Hope for Liberalizing the grant of citizenship

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The well debated Citizenship Bill of 2016 was introduced in the lower house of the Parliament on July 19, 2016 by our Hon’ble Home Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh [PRS, LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH, THE CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT BILL,2016] with a view of amending the Citizenship Act of 1955 and henceforth putting a stage for liberalizing the regulation for granting the status of Indian citizen to the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who were earlier residing in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It was an endeavor of the present government for bridging the gap and to liberalize the procedure which was earlier there for attaining citizenship. The proposed bill also recognizes the rights of the refugees and tries to bring a new dimension to this grey area and will be considered as a welcome change in the refugee policy of India.

The bill proposed to amend Schedule III of the act and tries to regulate on the subject of not granting the status of illegal migrants to the people who have entered into the land from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Christian community and who have been exempted from the applicability of the provisions of Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act, 1946 by the Central Government. Both these acts regulate on the matter of mandating the foreigners to carry their passports and the entry and departure of foreigners in India. Prior to the bill, the Citizenship Act of 1955 empowered one to acquire citizenship by naturalization and in that he/she had to fulfill the criteria of residing or being in the service of Central Government in the country for 11 years but this bill seeks to reduce the time period and rather makes it 6 years for a person if living in India to apply for citizenship, with respect to these above mentioned communities and countries.

In the parent act, the government registers the rights of the overseas citizens by giving them the right to multiple entries and life-long visa to India and terms them as Overseas Citizens of India Cardholders (OCIs) but it is always said that a legal right always comes with a restriction. Earlier there were certain grounds already mentioned in the act but another ground has been added in the list that if the OCI is found violating any law in force then such status will be taken away and will be considered canceled.

The law bars the people residing in the country without valid proof from availing the benefits which are being conferred by the government to all the Indian citizens as these people are likely to stay in India for continuous periods. As of now, the Union cabinet in recent times, has empowered district magistrates to allow them for opening bank accounts, purchasing house property, obtaining driving license, ADHAR card, PAN card, and similar other basic requirements, while earlier the task was so tedious that one had to run from pillar to post and had to suffer a great deal of hardship.Earlier obtaining a job in the country was also very problematic for these people due to not having proper identities.

The other aspect of the bill is that it does not include the persons of the Muslim community from entering into the nation without passport and they will still be called as “illegal migrants”. Non-inclusion of these people is a discriminatory feature of the bill, as no reason has been proposed by the home minister for not including the Muslim community in the main list. Furthermore, the act does not cover the people who have fled from Sri Lanka, to India and are residing as refugees, as these people are none other than Indians, who are the descendants of people who at the time of British rule had been sent to Sri Lanka on the assurance that they will be given the status of a Sri Lankan Tamil and all the rights and privileges will be enjoyed by them. However since independence, these promises remain unfulfilled and very negligible attempts have been made to bring them back and give them the status of Indian nationals.

The statement and object of the Act fails to answer this question as to why only these communities and people from these specific countries have been included, why not the refugees of Myanmar, Sri Lanka. The preamble to the Constitution of India says that, we, India being a secular nation have no religion of its own, but by this bill what we are showcasing is that we prefer only the Hindu refugees and will only accept those. This should be declared unconstitutional and needs to be struck down as it has been laid down in the landmark judgment of Kesavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala that the basic structure of the Constitution can’t be played with. The inclusion of these communities and exclusion of the Muslims, Sri Lankan Tamils, Dalits will deliver the wrong message to the society that the government is only for the Hindus and hence, the line of division will be drawn.

Although this policy gave benefit to the minorities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, it has its main intention towards creating a Hindu base for the government, as this is very much apparent from the move taken by the government to expedite the Citizenship Amendment Bill for Hindu refugees. The said proposal is also similar to the practice adopted by Israel as it only permits Jews to return and settle in the country. As living in a country without having any nationality is a big issue, the government recognized the need at a later stage but still it is never too late!If the proposed intention of the legislature is to protect the minority then why not the minorities from other neighboring countries like China? The answers to these questions still lies in the dark. The Bill recognizes this in its statement of objects and reasons by referring to the denial of opportunities and advantages to Muslims and Dalits. The Bill therefore should not restrict itself to minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh but should also include refugees from persecuted minorities of all denominations who have made India their home.Apart from fulfilling their electoral agenda, the government should seriously address this issue and should ensure justice to all the refugees of the country.

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