What is Citizenship Amendment Bill or CAB?
Why is CAB controversial?
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) is a bill introduced by the Central Government in the Parliament of India in 2019 to primarily amend the Citizenship Act of 1955.
Purpose of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019
The main purpose of the bill is to make certain religious communities of illegal migrants or refugees eligible for Indian citizenship – in a fast-track manner.
The Bill, among other things, seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Buddhists and Christians who migrated to India till the end of 2014 from countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, due to reasons like persecutions.
What makes the Citizenship Amendment Bill Controversial?
- The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019, in effect, seeks to give Indian nationality only to the non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
- Six religious communities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – are considered eligible for Indian citizenship if they entered India on or before 31 December 2014, but not Muslims.
- The countries from which minorities are allowed include Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but not Myanmar or Sri Lanka.
- Citizenship is granted by relaxing the requirement of residence in India for citizenship by naturalisation from 11 years to 5 years for these migrants.
- North-east India has already suffered a lot due to the problem of illegal migrants. The natives of North-east India are against any move to allow citizenship to illegal migrants – irrespective of their religion.
The Stand of the Government regarding CAB
The Central government is of the opinion that the bill is not discriminatory against Muslims. As the Citizenship Amendment Bill has not amended the original provisions, any foreigner, including a Muslim, can still apply for Indian citizenship under the normal process of naturalisation. However, it may take 11 or more years to get Citizenship in this route.
The strong advocate of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019, Amit Shah, Home Minister of India, connected the 2-nation theory which led to the division of India with the new bill. As per him, as the two nations – India and Pakistan – are created on the basis of religion, CAB turned a necessity now.
Home Minister also cited the Nehru-Liaquat pact. As per him, Nehru-Liaquat pact failed to achieve its objectives in protecting minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan have declared Islam as their State Religion. However, there are religious persecutions of minorities in these countries. Home Minister pointed out the declining minority population in the three neighbouring countries.
The CAB legislation, as per the Union Government, will give bring a new light into the lives of the people who were facing religious persecution in neighbouring countries.
As per the government, the bill does not violate any provisions of the Constitution including Article 14.
Note: You can read more about the Government’s clarification on CAA here.
Three flaws in the logic of the Central Government
- Even though Jinnah proposed 2-nation theory in the 1940s, the result was never a Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu India. While one nation (Pakistan) was created on the basis of religion, the other nation was created on the basis of secular ideology (India). In secular India, citizenship was granted to members of all regions including Islam.
- Only Pakistan and Bangladesh were part of Pre-Partition India, Afganistan was not. Even if the government take moral responsibility to protect the minorities affected by the 2-nation theory, that logic is not applicable in the case of Afganistan.
- If the intention of the CAB is to protect all minorities facing persecution in the neighbouring countries- the bill turns a blind eye on the minorities in Myanmar (Rohingya Muslims) and Sri Lanka (Tamils).
Thus clearly, the bill is highly selective. CAB is intended to select some communities and omit others.
Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) vs National Register for Citizens (NRC)
The Centre has been trying to implement both the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). There are protests regarding the implementation of both.
Let us see what are the differences between CAB and NRC.
- While the CAB is a bill, NRC is a digital register.
- NRC is not based on religion, while CAB is.
- The base-year of NRC is 1971 (in the case of Assam), while the base-year of CAB is 2014.
NRC is a verified digital register having names and basic demographic information about all Indian citizens in a digital format.
The names of all persons born in India or having Indian parentage or having resided in India for at least 11 years, will be mentioned as Indian Citizens in the National Register for Citizens (NRC).
The NRC in Assam
The process of NRC started at first in the state of Assam. The National Register of Citizens or NRC in Assam targeted illegal immigrants. A person had to prove that either they or their ancestors were in Assam on or before March 24, 1971.
A total of 3.3 crore people who had applied for inclusion in the document. However, the final version of the NRC (as on August 31) contained the names of only 3.11 crore people. About 19 lakh people were not included in the NRC. The people who failed to prove citizenship were not only Muslims but also Hindus.
Not all omitted from NRC in Assam were illegal migrants from Bangladesh, but migrants from neighbouring states. Union Government plans to extend NRC to the rest of India soon – in a move to seek more clarity on the same.
However, the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 may help non-Muslims in Assam left out of the NRC to get the citizenship of India – without further hurdles. The bill is silent about Muslims.
Acts which the CAB amend:
- Citizenship Act of 1955.
- Passport Act of 1920.
- Foreigners Act of 1946.
Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and CAB
The Bill also proposes to incorporate a sub-section (d) to Section 7, providing for cancellation of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) registration where the OCI card-holder has violated any provision of the Citizenship Act or any other law in force.
Concerns of the North East Region of India
Northeast people are immensely worried about the possible demographic changes the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill could cause in the region. The Northeast region has long battled migration from Bangladesh.
The natives of North-east are fiercely opposed to any ‘outsider’ settling in. Protests have already broken out over the fears that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill could end up destroying the culture and ethnicity of the region.
Exceptions to the Bill
Status of the Citizenship Amendment Bill
The Union Cabinet cleared the Bill on 4 December 2019. It was passed by the Lok Sabha on 10 December and Rajya Sabha on 11 December.
In Lok Sabha, the Bill was passed 311-80, with zero abstentions after the Opposition put up a spirited attack against it.
In Rajya Sabha, 125 votes were cast in favour and 105 against the bill.
The President of India signed the bill on December 12, and the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) became the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
However, the CAA is not effective yet. It is to be notified by the government on a date chosen by it.
The chief opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is that it discriminates on the basis of religion by identifying only non-Muslims refugees as those who would be eligible for Indian citizenship.
While any foreigner can still apply for Indian citizenship, he/she has to follow the normal process of naturalisation – which takes 11 or more years.
The CAB is seen by many as a quick move to change the demographics and voters-profile in favour of the ruling party by selective admission of illegal migrants.
As per the critics, Citizenship (Amendment) Bill violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution – the fundamental right which guarantees equality to all persons. This is part of the basic structure of the Constitution and hence cannot be reshaped by any Parliament laws.
It is yet to be seen if the Supreme Court allows the selective fast-tracking for Indian Citizenship. The apex court has power even to declare the bill as unconstitutional.
The policy towards illegal migrants and refugees needs wider debates and deliberation. However, religion can never be the basis of Indian Citizenship.