Explained! Why Modi govt is amending Citizenship Act; how it will benefit minorities in Pak, Bangladesh

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Updated: Dec 09, 2019 10:40 PM

Indian Citizenship Act 1955: The bill is aimed at relaxing the criteria for grant of citizenship to the members of minority communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Citizenship Amendment Bill, Citizenship Bill in Lok Sabha, amit shahHome Minister Amit Shah tabled the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Lok Sabha amid massive protest by the Opposition. (Photo/Lok Sabha TV)

The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019: Home Minister Amit Shah Monday moved Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 in the Lok Sabha amid stiff resistance from the opposition parties that called it unconstitutional as it excludes Muslims from three neighbouring countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh – where Islam is the state religion from taking advantage of relaxed rules for obtaining Indian citizenship. The government said the bill seeks to protect religious minorities like Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians from persecution in these countries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government hopes to achieve twin long-term objectives through this bill – relax the citizenship criteria for non-Muslim refugees coming to India from these countries and at the same time keep the option open to identify and deport illegal immigrants who have settled in India through the national register of citizens (NRC).

As a political party, the BJP has always advocated a strong policy against illegal immigrants coming to the country from neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. The party sees it as a threat to national security and calls for their identification and deportation. At the same time, the saffron party was always concerned about the safety and well-being of religious minorities in the countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh and advocated a soft approach and relaxed visa norms and citizenship rules for them.

This is rare for the government to refer to religious persecution of minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh in a bill tabled in Parliament, particularly laying the blame for this persecution to the existence of a state religion in these countries.

“The constitution of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh provide for a specific state religion. As a result, many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries,” said Union home minister Amit Shah in the bill.

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Stories of persecution of minorities in Pakistan have often made headlines in Indian media. Reports about the abduction, conversion and forceful marriage of girls from minority communities have been reported in detail in the past. The story of a Hindu girl Rinkle Kumari, who was allegedly abducted and married to a Muslim was, widely reported in the country.

Similar stories about two other Hindu women – Lata and Asha – were also widely reported in India.

In addition to the reports about the abduction and forceful marriage of women from minority communities in Pakistan, other reports about ill-treatment and persecution of other religious minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka also made headlines in the country, forcing them to flee to India.

Reports about religious minorities like Hindus, Sikhs and Christians and their persecution continue to appear in the international media.

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For example, a suicide bomber targeted members of Sikh and Hindu communities in Jalalabad province of Afghanistan in July 2018. Of the total 18 people killed in the blast, the majority of the victims were from these two communities. Some of the seriously wounded people were later brought to India for treatment.

Similarly, in addition to Pakistan and Afghanistan, religious minorities faced persecution and attacks in neighbouring Bangladesh too, an issued referred by home minister Amit Shah in the bill when he said in the bill that minorities in these countries feared religious persecution in their daily lives.

“Some of them also have fears about such persecution in their day-to-day life where right to practice, profess and propagate their religion has been obstructed and restricted,” Amit Shah said in the bill.

Talking about the plight of these minority communities, Amit Shah said that under the existing provisions these people, who wanted to escape from these countries and wanted to settle in India, were treated as illegal migrants and were ineligible to apply for Indian citizenship under section 5 or section 6 of the Indian Citizenship Act.

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Through this bill, the Modi government seeks to protect these minorities from legal action pending against them for overstaying or illegally staying in the country. The pendency of legal proceedings against them will not bar them from applying for Indian citizenship once the bill is passed.

The government hopes that if the bill is cleared by both the house of Parliament then it will end the ordeal of a large number of settlers from these minority communities who have come to India in search of safety and better living conditions.

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