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The parliament had enacted the Citizenship Act in the year 1955. The Act indicates who an Indian citizen is. This Act additionally exhibits a gamut of rules that explain the process of acquiring the citizenship of India. Furthermore, the Act also specifies what it takes for citizenship to be revoked.
This Act has witnessed several amendments. In the year 2003, the government, under the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, created a provision of National Registry of Citizens under the Citizenship Act of 1955. This step was taken by the government due to a major influx of Bangladeshi immigrants into the state of Assam.
Owing to this invasion, there was widespread fear that the locals of Assam would suffer from swift depletion of resources. Additionally, it was also feared that the low population of locals in Assam would soon become a minority and it may potentially lead to a cultural homicide if this monumental influx were encouraged. This dilemma had led to the Assam Movement.
However, it is interesting to note that the first National Registry of Citizens was drafted in the year 1951. Furthermore, the implementation of this structure was even discussed by the UPA government on several occasions.
However, in light of the current amendment to the Citizenship Act in 2019, there’s a massive furore in the country. It is therefore important to examine some of the aspects of the National Registry of Citizens and also fathom the reasons behind the widespread discontentment of the public.
The Citizenship Amendment Act of 2003 has delved into the issue of citizenship of persons born outside of India. That is, this Act has mentioned that those born outside of India could claim citizenship on descent if he/she were born on or after 26th January 1950, but before 10th December 1992 if his/her father was a native to the Indian soil.
Furthermore, persons born after the 10th of December 1992 could claim their citizenship if either of their parents were born in India. Several such conditions were presented in this Act that explained the process of gaining citizenship if the persons were born abroad.
Furthermore, the Act also highlighted some of the ways in which citizenship could be gained by those who were not illegal immigrants. For instance, if a person has been living in the country for a period of 7 years, that person would be eligible for citizenship. It is interesting to note that the term “illegal immigrant” was substituted with “not Indian citizen” through this Amendment Act.
This Act also provided with various provision under the rubric of ‘overseas citizenship’. To elucidate, the conferment of rights has been discussed elaborately. That is, the Act has mentioned that these overseas citizens were entitled to all rights, with certain exceptions. For instance, a person with overseas citizenship is not bestowed the right to equal opportunities in the employment sphere.
They are also not given the right to contest in presidential and vice-presidential elections. Moreover, they are not even eligible for the appointment of civil services posts. The Act further delves into the process of revocation of overseas citizenship. The following section discusses the part of the amendment that focussed on National Registry of Citizens.
Inception of NRC
The Citizenship Amendment Act of 2003 had added various provisions to the Citizenship Act of 1955. For instance, this Act had set out to issue national identity cards for each and every citizen to facilitate easier identification of who a citizen of the country is. The Act forbids the destruction of these identity cards under any circumstances, except when done with legal authority.
The Act further aimed at setting up a National Registry of Citizens. To facilitate the drafting of the National Registry of Citizens, the Act also mandated the setting up the National Registration Authority. The registrar or sub-registrar of the National Registration Authority has the power to ask for any document from any person to prove their citizenship.
Furthermore, this Act necessitates the registry to contain various details about each citizen. When this amendment came about in the year 2003, this registry was predetermined to have applied to the entire country. The Act categorically mentioned that the head of each family had to cooperate with the officials during the making of the registry and aid them by producing accurate and factual details.
It further mentioned that each citizen had an obligation of registering themselves under this mechanism. Moreover, the Act mentioned that it was the responsibility of the head of a family to get the family members included under this registry.
Additionally, the Act looked into the scenarios wherein, people live in asylums, orphanages, etc. To elucidate, the Act spoke about how it was the responsibility of the head of these institutions to get these people registered. Moreover, the Act also provided certain conditions which, when fulfilled would lead to the erasure of a name from the registry. In addition to this, the Act also specified that the onus is on each citizen to notify the registrar about the revocation of their citizenship within 30 days of the said revocation.
