In India, the lower House, Lok Sabha has passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill which grants citizenship right to minorities from neighbouring countries excluding Muslims.
Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in India’s lower house amid raucous debate. Opposition parties stood against the proposed law that would, for the first time, create a legal pathway to grant Indian nationality on the basis of religion. 311 MPs voted in favour and 80 against it.
Oppositions politicians inside parliament said the bill discriminated against Muslims and violated India’s secular constitution. In a statement issued on Monday, a group of more than 1,000 Indian scientists and scholars also called for the immediate withdrawal of the bill.
The government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has said this will give sanctuary to people fleeing religious persecution. Critics say the bill is part of a BJP agenda to marginalise Muslims.
The bill has already prompted widespread protests in the north-east of the country which borders Bangladesh, as people there feel that they will be “overrun” by immigrants from across the border. The CAB amends the 64-year-old Indian Citizenship law, which currently prohibits illegal migrants from becoming Indian citizens.
What is Citizenship Amendment Bill?
The bill was originally introduced in 2016 during the Modi government’s first term but lapsed after protests and an alliance partner’s withdrawal. It proposes to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslims who came to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan before 2015.
It defines illegal immigrants as foreigners who enter India without a valid passport or travel documents, or stay beyond the permitted time. Illegal immigrants can be deported or jailed. The new bill also amends a provision which says a person must have lived in India or worked for the federal government for at least 11 years before they can apply for citizenship.
Now, there will be an exception for members of six religious minority communities – Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian – if they can prove that they are from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh. They will only have to live or work in India for six years to be eligible for citizenship by naturalisation, the process by which a non-citizen acquires the citizenship or nationality of that country.
The major criticism of the bill has been that it prevents Muslims from seeking citizenship, something similar to US President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban under which Muslims from few countries were banned from seeking asylum. Legal experts argue that it violates Article 14 of the constitution, which guarantees the right to equality.
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