization can be acquired by a foreigner who is ordinarily resident in India for 12 years (throughout the period of 12 months immediately preceding the date of application and for 11 years in the aggregate of 14 years preceding the 12 months) and other qualifications as specified in Section 6 (1) of the Citizen Act, 1955.
The Citizenship Act-1955 prohibits illegal migrants from applying for Indian citizenship. Illegal migrants are defined in the Act as those foreigners who entered India without a visa or valid travel documents or those who enter legally but stay beyond the permitted time.
Therefore, this legislation seeks to introduce religion as the grounds for citizenship in India, which is in direct contravention to Article 14 of the Indian constitution that prohibits unequal treatment on the basis of religion.
In early 1970s India took a considered decision to open its floodgates for migrants from erstwhile East Bengal, now Bangladesh, while it had helped that country in its struggle for independence from Pakistan.
Assam, which faced the major brunt of influx of such refugees, today has about four million illegal migrants eating into the resources of the indigenous Assamese. Consequently, Assam remained on a boil for six long years from 1979 to 1985, when an Assam Peace Accord was signed.
This peace accord amongst other things prescribed the cutoff date to accept legal citizens of Assam, as midnight of 24th March 1971. It means that all persons who have entered Assam after this date will become illegal migrants.
The Citizenship Amendment Act clearly bypasses the Assam Accord by changing the cutoff date from 24 March 1971 to 31 December 2014.
Most of the NE states feel that the Act will adversely affect the indigenous people, e.g. people in Mizoram fear that the Buddhists Chakmas from Bangladesh will take advantage of the Act. Also, people in Meghalaya and Nagaland are apprehensive of Bengali migrants.
The Home Minister, Amit Shah has clarified that the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura, as included in the Sixth Schedule of Constitution and also those areas covered under Inner Line Permit will not come under the ambit of the CAB.
The Inner Line Permit (ILP) system prevails in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram, where citizens from other parts of India need special sanction from the state government to visit and that too only for a limited period of time.
Home Minister has also made an announcement yesterday that Manipur will also be now included in the ILP system.
Notwithstanding, there are many areas within these states that are not covered under the ILP, for instance Dimapur in Nagaland, and that is why there are still some apprehensions in the minds of the locals.
The premise for NRC is that people who can prove they came to the state (Assam) by 24 March 1971, a day before neighbouring Bangladesh became an independent country will be considered Indian citizens.
In other words, the CAB will help protect non-Muslims who are excluded from the NRC and face the threat of deportation or internment and it also means that tens of thousands of Bengali Hindu migrants who were not included in the NRC can still get citizenship to stay on in Assam state.
The up-scaling of polarization in the country amounts to playing into the hands of our adversaries, who will be quick to grab this opportunity and foment more trouble in the name of religion.
Also, the cutoff date for their inclusion has been enhanced to 31 December 2014 from 24 March 1971, as was agreed upon in the Assam Accord of 1985 and was used for preparing the final list of NRC.