Agitation against citizenship bill
Facing stiff opposition in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) of the Indian parliament, where it does not have a majority, the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has all but given up its bid to pass two politically- motivated,Hindutva-driven Bills.
These are, the “Triple Talaq” Bill and the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
The BJP government had touted the Triple Talaq Bill as protection for Muslim women from arbitrary divorce. As per Indian Muslim tradition, a husband could divorce his wife merely by repeating the word “Talaq” (divorce) thrice.
The Modi-led, radical Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hoped that the abolition of the “Triple Talaq” system would get the votes of Muslim women in a situation in which the party was seen as being rapidly anti-Muslim.
The Triple Talaq Bill was passed in the Lower House of Parliament (Lok Sabha) because the NDA had an overwhelming majority there. But it got stalled in the Rajya Sabha where the NDA had no majority though it was the single-largest entity.
Opposition forces Modi to retreat on two politically motivated communal bills
Objections To Talaq Bill
The opposition’s objection to the Triple Talaq Bill was based on five grounds: (1) The Bill sought to criminalize the civil act of divorce. It prescribed immediate arrest of the offending husband and incarceration for three years if found guilty. (2) It was discriminatory in as much as divorcing a wife was criminal only in the case of Muslims when men of other faiths could divorce with impunity. (3) The impossibility of a husband providing adequate maintenance to a divorced wife and children if he was in prison. (4) It was a ploy, not so much to get Muslim women’s votes, which the BJP would not get anyway, but to win the votes of the majority Hindus who routinely criticized the Muslims for their “medieval” socio-religious practices. (5) The Muslim parties felt that the Bill was an unwarranted interference in their traditional social practices and a gross violation of their constitutional right to religious freedom and equality.
Citizenship Amendment Bill
Like the Triple Talaq Bill, the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha but ran into trouble in the Rajya Sabha. There was stiff opposition in the Rajya Sabha and also outside, in the eastern States of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland.
The Bill sought to make illegal “non-Muslim” immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for Indian citizenship. The government’s plea was that these communities were discriminated against in those Islamic countries.
Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees
The proposed amendment also placed at a disadvantage illegal immigrants who might have fled from countries like Sri Lanka, Tibet and Myanmar because of persecution.
More than a 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees have been living in India (30% in government run camps) since 1983. But these are still barred from taking Indian citizenship. Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who had fled from Myanmar would be disadvantaged.
Like the Triple Talaq Bill, the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha but ran into trouble in the Rajya Sabha.
Overseas Citizen of India
The Bill also sought to amend the rules relating to the Overseas Citizens of India (OCI). It said that the OCI (who are drawn from people of Indian origin living overseas) could lose their citizenship if they broke any Indian law.
It was pointed out that in the absence of the listing of Indian laws which could not be violated, a person could lose his OCI even for a traffic violation!
Drawbacks of the Citizenship Bill
The BJP-led government’s communal attitude was reflected in the Citizenship Bill. Its plan was to get the Hindu migrants’ votes and also win the plaudits and votes of the Hindus all over India. Building up antagonism towards the Muslims and marginalizing them in as many ways as possible, have been the cornerstones of the BJP’s Hindutva-based political project.
But keeping the Muslims and Jews out was antithetical to the concept of secularism espoused in the Indian Constitution and was a violation of Art 14 which guarantees equality. It was also pointed out that persecuted Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh like writer Taslima Nasrin could be ousted from India as a result of this Bill.
Nullifies Assam Accord
The Bill sparked large-scale protests in Assam and other States in Eastern India which had been facing the problem of illegal immigration of all communities from Bangladesh.
The Bill nullified the “Assam Accord” of 1985 which said that foreign nationals would be identified and expelled from Assam irrespective of religion.
Besides, the current updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam would be rendered meaningless if a section of illegal migrants were granted citizenship on the grounds that they were Hindus or Buddhists.It was pointed out that a good section of the 4 million “illegal migrants” from Bangladesh, identified when NRC was being prepared, were Hindus and Buddhists.
Over 70 organizations from Assam and the North East went to the Supreme Court against the Bill. Top leaders from Assam and other eastern States met the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and appealed to him to call off the Bill. Singh appeared to be sympathetic said the Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma.
Meanwhile, it is learnt that the top leaders of the BJP government have decided not to proceed with the Triple Talaq and the Citizenship Bills in the Rajya Sabha for now because of a lack of majority there.
The Bills may be revived only if the BJP-led NDA wins the Indian parliamentary elections in May this year.
De Facto Operation
Though the Citizenship Amendment Bill is yet to become law, its provisions are being implemented through an Ordinance and other administrative instruments.
In September 2015, the government, through an executive order, exempted non-Muslim illegal migrants from the three countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh) from the operation of the Foreigners Act of 1946. This provided immunity to this class of migrants from any adverse action by the state due to illegal entry and stay.
In October 2018, the Ministry of Home Affairs notified the Citizenship (Amendment) Rules, 2018, making it mandatory for a person applying for Indian citizenship to declare his or her religion.
On 23 October 2018, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a directive that provided a separate and accelerated process for non-Muslim legal migrants from the three countries to get citizenship.