Furthermore, the Act gives room for some corrections when errors creep in during the drafting of the registry. However, these demands for corrections must be made within 30 days from the date of the publication of the registry. However, it is within the discretion of the registrar to make the final changes within 90 days of the appeal.
It is interesting to note that the Act mandates the officials of the Centre and State governments to collaborate during the process of the drafting of the registry. The Act makes it imperative for the National Registration Authority to declare when the National Registry of Citizens would be enforced throughout the country.
Owing to the ever-increasing infiltration of illegal migrants in the state of Assam, this mechanism was only applicable to this state. This registry was first prepared in the year 1951. However, in the year 2013, the Supreme Court had ordered the state to update this registry.
This update was made after complying with the rules under the Assam Accord. The Assam Accord seemed to have finally fallen into place with the implementation of the National Registry of Citizens. Nonetheless, mayhem broke out when those people demanding the ousting of illegal immigrants found their names missing from the list of registered citizens.
Clash between Government and public
Following the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019, the left-winged liberals protested vehemently, claiming that the ideals of this Act were on the contrary to what the Indian Constitution stood for. Additionally, following the Act, natural anticipation is the nationwide implementation of the National Registry of Citizens.
One of the reasons behind this radical uproar lies in the assumption that the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019, coupled with National Registry of Citizens, could have the fatal repercussion of leaving millions of Indians without citizenship. It said that this result is inevitable because of the fact that citizenship is dependent on certain approved documents, which are not available with each and every person.
Nonetheless, even if these documents were produced, the official checking them could use their own discretion and render them inadmissible. However, the government has repeatedly guaranteed that common documents would be accepted. There are additional communal reasons behind the many objections that come to the forefront.
It has been reiterated by many that the combination of NRC along with the recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 dishevels the very secular fabric of the country. That is, it has been repeatedly exclaimed that a nation should not regulate its population on the basis of religion.
Further, it was noticed that the current government had resorted to the act of pandering to the vote banks. To elucidate, it was found that the Citizenship Act of 1955 had prohibited illegal immigrants from gaining citizenship. This prohibition was not made to any specific religious community.
However, the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 ensures that the religious minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are granted citizenship. This, according to many is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempt in turning India into a “Hindu Rashtra”. The government’s response to this has been rather interesting. They have claimed that Muslims in the above-mentioned countries are not subjected to any form of religious persecution.
The Delhi government further added that the National Registry of Citizens, which was carried out in furtherance with the Supreme Court’s directions in 2013, was fair and not tainted with any religious biases. The government has claimed that the ongoing agitation is stemming out of baseless fear and that no Indian would be expelled through the drafting of a nation-wide National Registry of Citizens.
They have also mentioned that it was a misconception that only non-Muslims were given the opportunity to obtain citizenship through naturalisation.
To add, it has been stated that even non-muslims excluded in the National Registry of Citizens would not be able to gain citizenship through the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 unless they could prove that they migrated from one of the three countries mentioned in the Act, and it has been iterated that falsely presenting oneself as a citizen of these three countries would prove to be fruitless and ineffective.
Further, many proponents of this Act have insisted on turning down all claims about the Act being Anti-Muslim. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had attempted to dismiss the misinformation revolving around the said Act. He lamented that similar proposals of the formation of NRC were made by the UPA government earlier.
All in all, the issue of the National Registry of Citizens has stirred up a lot of controversy. Certain aspects of the amended Act in 2019 led to widespread protests. These protests developed into a massive violent assemblage. According to many, the whole Act seems to have the agenda of excluding the Muslim community.
However, the Act seemed to only concern itself with the inclusion of helpless, persecuted minorities of India’s neighbouring countries. Additionally, the nation-wide drafting of NRC has not begun yet. It would be interesting to see how the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 and National Registry of Citizens would complement each other.
Author: Vaishnavi Kokkonda from NALSAR, Hyderabad.
Editor: Ismat Hena from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.