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

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Interrogating the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill

The CAB opens up multiple fault lines that would undermine the diverse basis of Indian society.

 

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) has been passed by both the houses of Parliament. However, the bill militates against the basic structure of the Constitution and constitutes a serious threat to the social fabric of the country. This insidious legislation can be seen as a substantial building block for the majoritarian–exclusivist political project of Hindutva espoused by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is so because it seeks to suggest a discriminatory and arbitrary answer to the question of who an Indian is or what it means to be an Indian. The makers of the Constitution had envisioned a modern, enlightened answer to this question by adopting a civic-territorial conception of citizenship, whereas the current ruling party—consistent with its ideological forebearers—seeks to establish a parochial-identitarian conception. It is a cruel irony, but not a surprising one, that this objective is sought to be achieved under the garb of humanitarian concern for persecuted minorities. Interrogating these humanitarian claims of the ruling party would not only expose their hollowness, but also lay bare the real objectives that are inimical to our constitutional democracy.

The stated objective of the legislation, that is, to grant citizenship to those Hindu/Sikh/Christian/Parsi/Buddhist/Jain immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who have fled due to religious persecution, may seem perfectly anodyne and even laudable in itself. However, the omission/ exclusion of certain communities and neighbouring countries has raised several questions over its moral rationale and constitutional validity. The logic extended to justify the selection of the three neighbouring countries is that these are Islamic republics, or have Islam as a state religion and, therefore, the aforementioned six communities face the threat of religious persecution. However, by this logic, immigrants from Sri Lanka and Bhutan should also have been covered as these two countries too have a state religion, that is Buddhism. A large number of Tamil (Hindus as well as Muslims) immigrants from Sri Lanka are living in refugee camps in India, and there have been instances of minority communities being targeted by majoritarian forces in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, in a typically ahistorical and prejudiced manner, there is a flat refusal to acknowledge the persecution of Muslim minority sects like Ahmadiyyas and Hazaras in Pakistan and Afghanistan, respectively, as is the case with Rohingyas in Myanmar. Can the religious criteria to grant citizenship be a case of reasonable classification under Article 14 that upholds equality before law? More importantly, can a humanitarian impulse to stand with the persecuted be a selective or qualified one? Therein lies the most glaring—probably a deliberate—problem with the legislation, in that it does not define religious persecution nor is it based on any actual assessment of such persecution. If the concern for the persecuted were the objective, then the bill could have been addressed to a larger encompassing category of persecuted minorities or persecuted communities, instead of listing the communities that are included. Such an approach could also have dealt with the religious persecution of atheists/non-believers, as well as other forms of persecution. This could have been achieved either through administrative measures or ratifying relevant United Nations conventions and would not require a specific legislation.

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Updated On : 17th Dec, 2019

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