For the past few days, the Citizenship Amendment Bill has been flooding our screens and debate panels. I would like to take a closer look at the history of the Indian nation that led to this situation and then analyse the bill as it is. As an academic and an author, in line with the creed of the journalist, I will strive my best to keep my opinions out of the write-up and stick to the facts so that the reader may come up with their own interpretation. Due to the detail of information, the article will be split into two: one regarding the history of the split of India which led to the bill today and the second concerning the analysis of the bill itself.
PART 1: India’s fratricidal past and the polarising ideologies of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League
Some historians, both Indian and Pakistani, suggest that Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s theory that the Hindus and Muslims in colonial India constituted two separate nations can be projected back into medieval history. They emphasise that the events of 1947 were intimately connected to the long history of Hindu-Muslim conflict throughout medieval and modern times. Such an argument does not recognise that the history of conflict between communities has coexisted with a long history of sharing, and of mutual cultural exchange.
Initially floated in Dhaka in1906, the Muslim League was quickly taken over by the U.P.-based Muslim elite. The party began to make demands for autonomy for the Muslim-majority areas of the subcontinent and/or Pakistan in the 1940s.
Founded in 1915, the Hindu Mahasabha was a Hindu party that remained confined to North India. It aimed to unite Hindu society by encouraging the Hindus to transcend the divisions of caste and sect. It sought to define Hindu identity in opposition to Muslim identity.
The Lucknow Pact of December 1916 was an understanding between the Congress and the Muslim League (controlled by the UP-based “Young Party”) whereby the Congress accepted separate electorates. The pact provided a joint political platform for the Moderates, Extremists and the Muslim League.
In 1937, elections to the provincial legislatures were held for the first time. The Congress did well in the elections, winning an absolute majority in five out of eleven provinces and forming governments in seven of them. The Muslim League fared poorly, polling only 4.4 per cent of the total Muslim vote cast in this election. The League failed to win a single seat in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and could capture only two out of 84 reserved constituencies in the Punjab and three out of 33 in Sind.
The League assumed that only a Muslim party could represent Muslim interests, and that the Congress was essentially a Hindu party. But Jinnah was insistent that the League be recognised as the “sole spokesman” of Muslims. Though popular in the United Provinces, Bombay and Madras, social support for the League was still weak in three of the provinces from which Pakistan was to be carved out just ten years later – Bengal, the NWFP and the Punjab. In the United Provinces, the Congress had rejected the Muslim League proposal for a coalition government partly because the League tended to support landlordism. It is also important to point out that several lower level Congressmen were active in the Hindu Mahasabha–at least in the Central Provinces (present-day Madhya Pradesh). Only in December 1938 did the Congress Working Committee declare that Congress members could not be members of the Mahasabha. Incidentally, this was also the period when the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS gained strength.
But historically, the Muslim league primarily differed in 3 major points with the Indian National Congress:
- The selection of a National Language script: Aside from English, both Congress and the League agreed that the spoken language of Hindi/ Urdu will be used throughout the country. However, dissidence came when a script was to be selected. The league insisted on Urdu script whereas the Congress wanted a Devanagari script (present day Hindi).
- Curzon’s ploy: The Viceroy of India Lord Curzon (1899-1905) cunningly tweaked the rules of electorates in conjunction with the Divide and Rule strategy. Firstly, certain seats would be reserved for certain candidates of the community (Sikh, Muslim, etc.), a practice which was accepted by both Congress and the League. However, Curzon also insisted for reserved electorates whereby only citizens of the prescribed community would be capable of voting for the candidate. Starkly against this undemocratic practice, the Congress vehemently opposed the notion whereas the league welcomed it. Their fear was that in an open electorate, given their low support in the provinces, there would always be a risk that the Muslim candidate from the Congress would win the election and not the league’s candidate. Separate electorates for Muslims, created by the colonial government in 1909 and expanded in 1919, crucially shaped the nature of communal politics. This created a temptation for politicians working within the system to use sectarian slogans and favouring their select religious communities. Communal identities no longer indicated simple difference in faith and belief; they came to mean active opposition and hostility between communities.
- Centre Vs State: As many of us are aware, India is a Union of States as opposed to the United States of America. In India, the centre reigns supreme above all. A common example to illustrate this point would be that in India, any case given its merit, could be elevated to the Supreme Court if the need arose. However, in the United States, only cases of National Concern could be sent to the Supreme Court (e.g.: Gay marriage). The league proposed a system like America, where the Provincial Government was in charge of its own with limited intervention from the centre. Their concern was that India being a Hindu Majority would always have a Hindu/ Non-Muslim at the helm, so the interests of the Muslims would be cast aside. The Congress however, did not share the league’s vision and demanded the system of Government that India boasts of today.
During the 1920s, with the union of the Qilafat movement and the Non-Cooperation, for the first time in the history of Pre-Independent India, the entire country was united against the British and ready to drive out the colonizers. However, due to a particularly gruesome incident on February 5, 1922 in Chauri Chaura, when a large group of protesters, participating in the Non-cooperation movement, clashed with the police who opened fire. In retaliation, the demonstrators attacked and set fire to a police station, killing all its occupants. The incident led to the deaths of three civilians and 22 policemen. Mahatma Gandhi, who was strictly against violence, halted the non-co-operation movement at the national level on 12 February 1922, as a direct result of this incident citing it as against his principles.
