Want to be an Indian Citizen? It’s Easier If You’re Non-Muslim

The Citizenship Bill might be amended in this session of Parliament. Here’s why that’s worrying

ByMeghnad S
Want to be an Indian Citizen? It’s Easier If You’re Non-Muslim
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The whole world seems to be going bonkers over immigration lately.

Brexit happened, during which one half of Great Britain voted to cut off ties with the European Union. Their main grouse: immigrants, they took our jobs!

A continent away in the US of A, a crazy man with a combover is running a presidential campaign based on immigration. His solution: Build a Wall. (It’s a stupid idea, #JustSaying)

Meanwhile, in Germany, the country opened its borders to welcome refugees from Syria. Their angle: Cheap labour, woohoo (not that this is working precisely as planned)!

Canada, a country which arguably has the coolest Prime Minister this planet has ever seen, has announced that it is willing to accommodate 3,00,000 immigrants by 2017. Their reason: Because it’s a gosh darn adorable country, that’s why! (Big example)

India is making moves too, albeit a much more silently, on immigration. Our Parliament is about to pass a legislation called the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 which allows illegal  immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to become citizens of India. But, of course, there’s a catch. These immigrants can’t be Muslims.

Hindu-Hindu Bhai Bhai

There have been multiple questions asked in Parliament regarding the issue of illegal immigration. In one particular question, the Home Ministry responded to what the state considers as an illegal immigrant.

This is the default definition of an ‘illegal immigrant’ and policies should ideally be made taking just their visas and documents into consideration. But our politicians have, traditionally, brought religion into the equation and distorted the debate a little.

Indira Gandhi did this first in Assam where, in a controversial move, she decided to give citizenship to four million illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. This was followed by the deadly Nellie massacre in which around 2,000 people were butchered. Gandhi passed an act in 1983 called The Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) (IMDT) Act which provided special protection to migrants from “minority” communities against harassment.

Reports indicate that granting citizenship and providing further protection to a particular community was a vote-grabbing tactic employed by Indira Gandhi. Reminders of this were constantly given during the recently-held elections in Assam where illegal migrants were a big issue and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as a winner.

The effects of 1983 linger and we can still see it bugging people in Parliament. In all the questions asked in Parliament about immigration in the recent past, there has been a particular focus on Bangladeshi immigrants. Like this one from December 2015 where a very specific question was put forward:

The Government’s response was:

But wait. What about the specific ‘Hindu’ angle?

Well, the government didn’t disappoint. This happened:

The notification that is mentioned in the answer basically points towards the fact that our current government is not in favour of deporting non-Muslim illegal immigrants. This is the exact opposite of what Indira Gandhi did in 1983, but it does target a different community of people.

And now this position is about to become a part of our law.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016

The venerable Rajnath Singh, our Union Home Minister, introduced this bill in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016 (full text). It proposes to change the definition of “illegal migrant”.

If this bill is passed in the upcoming session, we will end up legitimising the process of targeting immigrants from particular communities – namely Muslims and Jews (Yes, there are a tiny amount of Jewish people in these countries too). This would also require extensive records to be kept of illegal immigrants who belong to particular communities.

The act also says that the application period of these immigrants residing in India will be reduced from the current mandated 12 years to 7 years.


What gives?

Well, that bit is a little unclear. The statement of objects and reasons in the bill does not make it clear why the government is doing this. I think there *might be* one reason.

One particular response to parliamentary questions caught my eye.

The Question:

The Answer:

This will most probably become the rationale that the government will use to legitimise what they are doing. There is currently no data to back this up or tell us how many illegal migrants there are at present in India, let alone from which religion. For now, the bill has been referred to a Joint Committee for further deliberation. The report is expected to be made public in the first week of the Winter Session (starts on 16 November 2016). One shall wait for that report and see if any solid reasoning is given.

Watch this space!

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