It is believed that the religious persecution of minorities such as Hindus, Sikhs and Christians has been a serious and widespread problem in Pakistan. Globally, the forced conversions of the minorities and discrimination on minorities in Pakistan have been condemned. In this regard, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads the Indian government, had promised in previous election manifestos to offer Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from neighboring countries. As a result, The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 was passed by the Parliament of India on 11 December 2019. It amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 by providing a path to Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities fleeing persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. For the first time, religion had been used as a criterion for citizenship under Indian law.
Under the 2019 amendment, migrants who had entered India by 31 December 2014, and had suffered “religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” in their country of origin were made eligible for citizenship. The amendment also relaxed the residence requirement for naturalization of these migrants from eleven years to five.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019 amended the Citizenship Act, 1955, by inserting the following provisos in section 2, sub-section (1), after clause (b):
Provided that persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any order made there under, shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of that Act;
A new section, 6B, was inserted, providing further that:
on and from the date of commencement of the [Act], any person referred to in the first proviso shall be eligible to apply for naturalisation and any proceeding pending against such person in respect of illegal migration or citizenship shall stand abated on conferment of citizenship to him.
The “exempted” classes of persons were previously defined in the Foreigners (Amendment) Order, 2015, (issued under the Foreigners Act, 1946):
3A. Exemption of certain class of foreigners. – (1) Persons belonging to minority communities in Bangladesh and Pakistan, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who were compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution and entered into India on or before the 31st December, 2014.
(a) without valid documents including passport or other travel documents and who have been exempted under rule 4 from the provisions of rule 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Rules, 1950 […]; or
(b) with valid documents including passport or other travel document and the validity of any of such documents has expired, are hereby granted exemption from the application of provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946, and the orders made thereunder in respect of their stay in India without such documents or after the expiry of those documents, as the case may be […].
The Rules were further amended in 2016 by adding Afghanistan to the list of countries.
The amendment has been widely criticised nationally and internationally as discriminating on the basis of religion, in particular for excluding Muslims. There were concerns that the bill would be used, along with the National Register of Citizens, to render 1.9 million Muslim immigrants stateless. There were also criticisms on the exclusion of persecuted religious minorities from other regions such as Tibet, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
However, the Indian government says that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are Muslim-majority countries where Islam has been declared as the official state religion through constitutional amendments in recent decades, and therefore Muslims in these Islamic countries are unlikely to face religious persecution and cannot be treated as persecuted minorities.
Assam and other northeastern states have seen violent demonstrations against the bill over fears of illegal immigrants being naturalized under these provisions, shall impact the local culture and society. Universities across the country saw huge protests by students.
The Indian government passed the Citizenship Act in 1955. This act and its subsequent amendments prohibited illegal migrants from obtaining Indian citizenship. The act defined illegal migrants as citizens of other countries who entered India without valid travel documents, or who remained in the country beyond the period permitted by their travel documents. It also allowed for these individuals to be deported or jailed
Exclusion of Muslims
Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are not offered citizenship under the new Act. The Amendment limits itself to the Muslim-majority neighbours of India and, secondly, takes no cognizance of the persecuted Muslims of those countries, such as Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan and the Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Exclusion of non-Muslim countries
The Act does not include migrants from non-Muslim countries fleeing persecution to India, for example, Hindu refugees from Sri Lanka. The Act does not provide relief to Tibetan Buddhist refugees from China. They came to India in the 1950s and 1960s. They are staying as refugees over the decades.
The Act does not address Hindu and Buddhist refugees from Nepal and Bhutan. There are thousands of Buddhist and Hindu refugees from Bhutan living in refugee camps in Nepal who are unable to gain citizenship of neither Bhutan nor Nepal nor India. The Act also did not address about the minority Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar who are currently in India.
All about the National Register of Citizens
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a register of all Indian citizens. It includes demographic information about all those individuals who qualify as citizens of India as per the Citizenship Act, 1955. The register was first prepared after the 1951 Census of India and since then it has not been updated until recently. At present, only Assam has such a register.
Now, BJP has proposed that the implementation of NRC across India. It effectively suggests bringing in a legislation that will enable the government to identify infiltrators who have been living in India illegally, detain them and deport them to where they came from. As per the bill, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhist, Jains and Parsis coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh won’t be affected, if they claim they have arrived India after fleeing religious persecution.
Who is a citizen of India?
As per the Citizenship Act, 1955, every person born in India:
(a) on or after the 26th day of January 1950, but before the 1st day of July 1987;
(b) on or after the 1st day of July 1987, but before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 and either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of his birth;
(c) on or after the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003, where-
(i) both of his parents are citizens of India; or
(ii) one of whose parents is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of his birth, shall be a citizen of India by birth.
Who may be affected?
If a nationwide NRC shall be implemented, any illegal immigrant from other than Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, will be affected. And as for those three nations, people coming from there who belong to the Muslim community will also be affected as they are not included in the Citizenship Amendment Act.
The affected will be detained and taken to large detention centres, like in Assam. After that, the Ministry of External Affairs will get in touch with the concerned nations. If the details of the detained are matched and accepted by the concerned nations, deportations will follow.