Concerns and questions over the Citizenship Act (Amendment) bill, 2016
The Citizenship Act (Amendment), 2016 bill has provoked me to deposit a few thoughts and concerns into the box of ongoing debate on it around the state. The bill simply has not much complicated perspectives in draft because the nation wants to facilitate any non-Muslim religious minorities migrated from three Muslim ruled countries but willing to stay in India as citizen. Those minority communities are believed to be migrated to India under compulsion due to various kinds of tortures and harassments there on the basis of religions. They will not be restricted from applying acquisition of Citizenship under the new law and granting of same to those will not be illegal, which is regarded so under the existing law. Though the term religious minority is used, the main purpose of the bill is to serve Hindu interest because hardly a microscopic Jains, Sikhs, Buddists, Christians, Parsis religious group of people will be found in those minority migrants group.
Nowhere, in the Constitution of India the word SECULARISM has properly been defined with its explicit meaning. Only in the 42nd Amendment of the constitution in 1976, the term Secular was inserted in the Preamble. As per the constitution of India, has or had no state religion, it is only the census record that shows Hinduism as the religion of majority. The simple as well as the ordinary description of the Secularism is like that – ‘every religion should be treated equal before the law, no one should be discriminated on the basis of religion.’ But never in the history of free India Hinduism was declared as state religion. That speaks that the tradition of secularism itself is so strong in this country that compelled thinkers of the nation to insert the term in the Preamble after 29 years of Independence.
The Constitution has made the Parliament such a Supreme Body that under Article 368 the Parliament can bring amendment to any provisions of this constitution in exercise of its constituent power. Further, Parliament can frame any regulation and Act as per the requirement of the provisions of the constitution as amended. The democracy is a number game, if number supports then you can change provisions created by previous Governments of different parties. But Parliament also is not empowered to change its basic tenets like Preamble in totality and so the meaning of the term 'Secular' being a preamble word, cannot be altered or affected by any new general law unless there is constitutional review. But at the same the term Secularism does not restrict any religion from expanding its influence and also flourishing on their way. Any religious group of people, if they become stronger than any other group; can rule any state or country. So Hindu flourished to rule India, whether it is Congress, BJP, SP, BSP, DMK, AIADMK or Communists parties rule, ultimately Hindus are the masters of the Country since the beginning.
Under the existing provision of the Citizenship Act, 1955, persons belonging to minority communities like Hindus, Parsis, Christians, Jains, Sikhs and Buddists, who have entered India from the Afganistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan without valid travel documents or validity of their documents got expired, are regarded as illegal. They are not eligible for applying for acquisition of Indian citizenship despite their willingness to stay in India. The new amendment will make them eligible for acquiring citizenship in India under that Act, even if their root of family were not of Indian origin. Under section – 5 of the Act their citizenship will be denied if they fail to produce proof of their being Indian origin. As per section 6, a person can acquire citizenship by way of naturalization where as the qualification, a person need to proof his or her residing in India for at least 12 years. Proposed Act will remove that hindrances, enable any non-Muslim resident to apply for citizenship if they are willing to stay in India. In the case of naturalization also the term of residing in India will be reduced to 7 years from the earlier 12 years. In Original provision of the constitution a person migrated to India, if he/she is born in India or his/her parents or any of his/her grandparents were born in India, could only acquire citizenship in this country.
That provision restricted migrants, who are victim of religious intolerances and violence, from acquiring citizenship by way of naturalization. As stated by the present Government, the number of such migrants is increasing day by day due to growth of religious bigotry in those Muslim ruled countries and Islamic fundamentalism is fuelling up such growth of intolerance. So the present BJP Government, as a compulsion of the situation as they interpret, felt it necessary to create new provision in the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955 and facilitate Hindu migrants within the circuit of constitution.
