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Citizen Amendment Bill & its Controversies.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

/ by प्रतीक कुमार
The government of India has re-introduced the Citizenship Amendment Bill, and protests have erupted again. It seeks to bestow Indian nationality upon non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The government argues that Muslims can seek refuge in Islamic nations. CAB won't apply to areas under the sixth schedule of the Constitution or states with Inner-Line Permit. Politically, the bill makes sense. Fundamentally, it is communal. Meanwhile, a struggling economy awaits attention. India can use its resources and leaders better

What is dividing India now?
The Narendra Modi-led government on Dec. 9 tabled the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the lower house (Lok Sabha) of Parliament amidst an uproar from Opposition parties who called it anti-minority and contrary to the spirit of the Constitution.

The ruling NDA coalition, which has a brute majority in Lok Sabha, managed to get the bill passed in the Lok Sabha with 311 in favour and 80 against. The Bill is likely to be taken up in the Rajya Sabha on Dec. 13. Like its previous edition, it is bound to get stuck in the upper house though this time the Modi government appears to be more prepared.

In his reply to over six-hour-long debate on the Bill, Union Home Minister Amit Shah insisted that the proposed law does not discriminate against Indian Muslims but is aimed at protecting the persecuted minorities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. He said the Bill was a result of the failure of the 1950 Nehru-Liaquat pact. The home minister said there is a difference between illegal immigrants and refugees. The bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016, but the Modi government in its first term could not get the Bill passed in Rajya Sabha and it lapsed with the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha.

Members of the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Left parties and others disputed this, terming it divisive and that it was a ‘trap’ and inextricably linked to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise, which has ‘failed’ in Assam. Shah said there was no linkage, and only those indulging in “vote bank politics” were thinking of it as a trap. He accused “some parties” of creating an “atmosphere of fear”“We are very clear that we will carry out the NRC. This is not a ‘background’ for it, our manifesto is the background,” Shah said.

Opposition members said the Bill violated the Constitution, especially equality before law enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution that grants the right to equality. The Congress resolved to move the Supreme Court once Parliament passes the Bill. Trinamool’s Abhishek Banerjee said the West Bengal government would not allow NRC in the state.

Shah disagreed that it was uncosntitutional, pointing out that the Bill would grant citizenship to “persecuted minorities” in theocratic states of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. He said Muslims were not covered under the Bill since they were not a minority in these three countries. Shah sought to assure the minorities that the government was committed to give security and equal rights to all citizens.

What is the Nehru-Liaquat pact Shah referred to?
Liaquat Ali Khan was the Prime Minister of Pakistan when he and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru signed an agreement in Delhi in 1950. The Delhi Pact is more commonly called the Nehru-Liaquat pact.

The agreement was signed in the backdrop of large-scale migration of people belonging to minority communities between the two countries in the wake of attacks by the majority communities in their respective territories. The immediate concern was the exodus of Hindus from East Pakistan (which later sought Independence as Bangladesh) and Muslims from West Bengal.
India and Pakistan already had strained their relation with Pakistan’s intrusion in Jammu and Kashmir. The economic ties had been severed between India and Pakistan by December 1949. The exodus of minority Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists in Pakistan, and Muslims in India led to a growing refugee crisis.

Nehru and Liaquat opened channel of communication and reached an agreement in April 1950. Under the Nehru-Liaquat pact refugees were allowed to return unmolested to sell their property abducted women and looted property were to be returned forced conversions were to be unrecognized minority rights were confirmed

As a result, minority commissions were established in the two countries to implement these terms of Nehru-Liaquat pact. This measure led to restoration of confidence, at least in parts.

This was the same Nehru-Liaquat pact over which Shyama Prasad Mookerjee quit as industry minister from Nehru’s cabinet just two days ahead of the signing of the Delhi Pact. Mookerjee later formed the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the precursor of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

However, whether Nehru-Liaquat pact achieved its stated objectives has remained debatable. The exodus of Hindus from then East Pakistan to West Bengal in India continued for months after the Nehru-Liaquat pact was signed.

