What is Citizenship Bill and what are challenges it poses

Union Home Minister Amit Shah to table the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 in the Lok Sabha today (December 9, 2019). The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan escaping religious persecution there.

Here's what Citizenshil Bill means and what are challenges it poses:

What is the citizenship bill?

As per PRS legislative, an independent research institute. the bill amends the Citizenship Act of 1955 to add a religious angle. In its new avatar, the citizenship bill makes illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from ⁠— Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan ---eligible for citizenship.

To be able to benefit from it, the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months and for 11 of the previous 14 years. For the applicants of the above mentioned six religions from three countries, the bill relaxes the 11 year requirement to six.

Why was this bill being opposed?

This bill which was brought to the fore in 2016 had sparked protests from many groups for picking and choosing the religion of the people who would be eligible for citizenship. PRS says that this Bill could violate Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees the right to equality.

“The Bill allows cancellation of Original Citizens of India (OCI) registration for violation of any law. This is a wide ground that may cover a range of violations, including minor offences (eg. parking in a no parking zone),” said PRS.

Added to that, Muslims, Jews and atheists have been left out of the bill which goes on to include only those religions who are in minority in the three countries in question. Many debaters have pointed out that Muslims are a minority in Nepal and Sri Lanka, and the amendment excludes them.

The government had claimed that the Bill is for the greater good of the country, and offers sanctuary to asylum seekers.

“There are some decisions that are acceptable to some, not acceptable to others. The BJP has thought deeply about the Citizenship Amendment Bill before bringing it. We cannot leave a large swathe of people fleeing persecution hanging in mid-air. We believe that the Bill is necessary for the country,” Amit Shah, the home minister of India told earlier this year, as agitations against the Bill were at the zenith.

Who has agitated against the bill?

Though protests and marches against the bill were organized all over the country, civil groups of Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh have been vehemently against it. The new bill violates the Assam Accord, 1985 — which led to deportation of illegal immigrants in the state regardless of their religion, many debaters had said. Families of around 855 martyrs of the anti-foreigners Assam Agitation of 1979-1985 had returned the citation that the government had given them in 2016.

“India is a democracy, though people have the right to voice their ideas and demands, such actions are not appreciated in society,” said Assam Chief Secretary Alok Kumar.

The controversial bill coupled with National Register of Citizens (NRC) might alter the composition of many states in the country--especially the North-East which is known to harbour maximum illegal immigrants.

What next?

After the approval of the Union cabinet, the bill will be tabled in the Parliament next week. The bill was passed by the lower house of the last winter session had lapsed as it awaited the upper house to pass it-- and lapsed as the government was dissolved.

The Union defence minister is known to have asked all the MPs against absenteeism in both the houses as it is tabled. As Amit Shah tables the bill, the opposition is expected to disrupt the session, and the ruling BJP is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that it gets the green signal this time around.
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