The question is whether it violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which says “the state will not deny any person equality… on the grounds of religion”.
New Delhi: The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, features provisions that will provide citizenship to illegal migrants belonging to six different communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The bill, if passed, could reduce the time needed to become a citizen of India from the current 11 years of continuous stay to just six.
The bill is a contentious piece of legislation, since it mentions nothing about Muslims or other religious minorities. The question is whether it violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which mentions that “the state will not deny any person equality before the law on the grounds of religion”. It only permits the law to differentiate between groups of people if the rationale for doing so serves a reasonable purpose.
The bill, in its current form, fails to mention the rationale for classifying illegal migrants on the basis of religion.
Who are illegal migrants?
The Citizenship Act, 1955, defines ‘illegal migrant’ as any foreigner who has entered into India without a valid passport or travel documents, or someone who has overstayed in the country beyond his/her visa period. These migrants may even be imprisoned or deported under the Foreigners Act, 1946, and the Passport Act, 1920.
Protests in Assam
The bill is facing severe opposition in Assam. NGOs such as Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and the All Assam Students’ Union are protesting against it as they believe it will have a negative impact on the cultural identity of the indigenous Assamese population.
The bill will also collide with the exercise of the National Register of Citizens, which is intended to try and identify Bangladeshis who migrated to India after 24 March, 1971.
Recently, Asom Gana Parishad leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta had asked the Centre to withdraw the bill, as it will make the indigenous people of Assam a minority in their own state. The AGP is an ally of the ruling BJP in Assam.
BJP’s support to Hindu refugees
The BJP, in its 2014 election manifesto, stated that India “shall remain home for persecuted Hindus and they will be welcome to seek refugee here”.
“We have a responsibility towards Hindus who are harassed and suffer in other countries. India is the only place for them… we will have to accommodate them here,” Narendra Modi had said during the 2014 election campaign.