Why are the NE States protesting against New Citizenship Act?



The Act has triggered widespread protests in northeastern states where many fears that permanent settlement of illegal immigrants, particularly thousands of Hindus from neighbouring Bangladesh, will disturb the region’s demography and further burden resources and decrease employment opportunities for indigenous people. It will threaten their language, culture and tradition, they contend.



A large section of people and organizations in the Northeast, especially in Assam and Tripura, have opposed the Act, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.



 



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Which states are exempted from New Citizenship Act?



The Citizenship (Amendment) Act does not apply to tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura. It will also not apply to areas covered under the Inner Line Permit (ILP). Presently, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland fall under the Inner Line Permit.



The ILP is a system introduced for border areas by the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. Indian citizens outside such declared areas can visit the places only if they have a permit. They cannot settle in such areas even with the ILP.



Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are not offered citizenship under the new Act. Critics have questioned the exclusion. The Amendment limits itself to the Muslim-majority neighbours of India and, secondly, takes no cognizance of the persecuted Muslims of those countries. According to The Economist, if the Indian government was concerned about religious persecution, it should have included Ahmadiyyas – a Muslim sect who have been "viciously hounded in Pakistan as heretics", and the Hazaras – another Muslim sect who have been murdered by the Taliban in Afghanistan. They should be treated as minorities.



Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh are Muslim-majority countries that have modified their Constitutions in recent decades to declare Islam their official state religion. Therefore, according to the Indian government, Muslims in these Islamic countries are "unlikely to face religious persecution". The government states that Muslims cannot be "treated as persecuted minorities" in these Muslim-majority countries. The BBC states that while these countries have provisions in their constitution guaranteeing non-Muslims rights, including the freedom to practice their religion, in practice non-Muslim populations have experienced discrimination and persecution.



Some similar acts for persecuted religious minorities, excluding the majority religion, have been introduced in other secular countries such as United States, case in point being the "Religious Persecution Relief Act, 2016", which has a similar approach "this bill declares that Syrian nationals who are religious minorities in their country of origin: shall be classified as refugees of special humanitarian concern, shall be eligible for priority two processing under the refugee resettlement priority system".



 



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What is the argument of the government regarding New Citizenship Act?



The government clarifies that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are Islamic countries where Muslims are in majority hence they cannot be treated as persecuted minorities. It also assures that the application from any other community will be examined on a case-to-case basis.



The argument made by the Union government is that this is a ‘reasonable classification’ permissible under the Constitution. Although the Constitution does not use these words, the test goes back to the State of West Bengal vs Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952), in which the Supreme Court was interpreting the scope of Article 14, which guarantees equality before the law.



However, this argument of the government goes against the grain of constitutional law developed by the Supreme Court since the 1950s and fundamentally misunderstands what the court said in Anwar Ali Sarkar. What the court actually said was (in the words of Justice SR Das): “Article 14 does not insist that every piece of legislation must have universal application and it does not take away from the State the power to classify persons for the purposes of legislation, but the classification must be rational, and in order to satisfy this test  (i) the classification must be founded on an intelligible differential which distinguished those that are grouped together from others, and (ii) that differential must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the Act.”

 



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What do critics say about New Citizenship Act?



As the Act does not make illegal Muslim immigrants eligible for Indian citizenship, critics argue that it is discriminatory. As the Act singles out Muslims who constitute nearly 15% of the country’s population, they say the Act is communal in nature.



The Act violates the fundamental Right to Equality guaranteed by the Constitution and intends to grant citizenship to a section of illegal immigrants by making exclusion on the basis of religion, they say.



Undocumented immigrants from other neighbouring countries, particularly Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal, and the Maldives, find no place in the Act. This has also come under sharp criticism.



 



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How many will benefit by the New Citizenship Act at present?



There are no official figures other than records furnished by the Intelligence Bureau before the Joint Parliamentary Commission which said there are 31,313 persons belonging to these minority communities living in India on Long Term Visa. They have sought refuge in India on grounds of religious persecution. However, Home Minister Amit Shah has said the new legislation will give a new dawn to lakhs and crores of people. Some political parties have asked for the exact number of beneficiaries.



Under the Act, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalization is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years. The Bill relaxes this 11-year requirement to 5 years for persons belonging to the same six religions and three countries. The Bill includes new provisions for cancellation of the registration of Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) if there are any violations of the provisions of this Act or provisions of any other law of India. It also adds the opportunity for the OCI holder to be heard before the cancellation.



 



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