The Bill aims to amend the 1955 Citizenship Act, to provide citizenship to illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who are of Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Parsi or Christian.
The All Assam Students' Union (AASU) on Tuesday demanded immediate withdrawal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 claiming that it was unconstitutional as it seeks to grant Indian citizenship only on the basis of religion.
The demand came few days after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s ally Janata Dal United threw its weight behind protesters arguing that the proposed legislation would threaten the linguistic identity of Assam’s indigenous people.
The JDU said it would nullify the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is currently under way in Assam. The party added that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was against the Bill.
In May, the National People's Party-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA), which BJP is part of, had said that it would officially register its stand against the Bill.
What is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill?
The Centre is planning to change the definition of illegal migrants through the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. It will make changes to the existing Citizenship Act 1955, to provide citizenship to illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who are of Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Parsi or Christian.
The Act does not have a provision for Muslim sects such as the Shias and Ahmediyyas. The Shia and Ahmediyya communities in Pakistan have faced persecution.
The Bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 15, 2016, also seeks to reduce the number of continuous years of stay in India needed to obtain citizenship by naturalisation from 11 to six years.
The Bill was referred to a joint select committee in August that year, after it was discussed in the lower house of parliament.
According to existing laws, an illegal immigrant is a person who enters India without a valid passport or with forged documents or is a person who stays in the country beyond the valid visa permit.
The idea gathered steam when the BJP promised to grant citizenship to Hindus persecuted in neighbouring countries during the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign. The party had promised to welcome Hindu refugees and give shelter to them.
Why is it facing opposition?
The Assam Gana Parishad (AGP) — an ally of the BJP in Assam — has threatened to part ways with the BJP if the Bill is passed.
Like the JD(U), the AGP too believes that the Bill would alter the cultural and linguistic identity of the indigenous people of the state.
Most opposition parties, including the Congress, have opposed the proposal of granting citizenship on the basis of religion. The opposition has argued that the move would nullify the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is currently under way in Assam.
How does it nullify the NRC?
The NRC is being updated in Assam to detect Bangladeshi nationals who may have illegally entered the state after March 24, 1971 — the date decided in the Assam Accord of 1985.
The second draft list of the NRC has not been released yet, while the first updated list was concluded by December 31, 2017.
Following the NRC, anyone found to have entered Assam illegally after March 24, 1971, irrespective of their religion, will be deported.
While the Bill will grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees persecuted in neighbouring countries, the NRC is not designed to classify migrants on the basis of their religion.
Hence, if the Bill becomes an Act, non-Muslims found to have entered Assam after March 24, 1971 need not go through the deportation process, thereby nullifying the NRC process.