India

Why Is The Citizenship Bill A Huge Deal?

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The Citizenship Amendment Bill is a bill that seeks to provide Indian citizenship to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian faith.

It was passed during the Winter Session of the Lok Sabha in January 2019, leading to violent protests across different states like Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and West Bengal. To demonstrate retaliation for the Bill, a 12-hour-long Bandh was observed in Guwahati with angry mobs setting fire to state government offices. Groups from the All Assam Students Union (AASU) also waved black flags when PM Modi visited the state in February. In Tripura, the Students Federation gave a state-wide call to boycott PM Modi. In Manipur, local authorities declared a curfew and internet access was cut off as large groups of protesters took to streets. Section-144 is imposed in Imphal till 12th February 2019 until further orders due to the situation arising out of intense agitation launched by various civil society organisations. Recently, a black day was observed across Mizoram against the contentious bill.

The reasons for such public apathy for the Bill, especially in the North-East, are manifold and date back several decades. Let’s have a look.

The Bill is literally against the Constitution

The Constitution of India grants citizenship rights to a person

(a) Who was born in the territory of India; or

(b) Either of whose parents was born in the territory of India; or

(c) Who has been ordinarily residing in the territory of India for not less than five years

But the Bill (by mentioning immigrants’ religions) basically makes religion another criteria for citizenship. Thus inevitably amending the Constitution without permission.

Not just this, but it also goes against Article 15 (1) and (2) that prohibits the state from discriminating any citizen on grounds of any religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth in any walk of life. By specifically naming only six religions and leaving Muslims and Jews out of it, it directly induces discrimination in the nation’s citizenship process.

Opposing the constitution is a crime in India and the Bill does just that. But more so, it also breaks the very fabric on which the country was built. The Preamble states that India is a secular country and secularism means neutrality to all religions. The principle of secularism is what a newly independent India was built on in 1947.

A Bill that breaks two laws of the Constitution and the baseline of our nation can certainly expect opposition from the masses.

It breaches the 1985 Assam Accord

According to the 1985 Assam Accord, illegal immigrants who entered Assam after 24th March 1971 were to be deported to their home countries. The Accord was made due to the increasing influx of Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh into Assam after the 1971 liberation war. It was meant to protect cultural identity and means of livelihood of the original Assamese people.

But the Bill instead makes provisions to legalise the immigrants, much to the contempt and displeasure of the people.

Citizens of Assam, Mizoram, and Tripura had been fighting for the Accord for decades. In the early 1980s, AASU led anti-migrant protests in Assam that shook the state and led to riots killing more than 3,000 people. These protests finally settled when the Assam Accord was signed in 1985.

Now with the new Bill in place, it’s no surprise that the protests have resumed.

It acts as a loophole in the NRC

The National Register for Citizens (NRC) was a direct result of the Assam Accord. The Accord mandated the government to create a detailed register of citizens in India (name, DOB, place of birth, voters ID number, Aadhar details, etc.) to identify and detect those who entered India illegally after 24th March 1971.

People whose names weren’t present in the register were automatically termed as non-citizens. When introduced in September 2018, the register led to widespread protests in West Bengal as it left over 4million people without citizenship.

Even though the NRC has been pegged as unfair by many, it does not distinguish migrants on the basis of religion. It will consider deporting anyone who illegally entered India irrespective of their caste. But the new Bill goes against that by giving an easy out to Hindu, Jain and Buddhist immigrants by granting them citizenship. Thus only targeting the NRC at illegal Muslim immigrants.

Of course many have seen this as the government’s move to increase Hindu voters in West Bengal. The Hindu immigrants with their newly acquired citizenship will be more than happy to vote for BJP in the upcoming elections.

But for the people of North East, it completes ignores their real problem. For them, it is the constant migrant influx that poses a threat to their culture and jobs and has nothing to do with religion specifically. When the BJP had introduced the NRC in 2018, they thought they were being given a solution to their problem. But now many of them are left wondering, why was the NRC even introduced to only marginalise it months later?

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Because it is a political bill rather than a people’s bill

Experts believe that leaving out Muslims from the Bill will help BJP woe right-wing Hindu voters, once again bringing its Hindutva ideology to the frontline of national politics.

Hindutva was the trump card that brought BJP to power in 2014, there’s no reason why it couldn’t do the same in 2019.

Moreover, the Bill not only alienates India’s largest minority (Muslims) but in a way, also puts a stamp on Jinnah’s two-nation theory. Jinnah’s belief was that Muslims and Hindus simply could not live together in harmony and hence required two different nations. But while Pakistan was formed on purely Islamic ideology, India refused to accept Jinnah’s theory by choosing to be secular.

Current Status

The Citizenship Bill hasn’t gone down well for BJP either. Its political alliances in the North East are now at a crucial stage. The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) snapped its ties with the BJP in January. Then last month, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma stated that his party, National People’s Party (NPP), has decided to break ties with the NDA if the central government doesn’t repeal the Bill.

Currently, the Bill has only been passed in the Lok Sabha. But with the current government’s term ending in June, it has less than 4 months to pass in the Rajya Sabha. After the elections, no matter which party come to power (BJP or INC), the ration of seats in the Parliament will change and so the Bill will once again have to go back to the Lok Sabha. The people in the North East have been holding their breath over this.

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