Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019


The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 was passed by the parliament of India on 11th of December in 2019. It amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 by providing a path to Indian citizenship for illegal migrants of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014, Muslims from those countries were not given such eligibility. The act was first time religion had been overtly used as a criterion for citizenship under Indian Law.

Under the Citizenship Act 1995, a person may be given an OCI card, if he is of Indian origin (e.g. a former citizen if Indian or their descendants) or the spouse of a person of Indian origin. Now the Act of 2019 gives the facility to OCI cardholders to travel in India, work, and study in the country.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads Indian government, has promised in previous election manifestos to offer Indian citizenship to members of persecuted religious minorities who had migrated from neighbouring countries. Under the 2019 amendment, migrants who had entered India by 31st December 2014, and had suffered “religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” in their country of origin were made eligible for citizenship. The amendment also relaxed the residence requirement for naturalization of these migrants from twelve years to six. According to Intelligence Bureau records, there will be just over 30,000 immediate beneficiaries of the bill.

The amendment has been widely criticized as discriminating on the basis of religion, particularly for excluding Muslims. The office of the United Nations High commissioners for Human Rights (OHCHR) called it “fundamentally discriminating” , adding that while India’s “goal of protecting persecuted groups is welcome”, this should be accomplished through a non-discriminatory “robust national asylum system” Critics express concerns that the bill would be used, along with the National Register of Citizen (NRC), to render many Muslim citizen stateless , as they may be unable to meet stringent birth or identity proof requirements. Commentators also question the exclusion of persecuted religious minorities from other regions such a Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. The Indian government says that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh have Islam as their state religion and therefore Muslims are “unlikely to face religious persecution” there. However, certain Muslim groups, such as hazaras and Ahmadis, have historically faced persecution in this countries.

  1. What the bill proposes?

According to the Bill, member of the Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian communities who have come from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh till December 31st, 2014 and facing religious persecution there will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian Citizenship. It also relaxes the provisions for “Citizenship by naturalization”. The law reduces duration of residency from existing 11 years to just five years for people belonging to the same six religions and three countries.

  • Who all does it cover?

The Act covers six communities namely Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jains, Parsis and Christian migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. As per the citizenship Act of 1955, an illegal immigrants cannot get citizenship in India. An illegal migrant is defined as people who either entered the country without proper documents, or stayed on beyond the permitted time. In 2015 the government made changes to the passport and foreigner’s acts to allow non-Muslim refugees from these countries to stay back in India even if they entered the country without valid papers.

  •  Who does it leave out?

 Leading opposition parties say the law is discriminatory as it singles out Muslims who constitute nearly 15 percent of country’s population. The government clarifies that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are Islamic republics where Muslims are in majority hence they cannot be treated as persecuted minorities. It also assures that the government will examine the application from any other community on case to case basis.

  • What is the government’s logic on this?

      Citing partition between India and Pakistan on religious lines in 1947, the NDA government has argued that millions of citizen of undivided India belonging to various faiths were staying in Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1947. “the constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for a specific state religion. As a result many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries. Some of them have also have fears about such persecution in their day-to-day life where right to practice, profess and propagate their religion has been obstructed and restricted. Many such persons have filed to India to seek shelter and continued to stay in India even if their travel documents have expired or they have incomplete or no documents, “the Bill states.”

  • What is the background of the law?

It was one of the poll promises of the NDA government. The Bill in its earlier from was passed in January 2019, ahead of the general elections. It again sought to grant Indian citizenship to the six non-Muslim communities-Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Parsi, Jain and Sikh. It reduced the mandatory requirement of 12 years stay in India to seven years to be eligible for citizenship if they do not possess any document. The earlier Bill was referred to joint parliamentary Committee, however the Bill lapsed as it could not be taken up in Rajya Sabha.

  • Who are the opposers?

