The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 is likely to be tabled in the Monsoon session of the Parliament this year. This Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to relax the eligibility requirements for Indian citizenship for migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The Constitution of India under Article 8 makes it possible for anyone whose parents or grand-parents were born in India to acquire Indian citizenship. Others can get Indian citizenship by naturalisation, for which that applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years. The Bill, if passed, will redefine migrants of the six religions and from the three countries as legal even if they do not have valid visas and also relax the 11 year residency requirement to six years.
Several people have already pointed out that the reference to specific religions in the Bill, with the exclusion of Islam, is contradictory to the claim of the "secular foundations" of the Indian State. Islam is conspicuously absent in the list of religions listed in the proposed amendment.
This is clear-cut discrimination on the basis of religion. The stated objective of the Bill is to assist illegal migrants belonging to the six religions who want to make India their homeland. But the question naturally arises – why only the illegal migrants belonging to these religions and not others who may be Muslims or some other religion or those who may not be religious at all?
Implicit justification for the Bill is that people belonging to these six religions constitute religious minorities in the above-mentioned three countries and therefore may be persecuted there. However, people do not get persecuted only because of their religion. Many are persecuted for their nationality, for demanding their rights and for many other reasons. So clearly the Bill is not intended to help those who want to take refuge in India because of persecution in these countries. If that was the intent, then there is no need to mention any religion in the Bill.
On the other hand, if the Bill is implicitly aimed to undo a historical injustice done at the time of partition in 1947, i.e., to help those who for some reason ended up in the wrong side, then again, mention of any religion is uncalled for. Many people of Muslim faith chose to remain in India and there may be others today in these three countries who may want to choose India as their homeland for uniting with their families or for any other valid reason.
In either of these cases, there is no justification for discrimination on the basis of religion.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 reveals the communal nature of the Indian state beneath its secular facade.