The Article - 11 of the constitution empowers the Parliament of India to regulate the right of citizenship by law. Accordingly provisions of acquisition of citizenship or termination of same will be as per provisions made by the Parliament. In exercise of that power the present BJP Government has brought said amendment bill in the Parliament. The amendment move welcomes specifically the Hindus, Buddists, Parsis, Christians, Sikh and Jain migrated to India from Afganistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan for acquiring Citizenship in India. Muslims have been pin-pointedly prevented from that right because, as said in various Medias, they have many other options to go in the world. That means India wants to say that Hindus living in Muslim countries, need not to tolerate anymore harassment or oppression for longer period, they can better run away from there and acquire Citizenship in India. It is like an open invitation to India to live and also clear indication that India is not going to shoulder anymore burdens for the Hindu’s security in those countries in days to come. It may be contradictable interpretation of the Act but not deniable possibility also so far the outlying implication of the same is concern in future. I cannot imagine immediately how disconcerting will be the proposed Act on our demographic pattern and how it will affect our social fabric. I also agree to the principle that In India Hindus should be the first priority of concern because they have no other alternative options to live except India. But once that bill is passed the provisions will remain as the permanent clause or section of the Act as well as the constitution unless it is reviewed or amended again by the Parliament. It may be too anticipatory question on my side that if tomorrow, taking advantage of this new Act, Hindus are more tortured and harassed deliberately by those countries and that results mass exodus, will it not be a reason of gradual process of Hindus disappearance in those countries? Do we desire total disappearance of Hindus in those countries? Hindus of different countries may be told to leave those countries on the pretext that India has such generous provision to welcome migrated or deported Hindu population. Today it may be felt most hypothetical and question of negative notion but arising of such situation will also not be totally figment of imagination if certain cares are not taken while the Act is passed. Today it is the case of single individual or family that they flee those countries and come to India for alternative shelter. But in days to come it may turn to another form of large scale migration or population transfer too from various nations to India and I can believe that this will not be a desired result of this proposed amendment of the Act. Giving shelter to any foreigners can be a humanitarian approach only and Government can do it by having ‘Government resolution’ only for particular period. Making an Act will set precedence for any new Governments of different ideologies to come to make such Act to welcome other populations too in future. Indian Citizenship Act, 1955 treats all foreigners equally as illegal and does not divide on the line of religion. For the greater interest of unity and integrity of the nation such division of Indian society is also not at all advisable for any Government.
Despite all such concerns also if the rehabilitation of those migrants become so obligatory for the nation then that may be peaceful if their settlement is done in those states or places only where migrants have affinity and bonding with culture and religion of local populous. The nation might be hearing the sound of discontentment and oppositions to the proposed Act from NE region. There is a popular voice that the region cannot accept anymore new population from any other countries who might have entered India after 1971. In such case Government will have to spell out the actual number of such migrants, who have entered India before 1971 and projected migrants entered after that. The region has already witnessed several ant-migrants movement and militant upsurge against foreigners also in the recent past and therefore, if that Act comes into force and it is made automatically applicable in the NE region, then I am sure that it will draw wide spread reactions immediately. The NE regions is crying for withdrawal of that bill and deal the issue of rehabilitation of migrants on the humanitarian ground only granting them Refugee status. That will be also the best way to avoid unnecessary haziness in clarification of complicated constitutional aspects.
As the Article - 369 of the constitution provides ‘Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions' to the Parliament to make certain laws. Under that provision many special laws have been enacted for states in different manner. If the proposed amendment has become so imperative and obligatory for the Centre then new Act will have to create extra special condition in the provision that will provide power to the State Governments for ratification of any decision or Act of the centre with regard to rehabilitation of such migrants in the North Eastern States area, if when such situation arises. Further NE region has significant amount of Tribal Area or protected area in each and every states, where land laws are strictly protective for the tribal only. Such protective laws should specially be kept out of the ambit of the new law aiming at to uphold the constitutional responsibility of protecting indigenous tribal people.
Urkhao Gwra Brahma
( Veteran politician Urkhao Gwra Brahma is a former member of the Rajya Sabha. A poet, columnist and political commentator, Brahma is also recepient of the Sahitya Akademi award for his contributions to Bodo literature. The views expressed are the author's own.)