      Among the main opposition against the Bill is that it is said to be violative of Article 14 of constitution (Right to equality). Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI(M) and a few other political parties have been steadfastly opposing the bill, claiming that citizenship can’t be given on the basis of religion. There has also been widespread protests across North East in Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim.

  • What are that have come up the objections?

The Act has triggered widespread protests in northeastern states where many feel that permanent settlement of illegal immigrants will disturb the region’s demography and further burden resources and decrease employment opportunities for indigenous people. A large section of people and organizations oppositions opposing the Act also say it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.

  • Which states will be affected?

The Act would have impacted all 7 North Eastern states. However after several rounds of discussion, the centre has agreed to provide safeguard for NE states.  It says, “Nothing in this section shall apply to tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as include in the sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under the ‘Inner line Permit’ notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873.”  These areas require Indians from other states to get ‘Inner Line Permit’ to enter or pass through them. Presently, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland fall under the Inner Line Permit. There were concerns that Manipur could end up suffering the most if the CAB is implemented. On Monday, Home Minister Amit Shah announced in the Lok Sabha that Manipur will be brought under IPL.

  • How many will it add to India’s population?

There are no official figures other than records furnished by the intelligence Bureau before the JPC saying there are 31,313 persons belonging to these minority community living in India on long term Visa. They had sought refuse here on grounds of religious persecution. Home Minister Amit Shah in parliament said the bill will give a new dawn to lakhs and cores of people. Parties like Shiv Sena have been asking for an exact number. As per the IB records are- Hindu 25,447, Sikh 5,807, Christian 55, Buddhist 2 and Parsis 2.  

  • There are some Drawbacks of Citizenship Amendment Act,2019

The passage of the legislation caused large-scale protest in India. Assam and other northeastern states have seen violent demonstration against the bill over fears that granting Indian citizenship to refugees and immigrants will cause a loss of their “political rights, culture and land rights” and motivate further migration from Bangladesh. In other parts of India, protesters said the bill discriminated against Muslims and demanded that Indian citizenship to be granted to Muslim refugees and immigrants. Major protests against the Act were held at universities in India. Students at Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia alleged brutal suppression by the police. The protests have led to the deaths of several protesters, injuries to protesters and police, and suspensions of local internet mobile phone connectivity in certain areas. Some states have announced they will not implement the Act. The Union Home Minister has side that states lack the legal power to stop the implantation of the CAA.  

  1. Immigrants and Refugees

A very large number of illegal immigrants, the largest numbers of whom are from Bangladesh, live in India. The Task Force on Border Management quoted the figure of 15 million illegal migrants in 2001. In 2004, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government stated in parliament that there were 12 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants in India. The reasons for the scale of migration include a porous border, historical migration patterns, economic reasons, and cultural and linguistic ties. Many illegal migrants from Bangladesh had eventually received the right to vote. According to Niraja Jayal, this enfranchisement was widely described as an attempt to win elections using the votes of the illegal migrants from Bangladesh. An unknown number of Pakistani Hindu refugees live in India. An estimated 5,000 refugees arrive per year, citing religious persecution and forced conversion. A much larger number of refugees, estimated at 5-13 million, have arrived from Bangladesh over the decades due to a variety of complex factors.

India is a not a signatory to either the 1951 UN Refugees Convention or the 1967 Protocol. It does not have a national policy on refugees. All refugees are classed as “illegal migrants”. While India has been willing to host refugees, its traditional position formulated by Jawaharlal Nehru is that such refugees  must return to their home countries after the situation returns to normal. According to the US committee for Refugees and immigrants, India hosts refugees in excess of 456,000 with about 200,000 from “non-neighbouring” countries hosted via the UNHCR. According to Shuvro Sarkar, since the 1950s and particularly since the 1990s, the Indian governments under various political parties have studied and drafted laws for the naturalization of refugees, urban planning, cost of basic services, the obligations to protected tribes, the impact on pre-existing regional proverty levels within India.

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