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
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Therefore it needs to be urgently challenged, at the level of popular
movements, in the domain of Parliament, and of course, before the sentinels
charged with guarding our fundamental rights — the courts.
Q.1) Consider the following statements regarding the National Disaster
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
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
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