Citizenship (Amendment) Bill: An exceptional exception

The contradiction is stark and complete. The contradiction we are talking about applies equally to both the two neighbouring States of Assam and Manipur. After years of sustained civil movements marked by violent clashes between security forces and civilians which sometimes entailed loss of precious lives (of civilians), the People’s Protection Bill 2018 was passed by the Manipur Legislative Assembly while the final draft of the National Register of Citizens for the State of Assam was published last year. If the preceding year promised something for the indigenous peoples of the two neighbouring States who are being overwhelmed by immigrants from within India and outside, the new year 2019 has spelled a possible doomsday for the entire North East region in the form of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 which was passed by the Lok Sabha on January 8. All the States of the North East region are deeply worried about imminent reduction of the indigenous population to the status of minorities due to incessant influx from within and outside India, and a casual look at the demographic profile of the sister state of Tripura will definitely authenticate the deep rooted and all pervasive fear. In fact, it was this fear while fuelled sustained mass movements in both Assam and Manipur for protection of the indigenous people through constitutional mechanisms. While the NRC seeks to identify and deport foreigners, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill seeks to grant citizenship to any immigrant from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is this contradiction which no one can miss. There are only two conditions for the immigrants from the particular three countries to apply for Indian citizenship. First, they must be Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians; and second, they must have resided in India for at least six years.
This implies that migrants from these countries who are Muslims, other minorities who do not belong to the above groups will not be eligible for citizenship.  It evokes a serious question whether this provision violates the right to equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution because it provides differential treatment to illegal immigrants on the basis of their religion. Article 14 guarantees equality to all persons, citizens and foreigners.  It only permits laws to differentiate between groups of people if the rationale for doing so serves a reasonable purpose. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill does not explain the rationale behind differentiating between illegal migrants on the basis of the religion they belong to. The controversial Bill smacks of a grand scheme to unite all Hindus of the entire Indian sub-continent within the physical boundary of India. The Bill does not fix any limit to the number of migrants from the three countries who would be granted Indian citizenship nor is there any definite period of time after which the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (presuming that the Bill is passed by Rajya Sabha too) would be annulled. While refugees coming from other areas—including Tibet, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Myanmar—have been dealt with in a somewhat systematic, although ad-hoc, manner, the influx of refugees/illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has largely been left unattended, and the principal victim is the North East region. This has resulted in drastic alteration in the demographic profiles of the Northeastern States and this alteration is directly or indirectly responsible for the socio-economic and political turmoil seen in the region. The Bill is an exceptional exception and as it happens so, we cannot help asking why the North East region cannot be put out of the Bill’s ambit.

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