The executive order on immigration that President Trump came out with immediately after him taking over power was widely criticised in USA. He was accused of being discriminatory towards Muslims and citizens of certain nations. But another proposed discriminatory law on immigration that came out from another democratic country did not get that much attention.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 has been introduced in the lower house of Indian Parliament and will become the law if both houses pass the bill and the President approves it.
The Bill amends the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955.
What is Indian Citizenship Act 1955 ?
The Citizenship Act, 1955 regulates who may acquire Indian citizenship and on what grounds. A person may become an Indian citizen if they are born in India or have Indian parentage or have resided in the country over a period of time, etc. However, illegal migrants are prohibited from acquiring Indian citizenship. An illegal migrant is a foreigner who: (i) enters the country without valid travel documents, like a passport and visa, or (ii) enters with valid documents, but stays beyond the permitted time period. Illegal migrants may be imprisoned or deported under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920. The 1946 and the 1920 Acts empower the central government to regulate the entry, exit and residence of foreigners within India.
What Modi Government did and propose to do ?
In 2015 and 2016, the central government issued two notifications exempting certain groups of illegal migrants from provisions of the 1946 and the 1920 Acts.2 These groups are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014.2 This implies that these groups of illegal migrants will not be deported or imprisoned for being in India without valid documents.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016 to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. It seeks to make illegal migrants belonging to the same six religions and three countries eligible for citizenship.
This implies that illegal migrants from these countries who are Muslims, other minorities who do not belong to the above groups (eg. Jews), or Atheists who do not identify with a religious group will not be eligible for citizenship.
In short this bill says Muslims are not welcome to India, even if they are persecuted in their country. This bill forbids giving citizenship to people like the persecuted Bangladeshi athiest author Taslima Nasreen who is residing in exile in India. So this bill gives differential treatment to illegal migrants on the basis of religion. This is a clear violation Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to equality.
Surprisingly this bill did not face much protests from the civil society. Media played a big part in this by not highlighting the discriminatory provisions of the bill.
Hopefully the bill may face protests in the Parliament when it is discussed and will not be approved.
Credit: PRS Legilsative Research