CROSSFIRE: Indian Citizenship Act



Navya Katraju

When Pakistan split from India in 1947, almost 23% of their population consisted of religious minorities: today, there’s only about 3% of non-Muslim minorities, mostly due to forced, violent conversions. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill aims to provide refuge for victims of such persecution, and protect them from proceedings of illegal migration by reducing the time needed to gain Indian citizenship from twelve years to six.

The main criticism of the bill is that it discriminates against Muslims, and violates the promise of equality enshrined in the constitution. The Indian government has responded to this by stating that Muslims have other, officially Islamic countries they could flee to while the religious minorities that they prosecute don’t have that option. And it’s true – according to the World Atlas, there are 45 officially Islamic countries. 

Another complaint about the bill is that it provides citizenship on a non-secular basis, when India is officially a secular nation. However, this is reasonable, because the legislation aims to refine the laws passed during the Partition – the official split of Pakistan and India, happened on the basis of religion.

Furthermore, the bill is a step in the right direction to eradicating the country of its illegal immigrant problem. There are at least 25 million people living in India illegally, and impact on its economy is far-reaching. Providing a fast-track to citizenship for at least some of these immigrants would help not only to increase the number of Indian citizens, but also to solve the illegal immigrant crisis.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill receives most of its criticism based off of the fact that it picks out certain religious minorities to offer assistance to, while ignoring others. However, the bill stems from the principle of equity, rather than equality. Muslims that face religious persecution have a number of officially Islamic countries they could seek refuge in. The bill provides a safe space for religious minorities that don’t have as many options. Is it fair to detest the bill on the basis that it doesn’t include absolutely everyone? Shouldn’t the focus be on what it has done rather than what it lacks?


Arul Gundam

How many countries are there in this world?

If we take America’s word on the matter, there are 195 countries. Taiwan is not one of them.

As evident in that inaccuracy, defining what makes a country is occasionally a difficult and widely debated task. What can sometimes be even harder, however, is defining what country people belong to.

Let’s say there’s a man from Afghanistan. He was born there, and has lived there his whole life. Obviously, he’s an Afghan. Obviously. 

But he actually belongs to the minority Hindu group in Afghanistan, and seeks to escape to India, where he could live amongst people who won’t discriminate against him for his beliefs. If he makes it, he’s going to seek citizenship. Should he get it?

This is the debate over India’s recently passed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which provides a path to Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities that had fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014.

The CAB has brought about a variety of reactions. The main three are that:


  • the Act discriminates on the basis of religion and religion shouldn’t be a prerequisite to citizenship, 
  • the Act lets in people who do not fit into Indian culture
  • the Act is amazing because it brings in more Hindus.


I fall into the first group. Religion shouldn’t be what defines someone’s belonging to a nation, in my opinion. One could be proud to be Jewish and enjoy the hope and belief that their faith gives them, but once that ventures into the Palestinian people not deserving any land of their own, it becomes a little problematic.  Similarly, being a Pakistani Hindu doesn’t mean you deserve Indian citizenship.

Protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill have been especially frequent in the state of Assam.

I see directly past the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (India’s ruling political party) message of inclusion through this acceptance of refugees for two reasons: oppressed Muslim minority groups like the Hazaras in Afghanistan or the Rohingya in Myanmar have not been allowed to seek Indian citizenship, and religious minorities from Tibet, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, etc. haven’t been included in the countries the Act mentions. The selectiveness of the Citizenship Amendment Bill is reflective of the BJP’s Hindu nationalist policies, as evident in their decision to list India’s bordering Muslim-majority nations as the countries which would be included.

The most damning indictment of the government’s selfishness regarding the act is this tweet from Prime Minister Narendra Modi: “No Indian has anything to worry regarding this act. This act is only for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go except India”. 

That quote implies that Indians have no responsibility to care about people, places, and policies, which affect people outside of India. It’s the mark of a government driven solely by self interest and corruption. If the government acted against Muslims outside of India, there’s a very strong possibility they could act against the nearly 200 million within in India; their own citizens. Ultimately, that makes India more restrictive and authoritarian, especially considering how it affects what Indian citizens are allowed to think and express.