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Defining Citizenship: One religion at a time

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A bill of historical proportions, if passed can alter the basic structure of the Indian Constitution, its inclusivity.

Months after pushing for the abrogation of Article 370, Home Minister Amit Shah Monday took the stand in Lok Sabha to table the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that grants Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan escaping religious persecution in their home countries. The Bill tabled on the floor of the house aims to replace the old Citizenship Act. The bill if cleared will set a new precedent for eligibility–RELIGION.

While the bill calls for providing citizenship to Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and people from other religions, it tends to exclude Muslims in the process working on the line of identifying religion as a basis for citizenship, violating Article 14 of the Indian constitution. The article “provides for equality before the law or equal protection within the territory of India. The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection of law within the territory of India.” 

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CAB, which failed to pass through Rajya Sabha amid a strong dismissal from the opposition in the previous session, has led to widespread protests in several parts of the north-east, especially Manipur. Worried about the changing demographics of the land, people in these state are upset over setting the cutoff date to December 31, 2014 that nullifies the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all undocumented immigrants irrespective of religion.

However, Shah has assured that it will not apply to areas under the sixth schedule of the Constitution – which deals with autonomous tribal-dominated regions in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. The bill if passed will fulfill a long-time demand of the RSS and the BJP while deepening the faultline among the communities already widened post a botched up NRC. Had the government aimed for inclusivity, then it should also consider awarding citizenship to persecuted Rohingyas from Myanmar, Ahmdiyas and Shia from Pakistan and Bangladesh and Hazaras from Afghanistan. 

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The bill seeks to alter the structure of the Indian Constitution that guarantees equality to all and set the ground for BJP’s latest flagship- a nationwide NRC.