ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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National Register of Citizens and the Supreme Court

The imminent withdrawal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 by the union government in the face of strong protests by the residents of the north-eastern states is hardly a victory for constitutional principles or morality. It leaves “illegal migrants” in a continued limbo and heightens ethnic tensions in the North East. It also shifts the focus to the Supreme Court, which has taken upon itself the extremely delicate task of overseeing the preparation of the National Register of Citizens in Assam.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which has met with fierce resistance in the north-eastern states, especially Assam, is likely to be shelved by the union government and not introduced in this session of Parliament (Bhattacharya 2018). The bill declares Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians fleeing religious persecution from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan as not being illegal migrants for the purposes of the Citizenship Act, 1955, and also reduces the time required for such persons from these countries to obtain citizenship by naturalisation from 11 years to six years. The agitation, though, had nothing to do with the exclusion of Muslims from the provisions of this bill. Rather, it had to do with the grant of any exemption or benefit in favour of anyone from Bangladesh who might benefit from its provisions (Bhattacharya 2018).

Ostensibly, this bill is in fulfilment of the Bharatiya Janata Partys 2014 manifesto to grant citizenship to Hindus fleeing persecution in Muslim-majority countries neighbouring India (Garg 2016). That, it has been argued, is simply a cover for remaking the notion of Indian citizenship, from a secular conception to a religious one (Gauba and Singh 2017). This argument is not without merit. If the union government was genuine about sheltering vulnerable minorities (it has, after all, included Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists within the ambit of the law), it would have included Bahais, Shias, and Ahmadiyyas, among others, who face persecution in Sunni-Muslim-majority countries for being insufficiently or improperly Islamic. Even Tamil-speaking Hindus of Sri Lanka fleeing persecution at the hands of Sinhala Buddhists have been deemed unworthy of inclusion in the bill (Gauba and Singh 2017).

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Published On : 20th Jul, 2018

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