Citizenship Bill Will Create More Problems Than it Might Solve
The proposed “Citizenship (Amendment) Bill” is yet another blatant anti-Muslim legislation by the BJP government in India. The bill proposes to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 so as to enable Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, and Parsi illegal migrants from three neighbouring countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan) to become eligible for citizenship of India. In other words, the bill intends to provide citizenship of India to all illegal migrants from the three mentioned countries except Muslims.
The lacunae in the proposed bill is evident: The first major lacuna in the proposed bill is that it makes religion the ground for providing or denying citizenship, which is a violation of the Constitution.
Second, it suggests that only six mentioned communities faced persecution in three neighbouring countries, a claim which cannot be established empirically. The question arises as to what will happen to Ahmadiyyas in India who have certainly faced persecution in Pakistan and other Muslim countries and many of them might be settled here in India.
Thirdly, it assumes that many people did not face persecution in three neighbouring countries because they were Muslims. It suggests as if the ground for discrimination and persecution is only religion. It ignores the empirically established fact that besides religion — caste, race, language, culture, etc can also be grounds for persecution. The persecution of Bengali-speaking Muslims and the subsequent creation of Bangladesh with the active support of India is a pointer to the fact.
Moreover, the sexual minorities (LGBTQs) can also face persecution due to their sexual inclinations and there may be people (migrants) belonging to these inclinations who felt/feel suffocated under the religious traditions they were brought up with. Eventually, they refuse/refused to identify themselves with any religion whatsoever and thus they may prefer not to be affiliated to any religion or faith. Besides, for instance, there may be agnostics, atheists, and people from tribal cultures and not professing any mentioned religion.
As the proposed bill does not address these problematic issues satisfactorily, it is bound to fall flat, if not in Parliament where the ruling side has a huge majority, then of course in the Supreme Court of India.
Will lead to social tensions and increased inter-communal violence: The Bill, if passed, will create spaces for “citizenship vigilantism” like “cow vigilantism” and will certainly lead to the mushrooming of “citizenship vigilante groups”. It will increase the incidence of lynching as many potential suspects (read: Muslims) will face the wrath of organised gangs of citizenship vigilante groups.
India is a country of continental size, with 1.37 billion people. In a country like India, this kind of exercise is very difficult. The bill, if it becomes law, will be followed by the preparation of a National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is quite a cumbersome process. The experience of Assam should be an eye-opener for policymakers. Under the proposed bill, citizenship is reduced to pieces of paper. Millions of landless people in India might not have any document required for the registration of names in the NRC. Marginalised people who are under tremendous stress and anxiety due to loss of jobs and problems related to marginalisation may go for extreme actions like suicide (as is happening in Assam), making India a country of mass suicides.
International Implications: The three mentioned countries, first of all, will deny the charge that people of the six mentioned religions were persecuted and it will be difficult to prove otherwise. It will definitely make the lives of 1.7 million Hindus in Bangladesh difficult as there may be a Muslim backlash over there. Moreover, people from the six religious communities who are living in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will face problems.
It can also create problems for a robust Indian diaspora living in several other Muslim majority countries.
The matter of the “politically created non-citizens” will become an international issue. If the number of such non-citizens or infiltrators or illegal migrants reaches 20 million or more, as the government claims, it will become a major international issue. The countries of their perceived origin shall be asked to take them back, which will not be accepted by those countries at all. From the OIC to the UN to the EU and at all international fora, the matter of these so-called non-citizens will be discussed. It is a fact that India cannot send them back and the countries of their perceived origin will not take them back. Under such circumstances, what will be the fate of those people? Either they will be kept in detention centres, which will be impossible, or they will be stripped of their citizenship and thereby also of their voting rights, which is perhaps the main objective of this otherwise futile exercise. In any case, the bill has the potential to create more problems than it aims to resolve.
The proposed bill is not in the national interest of India. Besides creating a fertile breeding ground for terrorism and extremism, it will tarnish the reputation of India as a secular and democratic republic.
Published: 28 November 2019