The New Citizenship Bill

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear that his government is going forward with the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. According to the bill, which is sought to replace the Citizenship Act of 1955, illegal migrants from certain minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will be eligible for Indian citizenship. It seeks to permit illegal migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian religious communities coming from these countries into India and not be imprisoned or deported. It also wants the minimum years of residency in India to apply for citizenship to be reduced from at least 11 to six years for such migrants. The Bill, however, does not extend this benefit  to illegal Muslim migrants. It also   is silent about other minority communities in the three neighbouring countries, such as Jews, Bahais etc.

The PM’s announcement has triggered protests in Assam where it is seen as the violation of the Assam Accord of 1985, which clearly states that illegal migrants coming from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971, would be deported. 

However, the new citizenship bill is contentious even beyond Assam. For it brazenly discriminates against Muslim migrants. The bill is being mooted in the wake of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which in one fell swoop denied citizenship to forty lakh people in Assam. The number is ten percent of the population of Assam and this has threatened to not only drastically alter the demography of the state but also change its political landscape. Adding a further sinister dimension to the development is that it is mostly the Muslims who have been omitted from the NRC. 

Now, were the new citizenship bill to pass, the Hindu migrants will be welcomed and considered eligible for citizenship while Muslims will be  seen as infiltrators. Such a bill thus hits at the core of India’s secular character guaranteed by the Constitution and its enactment will be one more step in the direction of turning India into a Hindu state. This is certain to deepen the anxiety of the Muslims in the country, who have already been at the receiving end of the BJP-led government at the centre. 

The move will also cause more insecurity in Kashmir where currently the fear of a large-scale demographic change following the apprehended tinkering with the Article 35A has already generated a deep sense of siege. The petition against the law is already being heard by the Supreme Court. In a sense, it seems ironical that while on one hand, the BJP is going all-out to not only protect the existing demographic character of India but also take steps to add to the population of the majority community, it is in favour of such a change in Kashmir.  The reason for this seems again communalistic in nature. 

But this approach towards nation-building is a fraught exercise. When the state itself acts discriminatively against its own people, it threatens to tear apart the social fabric and puts peace in peril. It is time the BJP rethinks its dangerous policies which seek to remake India in Hindutva image. This will only sow long term social discord which in turn will impede the country’s progress and prosperity.

 

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