Why is the Bill controversial?
The CAB ring-fences Muslim identity by implicitly declaring India as the natural homeland of all other religious communities. Critics of the Bill say it seeks to legally establish Muslims as second-class citizens of India by providing preferential treatment to other groups. This violates the Constitution’s Article 14, the fundamental right to equality to all persons. This basic structure of the Constitution, of which secularism is an integral part, cannot be reshaped by any Parliament. The manner in which the law has been drafted – without acknowledging the mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar for example – makes it clear that it is aimed squarely at keeping out Muslims.

The Home Minister is claiming that Congress partitioned India on religious grounds, but then did not do enough to provide a refuge for non-Muslims in Pakistan who were not safe despite a pact between the two countries. This is his explanation for why his bill singles out Muslims, and allows every community to illegally enter India and still be eligible for citizenship. The problem here is that it presumes India was created specifically for non-Muslims, just as Pakistan wanted to be an Islamic state.

The north-eastern states are against the Bill as they believe it will lead to a greater influx of illegal migrants.
Seeing the opposition to the Bill in the region, the BJP-led government has decided to exempt parts of the region which are under the sixth schedule of the Constitution – which deals with autonomous tribal-dominated regions in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. The bill will also not apply to states that have the inner-line permit regime (Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram). Shah even declared in the Lok Sabha that the Inner Line Permit system would be extended to Manipur.

The bill was redrafted by the Centre following widespread objection by groups in the North East that fear that once the Bill is passed, local populations defined as indigenous to the region will be culturally and physically swamped by migrants. After a series of consultations with these groups, Shah’s ministry tweaked the bill: in the revised draft, the changes to India’s citizenship law will not be applicable to regions in the North East protected by the Inner Line Permit and Sixth Schedule provisions. Both regimes aim to protect the way of life of tribal communities.

NoteInner Line Permit (ILP) is an official travel document issued by the Government of India to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period. It is obligatory for Indian citizens from outside those states to obtain a permit for entering into the protected state. Interestingly, the Inner Line Permit, which flows from the Bengal Eastern Frontier 

Regulation, was put in place in 1873 by the colonial government. It was not meant to protect vulnerable tribal communities but to exclude them. The colonial administration drew the Inner Line primarily to insulate the plains and valleys of the North East, replete with commercial potential, from the hills inhabited by tribes whom the British deemed ungovernable and “savage”. The Inner Line supposed to discourage the hill tribes from entering these commercial spaces. Conversely, no “British subject or foreigner” could also cross the inner line without permission. Hill communities made periodic incursions into tea gardens and other commercial areas within the inner line and pillaged them as an act of defiance.

When can a refugee become an Indian citizen?
The Bill seeks to amend the definition of illegal immigrant for Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have lived in India without documentation. They will be granted fast-track Indian citizenship in six years. So far, 12 years of residence has been the standard eligibility requirement for naturalisation.

The proposed legislation applies to those who were “forced or compelled to seek shelter in India due to persecution on the ground of religion”. It aims to protect such people from proceedings of illegal migration. The cut-off date for citizenship is December 31, 2014, which means the applicant should have entered India on or before that date.

Indian citizenship, under the present law, is given either to those born in India or if they have resided in the country for a minimum of 11 years. The Bill also proposes to incorporate a sub-section (d) to Section 7, providing for cancellation of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) registration where the OCI card-holder has violated any provision of the Citizenship Act or any other law in force.

Under the 1955 Act, an OCI cardholder’s registration may be cancelled if he violates a law for which he is: (i) sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more, and (ii) within five years of his OCI registration. The Bill adds another ground for cancelling OCI registration, which is violation of any law of the country by an OCI. This means that even offences with: (i) lesser penalties, or (ii) which have been committed after five years of registration could be covered under the Bill. This makes the earlier provision redundant. This provision also grants the central government wide discretion to cancel OCI registration for a range of violations. This will include serious offences like murder, as well as minor offences like violation of a traffic law (such as jumping a red light).

The government says these minority groups have come to India after escaping persecution in Muslim-majority nations. However, the logic is not consistent – the bill does not protect all religious minorities, nor does it apply to all neighbours. The Ahmedia Muslim sect and even Shias face discrimination in PakistanRohingya Muslims and Hindus face persecution in neighbouring Burma, and Hindu and so do Christian Tamils in neighbouring Sri Lanka. The government responds that Muslims can seek refuge in Islamic nations, but has not answered the other questions.

Where is this Bill different from the NRC?
The National Register of Citizens (NRC), the process of which has been recently completed in Assam, looks to remove illegal immigrants from India.

