The Citizenship Act, 1955 is the guiding force of Citizenship in India. It was the law made after the partition of India and Pakistan to provide the citizenship rights to several refugees who came to Independent India after partition.
This act provides with who can become Indian citizen, what are the ways to become an Indian citizen and how can a person lose its citizenship. This act draws its power from Part II of the Constitution of India. There have been amendments brought to this several times in the year 1986, 1992, 2003, 2005, 2015 and the latest amendment which was brought in the year 2019.
The latest amendment brought to the act was to grant Indian citizenship to illegal migrants of Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi, and Christian communities, which were coming from Muslim majority South Asian countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The term illegal migrants have been defined under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and includes two categories of people. Firstly, any foreigner who has entered the territory of India without a valid passport or other valid documents and Secondly, any foreigner who has entered the territory of India with the valid passport or other valid documents, but they are staying beyond the permitted period of time. The proposed amendment provided that:
- Any illegal migrant minority groups belonging to the Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi, and Christian communities of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, who entered the territory of India on or before 31st December, 2014, shall be granted the Indian citizenship and would not be considered illegal migrants. The proposed law further reduces the period of residence from existing 11 years to 5 years for people belonging to these communities and countries.
This bill however, does not apply to Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram along with almost whole of Meghalaya and parts of Assam and Tripura.
The bill i.e., the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, merely aimed to provide citizenship to the Hindus who were persecuted in the other countries and to welcome refugees in the countries. However, there existed two major oppositions with respect to this bill, one being the people of Northeast India, believing that such amendment would affect the demography of Northeast India with the influx of Bangladesh and the major opposition stated the bill was discriminatory as it majorly targeted the Muslims and hence was anti – Muslim and against the Fundamental Right guaranteed to the Indian citizens under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution of the right to equality.
The government denying the issues and oppositions, provided that only these three countries i.e., Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh were taken into consideration and that Muslim was not included in the list of the six communities as in these countries Islam was the specific religion and it cannot be in minority, which if seen is factually correct.
But then the point of argument that arises is that in these countries as well there exist so many groups of Islam which are in minority, which are ignored. It further opens the door to the other ground of argument wherein it was stated that such an act discriminates Article 14, the right to equality.
When an analysis is drawn to the following fundamental right it can be observed that it deals with “any person” which in itself creates an ambiguity as it treats all the people whether the citizens or non- citizens of India equally and on such a ground the enforcement of such act which excludes the Muslim minorities existing in these countries would definitely be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
There were several protests which took place in the different parts of the country. However, there existed two different protests for this bill but with one common agenda that this bill should be passed.
Amongst the Muslim community there was a wave of argument on the ground that the illegal Muslim migrants were denied protection under this act which was considered as violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India, expressing the fear that such act would allegedly violate their secular identity and amongst the people of Northeast India.
The crest of argument arose on the ground that the illegal Hindu Bengali migrants should not be provided protection and their stay should not be legalised as it would outnumber the Assamese speaking people and would lead to increasing the number of Bengali – speaking Hindu in Assam, expressing the fear of endangering their linguistic and cultural identity.
There are different views with respect to the bringing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, wherein some people believe that it is political agenda of the ruling party to establish a Hindu Rashtra, some believe that it is smart political game undertaken to throw out Muslim community from India and many more.
Personally, being a law aspirant, the author considers the act of such a nature, the status of which is considered to be ambiguous because of the ambiguous nature of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The Article 14 grants equal rights and equal protection of law to any person irrespective of their, caste, sex, race or religion.
The term ‘any person’ under the ambit of Article 14 if interpreted provides protection to all whether citizens or non – citizens of India, and in that sense, non-inclusion of the Muslim community in the sphere of its rights is discriminatory.