In response to the killing of the police, British authorities declared martial law in and around Chauri Chaura. Several raids were conducted, and hundreds of people were arrested. Further, nationwide riots broke out and the single unification factor of the Hindus and Muslims (the fight against the British) was broken.
Ultimately, these differences compounded with other polarities in dogma and circumstantial bridging led to the partition in not just land but also the thinking of India and Pakistan.
PART 2: The Citizenship Amendment Bill of 2019
Now let us examine the Citizenship Amendment Bill. There are four ways in which Indian citizenship can be acquired: birth, descent, registration and naturalisation. The provisions are listed under the Citizenship Act, 1955.
- By Birth:
Every person born in India on or after 26.01.1950 but before 01.07.1987 is an Indian citizen irrespective of the nationality of his/her parents.
Every person born in India between 01.07.1987 and 02.12.2004 is a citizen of India given either of his/her parents is a citizen of the country at the time of his/her birth.
Every person born in India on or after 3.12.2004 is a citizen of the country given both his/her parents are Indians or at least one parent is a citizen and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of birth.
2. By Registration: Citizenship can also be acquired by registration. Some of the mandatory rules are:
A person of Indian origin who has been a resident of India for 7 years before applying for registration.
A person of Indian origin who is a resident of any country outside undivided India.
A person who is married to an Indian citizen and is ordinarily resident for 7 years before applying for registration.
Minor children of persons who are citizens of India.
3. By Descent:
A person born outside India on or after January 26, 1950 is a citizen of India by descent if his/her father was a citizen of India by birth.
A person born outside India on or after December 10, 1992, but before December 3, 2004 if either of his/her parent was a citizen of India by birth.
If a person born outside India or after December 3, 2004 has to acquire citizenship, his/her parents have to declare that the minor does not hold a passport of another country and his/her birth is registered at an Indian consulate within one year of birth.
4. By Naturalisation:
A person can acquire citizenship by naturalisation if he/she is ordinarily resident of India for 12 years (throughout 12 months preceding the date of application and 11 years in the aggregate) and fulfils all qualifications in the third schedule of the Citizenship Act.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) is a bill introduced by the Central Government in the Parliament of India in 2019 to primarily amend the Citizenship Act of 1955. The main purpose of the bill is to make certain religious communities of illegal migrants or refugees eligible for Indian citizenship – in a fast-track manner.
Six religious communities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – are considered eligible for Indian citizenship if they entered India on or before 31 December 2014, but not Muslims. The countries from which minorities are allowed include Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but not Myanmar or Sri Lanka. Citizenship is granted by relaxing the requirement of residence in India for citizenship by naturalisation from 11 years to 5 years for these migrants.
The Central government is of the opinion that the bill is not discriminatory against Muslims. As the Citizenship Amendment Bill has not amended the original provisions, any foreigner, including a Muslim, can still apply for Indian citizenship under the normal process of naturalisation. However, it may take 11 or more years to get Citizenship in this route.
The BJP Government justifies the amendment citing the 2 Nation theory and the Nehru Liaquat pact. The 2 Nation theory led to the division of India and as the two nations – India and Pakistan – are created on the basis of religion, the amendment is a necessity. Further, they argue the Nehru-Liaquat pact failed to achieve its objectives in protecting minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan have declared Islam as their State Religion. However, there are religious persecutions of minorities in these countries evident from the declining minority population.
However, I would like to point out certain flaws in the Government’s logic. Firstly, even though Jinnah proposed the 2-nation theory in the 1940s, the result was never a Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu India. While Pakistan was created on the basis of religion, India was created on the basis of secular ideology. In the Sovereign Democratic Republic of India, citizenship was granted to members of all religions including Islam. Secondly, only Pakistan and Bangladesh were part of Pre-Partition India, Afghanistan was not. Even if the government takes the moral responsibility to protect the minorities affected by the 2-nation theory, that logic does not stand in the case of Afghanistan. Lastly, if the intention of the amendment is to protect all minorities facing persecution in the neighbouring countries- the bill turns a blind eye on the minorities in Myanmar (Rohingya Muslims) and Sri Lanka (Tamils). The explanation could be that the amendment is only applicable to religiously persecuted minorities and not insurgents or alleged insurgents by neighbouring countries.
Our primary point of conflict with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is that it discriminates on the basis of religion by identifying only non-Muslims refugees as those who would be eligible for Indian citizenship. While any foreigner can still apply for Indian citizenship, he/she must follow the normal process of naturalisation – which takes 11 or more years. The amendment is seen by many as a quick move to change the demographics and voters-profile in favour of the ruling party by selective admission of illegal migrants (Non-Muslims). As per the critics, Citizenship (Amendment) Bill violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution – the fundamental right which guarantees equality to all persons. This is part of the basic structure of the Constitution and hence cannot be reshaped by any Parliament laws. However, we must point out that Article 14 only guarantees equality to Indian Citizens and not refugees under consideration for it. It is yet to be seen if the Supreme Court allows the selective fast-tracking for Indian Citizenship. The apex court has power even to declare the bill as unconstitutional.
But then again, India is the second largest country after China, in terms of population with a demography of 1.2 billion people. Do we have the capacity and resources to house the new mammoth flock of citizens? The country being in the dire financial state it is in; can we afford to? And why was India never sympathetic to the persecuted minorities for the past 72 years? Why in 2019?
I do not have the answers to these questions yet… but hopefully we will soon.