THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 07 october 2019 (A Bill that undercuts key constitutional values (The Hindu))

A Bill that undercuts key constitutional values (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2: Polity
Prelims level: Citizenship Amendment Bill
Mains level: Significance of the Citizenship Amendment Bill


  • These words sparked an immediate backlash as Mr. Shah had evidently omitted one religious community, Muslims, from his statement.
  • But his statement was not merely a communal dog-whistle: he was echoing the provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which the previous National Democratic Alliance government introduced in Parliament before the last election, but was unable to enact because of widespread protests in the North-east Indian States.
  • Mr. Shah made it clear, however, that the new government would re-introduce, and pass, the Bill in the next parliamentary session, or soon thereafter.

What is the Citizenship Amendment Bill?

  • It makes an amendment to the Citizenship Act, the umbrella law that sets out the elements of Indian citizenship.
  • The Amendment stipulates that “persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan... shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of that Act”. These individuals are made eligible for naturalisation as Indian citizens, and furthermore, the normal precondition for naturalisation — having spent 12 years in the country — is halved to six years.
  • In simple language, therefore, the Citizenship Amendment Bill does two things: it shields a set of individuals from being declared illegal migrants (and, by extension, shields them from detention or deportation); and it creates a fast-track to citizenship for these individuals.
  • The problem, of course, is that it does so on an explicitly communal basis: it categorically excludes Muslims from its ambit.

Key implications

  • If the government goes ahead with its plan of implementing a nation-wide National Register of Citizens, then those who find themselves excluded from it will be divided into two categories: (predominantly) Muslims, who will now be deemed illegal migrants, and all others, who would have been deemed illegal migrants, but are now immunised by the Citizenship Amendment Bill, if they can show that their country of origin is Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan.
  • It shows that non-Muslims who are left out of a hypothetical nation-wide NRC will not immediately receive legal immunity, but will have to jump through further hoops before they are protected.
  • That apart, however, the fact remains that by dividing (alleged) migrants into Muslims (but also, as we shall see below, Jews and atheists) and non-Muslims, the Citizenship Amendment Bill explicitly, and blatantly, seeks to enshrine religious discrimination into law, contrary to our long-standing, secular constitutional ethos.

Flawed logic

  • The PRS Legislative Research website points out, if the objective is the protection of minorities, then there is no explanation for why Jews and atheists (to take just two examples) have been left out.
  • More importantly there are Muslim religious minorities within these countries who are subjected to grave and serious persecution: the classic example is that of the Ahmadis in Pakistan.
  • There is no explanation for why only these three countries have been singled out. Lately, the Rohingya community in Myanmar, another neighbouring country, has been subjected to prolonged persecution, ethnic cleansing, and potentially genocide.
  • However, the government has been openly hostile towards the Rohingyas and has even argued for their deportation before the Supreme Court.

Violating the Constitution

  • Article 15 of the Constitution — that bars religious discrimination — applies only to citizens. But what these arguments forget is Article 14 of the same Constitution, which guarantees to all persons equality before the law, and the equal protection of law.
  • Discriminatory treatment and especially, discrimination that is arbitrary, and classifications that are unreasonable violate the essence of the equal treatment clause.
  • A state that separates individuals and treats them unequally on palpably arbitrary grounds violates the prescription of Article 14, and the heart and soul of the Indian Constitution: respecting the dignity of all.
  • It dramatically seeks to alter the basis of citizenship in India.
  • The Bill, however, will be the first time that religion or ethnicity will be made the basis of citizenship.
  • That would do grave damage to the very idea of India as an inclusive and diverse polity, where religion has no bearing on who can become a full member of society.
  • The Citizenship Amendment Bill is closely linked to plans for a nationwide National Register of Citizens.
  • The link was explicitly drawn by the Home Minister: that the Citizenship Amendment Bill is required to protect (predominantly) non-Muslims who are excluded from the NRC.

Argument and reality

  • However, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there is a huge influx of illegal migrants into India: in fact, recent evidence suggests that the rate of migration has been declining.
  • The Assam NRC arose out of a very specific historical experience, and Assam’s own position as a border State; however, for the rest of India, Assam’s own experience shows that an exercise such as this flawed and riddled with errors as it is — will only lead to misery and exclusion on a national scale, with no reason whatsoever to justify it.
  • The coming months, therefore, will present a serious challenge to fundamental constitutional values.
  • A nationwide NRC will replicate the flaws of the Assam NRC on a much larger scale; and for those who find themselves on its wrong side, the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Bill will protect some but only some based on their religion. Both exercises.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Consider the following statements regarding the National Disaster Risk Index:
1. It is made by the Union Home Ministry with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
2. Maharashtra has been ranked at the top of the list of Indian states, vulnerable to natural disasters
3. Among the Union Territories, Puducherry is the most vulnerable to such disasters.

Which of the statements given above is /are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 1 and 2 only
(c) 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3

Answer: B
Mains Questions:

Q.1) What is the Citizenship Amendment Bill? Why there is ample evidence that the protection of minorities is not the genuine objective of the Citizenship Amendment Bill?