According to NRC, a person, to be eligible to be a citizen, would have to prove that either they or their ancestors were in India on or before March 24, 1971, the eve of the Bangladesh War. The war of liberation had begun in Bangladesh the next day, which sent thousands of refugees to India. The Centre would be extending the NRC process to the rest of India.

The NRC has nothing to do with religion, whereas, the CAB is based on some faiths. Some groups in the state of Assam feel that CAB could nullify the 1985 Assam Accord, which had set March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of illegal refugees. While the NRC was aimed at deportation of illegal immigrants irrespective of their religions, the CAB is likely to benefit non-Muslim migrants, according to some activists.

The BJP has claimed that the CAB will assist those left out of the final NRC. However, experts say that the CAB, which provides citizenship to minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, cannot help the Gorkhas, Scheduled Tribes, Bhojpuri, Koch Rajbongshi and Tea Tribes as they cannot claim to have migrated from these nations. The only people who would benefit from the CAB are the Hindus who were excluded from the NRC. The government has promised them that they won’t be asked to leave India (it is not clear where any non-citizen can be sent to anyway – Bangladesh won’t accept them, it has made clear on many occasions).

From the government’s point of view, the NRC was a colossal failure in Assam since, contrary to expectations, more than 60% of the 2 million who couldn’t prove their citizenship were Hindus; and that is why the process is to be repeated though it is not clear how, the second time around, the result will be materially different. What is worrying is the potential damage the NRC will cause and whether this will deteriorate into a communal problem particularly if there is a fear — the CAB does a lot to trigger that fear — that Muslim immigrants can be deported or put in detention camps.

At the end of it, this is about who in India have got the right to claim the fundamental rights.

Whose exclusion is the most mysterious?
“Muslim population in India has increased from 9.8 percent in 1951 to 14.8 percent in 2011 while the Hindu population has decreased from 84 percent in 1951 to 79 percent in 2011,” said Amit Shah during the long parliament session that debated the controversial bill. “Whereas, the minority population in Pakistan has decreased from 23 percent in 1947 to 3.7 percent in 2011. Similarly, the minority population in Bangladesh has decreased from 22 percent in 1947 to 7 percent in 2011,” assuring everyone that obviously the Modi government would not exclude citizens based on their religions.

Even if the intent of the Bill is to create a natural homeland for Hindus across the world, it is not clear why Sri Lanka doesn’t feature in the list of source (‘persecuting’) nations. The Centre has been asked to explain why Sri Lanka’s Tamil population, who are predominantly Hindu, and who have faced persecution from the Sinhala majoritarian forces in the island nation, are excluded from the Bill.

After all, it is in Sri Lanka that the highest proportion (12.6%) of Hindus live, outside India. And it is in Sri Lanka that maximum Hindus have been killed after 1971 — the year Bangladesh came into being. Yet, while the island nation is excluded in the Citizenship Amendment Bill, India’s eastern neighbour figures in it. To allow refugees from Sri Lanka would unleash a huge influx, which most certainly the government doesn’t want to deal with. It is clear the Bill is symbolic even in its purported intention and is aimed at the domestic audience.

Right from 4 February 1948 - the day Sri Lanka became independent - Tamils have been denied their rights in the island nation. Further, a quarter-century long civil war raged in Sri Lanka between 1983 and 2009. It claimed between 150,000 and 200,000 Tamil (as well as Sinhala) lives, and a huge number of them were of Tamil origin. Even in the late 1980s, hundreds of Tamils died in clashes between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres and the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), which also suffered heavy casualties.

The BJP is also – in all likelihood - afraid of offending people in India’s only Tamil-majority state. Tamil Nadu has so far resisted the ruling party’s Hindutva outlook. The BJP has hardly any base in the state. It was routed in the Lok Sabha poll held earlier this year. Even its alliance partner, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, (whose position on the LTTE has differed from the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham or DMK stance) could win only one seat there. The BJP would be unlikely to risk further isolation in the south.

Therefore, domestic policy has trumped the Centre’s avowed ambition to provide a safe refuge for Hindus or other non-Muslims with “roots” in India. This political compulsion is why the government would refrain from including Sri Lanka in the Citizenship Bill, while it has included Afghanistan, a country with which India does not even share a border. Tamil Hindu refugees in India will not be getting Indian citizenship. Either they are not persecuted enough or they are not Hindu enough.

