“When you single out any particular group of people for secondary citizenship status, that’s a violation of basic human rights.”
- Jimmy Carter, an American politician, philanthropist, and former farmer who served as the 39th president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 was passed by the Parliament of India on 11th December 2019. It amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 by providing a path to Indian citizenship for illegal migrants of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities, who had fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014.
Muslims from those countries were not given such eligibility. The act was the first time, where religion had been overtly used as a criterion for citizenship under Indian law.
Who is an illegal immigrant?
According to the Citizenship Act (1955), an illegal immigrant is defined as a person who enters India without a valid passport or stays in the country after the expiry of the visa permit. Also, the immigrant who uses false documents for the immigration process.
Let me give you a simple example, which will help you to decide the rationality of the aforesaid act. Assume that your parents gave you a house to stay by yourself. After a few years of living, a stranger (homeless) seeks to take shelter in your house temporarily, stating some kind of hardship and as such, you decide to give him shelter in your home but only temporarily. Due to some ‘x’ reasons, he does not leave your house for subsequent years, at the same time, you allow the person to keep on using some of the household utilities. After a few years, your parents (who are the owners of the house), hears about the hardship of the homeless person and decides to treat him just as he treats you, i.e. as his own child. So, what happens as a result is, now he is entitled to the shares the same/equal rights and privileges that you posses and also at the same time is allowed to use the house as much as you do, as such, all the utilities of the house is now used by you as well as him and as such, for sure, there will be a shortage of utilities so used by both you and that other person. Subsequently few more homeless persons take shelter, the same way, and again your father considering their hardship keep accepting them just as a child as you are to him. Now, keeping this example in mind, what would be the end result, at last, the utilities, resources and privileges that you posses would keep on decreasing simultaneously as they are being allowed to stay in the house and utilize the resources equally.
Taking the same aforesaid situation but a different situation, let’s say your parents tell you that only the ones who have suffered religious hardships will only be allowed and specifies the religions which he will consider to be allowed to stay in the house with you. As such, you will definitely question this decision of your father on the basis of religion, as you would not want anybody, irrespective of any religion to be accepted and allowed to stay, use and utilize the house as their own.
Now, to conclude the example, keeping the aforesaid two situations in mind, assume your parents as the Parliament of India, your house being your state, the strangers (homeless persons) being illegal immigrants and your parent’s allowance of the strangers to stay in your house, as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
Why was the state of Assam fuming?
- The Amendment Act violates the Assam Accord signed with Centre in 1985.
- Assam being a bordering state is highly vulnerable to illegal immigrants from bordering country, namely Bangladesh.
- Illegal immigrants pose a serious threat in preserving the cultural and ethnic identity of the people of Assam.
Firstly, Under Assam Accord of 1985, foreigners who had entered Assam before March 25, 1971 were to be given citizenship. Religious persecution was no consideration. The rest had to be expelled, i.e, immigrants who had entered after March 25, 1971, therefore, the amended Citizenship Act has shifted the cut-off date for granting citizenship from 24th of March 1971 to 31st of December 2014 – that is, by 43 years nine months and seven days. The protesters see this as a move by the Centre to go back on their promise made to protect their Assamese cultural identity.
The issue of illegal immigrants is old in Assam as it is a bordering Indian state to the country of Bangladesh, as such, the state of Assam has always been highly vulnerable to illegal immigrants flooding from the bordering country of Bangladesh. Therefore, granting citizenship to any such illegal immigrant, irrespective of their religion, will pose serious threat to the cultural identity and ethnicity of the people of Assam.