New Indian Citizenship Bill Passed By Cabinet

Published on 07 Dec 2019 by Shivi

India’s cabinet has approved a draft law to make non-Muslims who have fled religious persecution in neighbouring countries automatically eligible for Indian citizenship. It is a big step in the ruling Bharatiya Janata party’s vision of transforming India from a secular democracy into an explicitly Hindu state.

Critics of the draft legislation, which must still be approved by parliament before becoming law, say that setting religious criteria for Indian citizenship would violate the constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.

The move comes six months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the BJP to a landslide re-election victory, emboldening the party to pursue its long-held goal of ensuring that India’s Hindu majority have preferential treatment in public life.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, BJP’s rightwing parent organisation, believes that India, with its Hindu majority and links to Hindu mythology, should be a homeland for Hindus facing persecution in Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

“It enables them to push India towards an Israeli model of ethnic democracy, in which the members of the majority group have institutional pre-eminence over minorities,” said Gilles Verniers, a political science professor at Ashoka University. 

“It is contrary to the choice that India made when it became independent, which was to adopt a secularist model of citizenship which is not blind but which does not discriminate on the basis of religion,” he added.

The push to redefine the nature of Indian citizenship comes as the government gears up for a national drive to identify what the BJP claims is a large number of mainly Muslim illegal immigrants who have slipped into India from neighbouring Bangladesh. 

New Delhi plans to create a national register of citizens, for which all of India’s 1.3bn residents will be required to prove their direct descent Indian residence in the first decades after independence. This requirement is likely to create problems in a country with notoriously shoddy records and a largely illiterate population. 

In theory, all those without sufficient records to prove they are eligible for citizenship by descent will be deemed illegal immigrants and could face deportation or long-term detention. 

Amit Shah, the home minister, pledged this week that all illegal immigrants — whom he has described as “termites” and “infiltrators” — will be deported before India’s next parliamentary elections in 2024, though analysts say large-scale deportations would prove nearly impossible to organise.

If the new draft citizenship rules are adopted, Hindus — and followers of other Indic religions such as Sikhism and Buddhism — will be shielded from these consequences, and offered an alternative path to legal residency in India

By contrast members of India’s Muslim minority, which accounts for 14 per cent of the population, could face statelessness and disenfranchisement if they fail to muster the requisite paperwork.

Authorities have already carried out a trial run in the tea-growing state of Assam, where 1.9m of the 33m residents were excluded from a state-level register of citizens. Those excluded were said to be divided half and half between Muslims and Hindus, who have been left in anxious legal limbo as they wait to appeal against the decision. Many excluded Hindus would find relief if the new law passes.

“The citizenship amendment bill enables to the government to rescue non-Muslims who would otherwise not quality for citizenship,” said Mr Verniers. “Hindus will have the ability to regain their citizenship and start afresh, while that possibility is explicitly denied to Muslims.”


Tags: Constitutional Matter 

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