How strong is India’s secular fabric?
At least 43 workers, most of them Muslims, died in the terrible Anaj Mandi fire. Many transcripts of the last phone calls made by the stuck workers have emerged. Who would you call when you are breathing your last?

Their heart-wrenching last telephonic conversation left many in tears - with moist eyes, 33-year-old Monu Aggarwal said that the call from his childhood friend Musharraf Ali, before he was killed in the Anaj Mandi blaze, was recorded "by chance".

The telephonic conversation was later aired on television news channels and shared widely on social media websites. As he awaited certain death surrounded by toxic smoke, Musharraf (whom Monu addressed as Musa) asked his friend Monu to take care of his family - his elderly mother, wife and two children aged below eight - after his death. On Dec. 9, it was Aggarwal who accompanied Ali's mother to Delhi to claim his body.

This is the transcript of the heart breaking call“Brother, I am dying now.” “What” “Yes, I am about to be finished. The fire is about to reach here.” “You please come to Karol Bagh” “Where” “You know Gulzar – take the number from him”. “I am in a room right now. Caught in a fire. There is no way out.” “Why don’t you run?” “No Monu, there is no way out”. [Now Musharraf begins to get emotional] “My story gets over today. Please take care of my family.” “Brother…” (Monu is not sure what to say) “Now I only have you to rely upon Monu”“I am unable to breathe now Monu”“How did the fire start?” “I don’t know.” “There are many more here.” “Did you call fire brigade?” “Nothing can happen now.”

It’s the last part that is the most heart-breaking. What would you think of right before you die? Musha asked Monu to make sure a certain Imamuddin receives the 5,000 rupees (about $70) that perhaps Musha had borrowed earlier. Even as he is losing breath, Musha says, “Please make sure Imamuddin gets his 5,000”“Who?” “Imamuddin” “Don’t take any tension. I will make it happen.” “Don’t stop the money, brother” (Musha is now struggling to speak). “No no, I won’t” “Why are you so anxious. Just get alright. Nothing will happen to you”. “Oh….” (Musha is unable to speak) “Don’t worry”, says Monu. “I am over, Monu”. “Musha, Musha…” “Fire truck didn’t arrive?” “No” “Brother, you will remain alive” “Unable to breathe, friend”…..

The two friends belonged to Uttar Pradesh's Bijnor district. "Our houses are in the same lane. We would talk for hours, discuss everything under the sun. We stood by each other through thick and thin," he said. "Musharraf was more than my brother. Religion never came between us. On Eid, his family would host me. On Diwali, I would do the same," he recalled. "His children are my children now. I did not get married because of personal reasons. Maybe god kept me unmarried because he knew these children would need me," he said, trying to hold back tears.

Monu said he lost his father when he was just eight years old and knows the pain of children who do not have a father. "Ali was born after his mother suffered nine miscarriages. He was their only son. His father died six months ago.... He was on leave and came to Delhi on Friday," he said. "I have a small business. I do not wish for riches. I pray to god to give me enough to feed the two families. I will adjust anyhow. I will do all that I can till my last breath," Monu, who runs a small cookware store in Bijnor's Nagina area, concluded.

Asked if he intentionally recorded the phone call, Monu told: "I never recorded our conversation. It happened by chance. I believe my finger touched the recording button while I flipped open the phone cover." "I only got to know about it through a notification after the call ended," he added. That last call of Musha to Monu wasn’t recorded by chance. It is a reminder to the country of its unshakeable secular roots. When the time comes, Monu will present the papers of Musha’s children to prove that they are citizens of India.

Another key takeaway is that there are people so poor in this country that, even as they burn to death, they worry about repaying 5,000 rupees. Priorities need to be revisited if India has to become great again.


Religion Never Came Between Us, Says Friend Of Delhi Fire Victim

Citizenship (Amendment) Act: What does it do and why is it seen as a problem

What is Nehru-Liaquat pact that Amit Shah referred to defend Citizenship Amendment Bill?

At the stroke of midnight, Lok Sabha passes Citizenship Amendment Bill

As Manipur gets Inner Line Permit, many Citizenship Bill protestors are still unconvinced

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