The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), 2019, is India's Nürnberger Gesetze moment.
In 1935, the German Parliament, under the Nazi rule, passed antisemitic and racial laws. These laws were called the Nürnberger Gesetze. It was passed in stages, but nevertheless altered the way a citizen was perceived and had far-reaching implications on the German social infrastructure. The rest, as they say, is history.
The CAB passed in the Lok Sabha is not just a mere amendment to an existing Act. The Bill is sending a message. Not a coded message, but a blatant and blunt message that India is not universal in its approach to people of different faiths.
The stated objectives and spirit of CAB are admirable — to provide protection to persecuted minorities. The letter of the law though undermines not only the spirit of the Bill, but also that of the secular fabric of the Constitution.
If the Bill becomes a law, it would mean the constitutional basis of equality before law in India, as far as the acquisition of citizenship is concerned, will be altered decisively. The acquisition of Indian citizenship will become an unequal process and this inequality will be based on religious identity — that is seldom chosen and almost always, born into.
The ostensible reason for the CAB is to show India's large-heartedness. But it only provides the option of citizenship to "illegal" immigrants from three countries — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. What is the reason for picking these three countries?
If the reason is 'pre-Partition India', then why is Afghanistan included? If it is the countries that we share borders with — then why are Nepal, Sri Lanka (who we share our ocean with), Myanmar and Bhutan excluded? Of course, when it comes to sharing a border with Afghanistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, one must also raise the pertinent question — whether a Border Security Force outpost even exists in the said region.
Further, the CAB aims to provide citizenship only to certain religious minorities which are fleeing religious persecution. What happens to those who follow no organised religion or those who are persecuted for their beliefs, whether ideological or political?
The spirit of the law is discriminatory. Unreasonable exclusion of a certain group of people goes against the very foundation that this nation was imagined and built upon by our founding fathers — pluralism.
Whether the Bill will actually succeed in its stated attempt to provide citizenship to these minorities is also debatable. The actual processes under which citizenship will be awarded are subject to the rules of two other orders — the Passport Order 1950 and the Foreigners Order 1948. Making claims under the Bill and proving "religious persecution" is such a complex procedure that I doubt it will have any real impact on the citizenship prospects for religiously persecuted illegal immigrants.
The only purpose of the Bill is to send a message — anyone other than a Muslim is welcome in India; and to the existing Muslims in India — people of your faith will be looked at and treated differently.
The Bill also makes a provision to cancel Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) cards on trivial grounds like the OCI violating any law notified by the central government. This could mean anything as minor as jumping a red light or petty theft. Clearly, the government is eager to vest in itself the power to cancel the citizenship of anyone it deems "inconvenient".
One must not look at the CAB in isolation. Together, the NRC (National Register of Citizens) and CAB are part of a movement to target and isolate one particular community. Since the NRC did not pan out as planned, the CAB is a renewed push by the government to amend India's citizenship law in order to explicitly favour non-Muslim migrants.
To reiterate the Hindu identity is to exclude the Muslim and diminish the secular and egalitarian social fabric of India.