Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016; A Ticking Time Bomb for Assam

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AGP activists, led by former Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, take out a rally in Guwahati on May 11, 2018 against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. — PTI

This bill has the potential to lead to a sharp division and creation of mistrust between linguistic groups afresh which we overcame with great difficulty.

TAHMINA LASKAR

TO REFER to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 as a disastrous approach to resolve issues around illegal immigration would not be an exaggeration at all.

Briefly, the bill proposes to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship. So basically the bill conditionally allows persons who would otherwise be illegal immigrants to have regular citizenship on the basis of their religious identity. The bill is constitutionally weak and malicious in its intent.

The Bill provides that illegal migrants belonging to specified minority communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan will not be treated as illegal migrants under the Act, making them eligible for Indian citizenship viz. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians. This implies that illegal migrants from these countries who are Muslims, other minorities who do not belong to the above groups (eg. Jews, Ahmadiyas, Shias, Rohingiyas etc.) or Atheists ,who do not identify with a religious group, will not be eligible for citizenship.  Thus it provides differential treatment to illegal migrants on the basis of their religion.

Article 14 guarantees equality to all persons, citizens and foreigners. It only permits laws to differentiate between groups of people if the rationale for doing so serves a reasonable purpose. The statement of objects and reasons of the bill does not explain the rationale behind differentiating between illegal migrants on the basis of the religion they belong to.

This bill if passed would prove to be a ticking time bomb for Assam. Not only the object and reasons cited and the logic behind it is constitutionally weak but also the covert intentions of demonizing a certain section of people (namely Muslims) given the present crisis of illegal immigration that is cited so often for political gains is not only scary but if brought to fruition would prove to be catastrophic.

This bill has the potential to lead to a sharp division and creation of mistrust between linguistic groups afresh which we overcame with great difficulty. Whoever has lived in Assam during the time of ULFA militancy would never in their sane minds want the episode to be repeated. The linguistic minority which is already comprising of religious minority (vis a vis India) and who are genuine citizens will bear the brunt the most.

The current controversy around ISIS flags found in Nalbari in Assam and such other attempts on polarisation is proof enough that all is not kosher with this bill and the push behind it. With strong opposition from several quarters one can only hope that this bill which is fresh hell and a Pandora’s box, better lapses and sanity prevails.

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All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs and comments by readers are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Caravan

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