In order to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955, the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 was proposed. It provides legal Indian citizenship to religious minorities, that is Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, who came to India as immigrants on or before 31 December 2014, from the neighbouring Islamic countries- Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The citizenship by naturalization, has been relaxed from 11 to 5 years for these immigrants. They would be required to reside in India for 5 years to gain citizenship. There are currently 30,000 immediate recipients of the advantage granted by the CAB.
The bill was cleared by the Union Cabinet on 4 December 2019; passed in the Lok Sabha on 10 December 2019 and finally cleared in the Rajya Sabha on 11 December 2019.
The CAB had been in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s agenda because, in the 2014 elections, the party had made a promise of granting citizenship to Hindu refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan. In 2016, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was presented and even passed in the Lok Sabha. However, it could not move on in the process because there was a lot of opposition and protests from the northeast India. The people felt that the bill would lead to the entrance of migrants from Bangladesh and it would in turn affect the demography of Northeast India.
After facing several obstacles since its introduction in 2016, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was finally passed in the Rajya Sabha on 11 December 2019. The voting resulted in 125 votes in favour and 99 against the bill. The majority was possible due to the support from the BJP’s allies which included Janata Dal (United), YSR-Congress, Biju Janata Dal and many more.
Amending the Citizenship Act of 1955, the CAB provides the following provisions to religious minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan:
- Those who came to India on or before 31st December 2014, will be eligible for the citizenship of India.
- According to the Citizenship Act of 1955, the person seeking the citizenship of India should have been staying in the country for the last 12 months and also to have resided here for 11 years in the past 14 years. The CAB 2019 has given a relaxation to the 6 minorities from the three neighbouring countries and reduced the years from 11 to 5.
- The bill does not include the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura and also the regions regulated by the Inner Line Permit, that is, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.
The bill also changes the provisions and regulations for Overseas Citizens of India (OCI). OCI card is issued to people living outside India, who have an Indian origin. They can either be former citizens of India or children of current citizens. These people can travel to the country without a visa or work and study here.
Before the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed, the government was allowed to cancel the OCI registration according to the rules stated in the Act. The bill retains this condition and also adds another ground based on which the registration may be cancelled. This type of cancellation will come into effect if the OCI cardholder violates any law set by the central government.
Now that the CAB has been cleared, the BJP will apply National Register of Citizens (NRC) all over India, in order to identify the immigrants and also “expel” the ones living in India illegally. If people from one of the six communities stated in the Bill are not able to show relevant documents, they will be given citizenship. However, if the people from other religious communities do not have the documents, they will be at a risk of becoming stateless.