New Delhi: For the past week, protests — some violent, some peaceful — have broken out across the country over the amended citizenship law that was passed by Parliament last week.
The agitation that began in Assam, other parts of the Northeast and West Bengal soon spread to several university campuses — including Jamia Millia, AMU, Jadavpur University, TISS, IIT-Bombay and IIT-Madras.
On Thursday, many parts of Delhi saw an internet shutdown as well as massive traffic restrictions and diversions in view of two scheduled protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. At least 19 Metro stations were closed in the national capital.
As the demonstrations continue in several cities including Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, ThePrint looks at what the issue is and how the new amendment changes the nature of the original Act.
What is the original citizenship amendment law and how is citizenship granted in India?
The nationality law of India is primarily based on citizenship by right of blood (jus sanguinis) and not a citizenship by right of birth within a territory (jus soli). Article 5 to Article 11 of the Indian Constitution governs Indian citizenship and the law in regard to this is the Citizenship Act of 1955.
The 1955 Act was amended six times — 1986, 1992, 2003, 2005, 2015 and 2019. While the 2003 amendment mandated the government to have a National Register of Citizens, the latest one seeks to ease the citizenship process for the persecuted minorities — Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian — of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
What is the basic amendment that the 2019 Act brings to 1955 Act?
Non-Muslim immigrants from India’s three Muslim-majority neighbours — Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan — will be granted Indian citizenship, provided they entered India before 31 December 2014.
The Act does not explicitly state that Muslims are barred, however, the fact that it spells out the religious communities that will benefit from the amendment makes it clear that Muslims have been kept out.
Who will benefit from the amendment?
People from the explicitly stated six religions will be granted citizenship if they arrived in India before December 31 2014. Bluntly put, if people from these religious communities hailing from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan apply for citizenship, they will not be deported for not having documents, and will be granted citizenship.
The 1955 Act required a person applying for citizenship to have resided in India for 11 of the previous 14 years. The 2019 amendment relaxes this requirement from 11 years to five years for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from the three nations.
Who will be excluded?
The 2019 amendment Act does not apply to tribal areas of Tripura, Mizoram, Assam and Meghalaya because of being included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
Also, areas that fall under the Inner Line Permit notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, will also be outside the Act’s purview. This keeps almost entire Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland out of the ambit of the Act.
Next, according to the 2019 Act, a foreigner may register as an OCI under the 1955 Act if they are of Indian origin (e.g., a former citizen of India or their descendants) or the spouse of a person of Indian origin.
The new Act also entitles the OCI cardholders to benefits such as the right to travel to India and to work and study in the country. However, the new law permits the cancellation of OCI registration if the person has violated any law notified by the central government.
How is 2019 citizenship law linked to NRC?
The NRC was updated in Assam recently — as part of a long-standing demand to identify those who have immigrated illegally, especially from Bangladesh, with 19 lakh people being excluded.
There is no overt connection between the two but they do feed into each other. In Assam’s context, the citizenship law means that of those left out of NRC, the Hindus will automatically get citizenship, leaving the Muslims out to take recourse to legal provisions.
This goes against the very basis of Assam’s anti-outsider movement and sentiment, that was religion-agnostic, and hence, the state has been up in arms.
In India’s context, Home Minister Shah’s constant pan-India NRC rhetoric has meant that this government has hyphenated it with the citizenship law, implying any citizenship determining process will have religious undertones.
Why are Indian Muslims angry with the law?
To answer it simply, the 2019 amendment Act is itself not a threat to the Muslim citizens of India. However, the real devil is in the details.
Before the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Home Minister Amit Shah made it clear that there will be a national NRC, similar to that of Assam. So, in this case, after the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, when NRC is carried out, it is a given that there will be mass exclusions due to the process demanding papers establishing lineage, etc.
Although, the exclusions are bound to include everyone from Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis to Muslims, all others barring Muslims will be saved by the 2019 citizenship law as it seeks to provide citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians of the neighbouring nations.
But Muslims, having no country to accept them and India having no provisions to grant them citizenship, could inevitably end up in detention camps.