India’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019, to allow religious minorities persecuted in neighboring countries to seek citizenship.
The draft legislation proposed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been criticized for being discriminatory and unconstitutional, as the term “religious minorities” excluded the Muslim community. Amending the Citizenship Act 1955, Section 2 of the bill states:
Provided that persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of that Act.
India’s Muslim population constitutes 14 percent of the county, who risk “statelessness” if they cannot produce the correct paperwork to satisfy ordinary citizenship in India. However, with the proposed bill, non-Muslims will be granted automatic citizenship after seven years, even without the correct documents (ordinarily this would be granted after 12 years residence). This is the first time that India is granting citizenship based on religious belief.
Prime Minister Nerendra Modi, following his re-election earlier this year, pledged to give “Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs escaping persecution” an Indian nationality in his manifesto.
However, there are obstacles that may prevent the draft legislation from becoming law. Legislation must be approved by both the lower and upper house. The BJP obtained a majority in the lower house, but a minority in the house, which could make it difficult for implementation by Parliament.