The country has enacted a new citizenship amendment law called the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, which grants the right to Indian citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi, and Christian communities who have arrived from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh as persecuted minorities. It was passed by the Lok Sabha on December 9, 2019, approved by the Rajya Sabha on December 11, 2019, and became law with the President's signature on December 12, 2019. It was notified on March 11, 2024.

The law that exists is for granting citizenship, not for taking away the citizenship of any Indian citizen. The misconception that citizenship will be affected by this is false. Additionally, in the three countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, where there are minority communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, etc., they face persecution based on their religion and faith. They are subjected to abduction and forced marriages involving their daughters, which lead to their exploitation and suffering. The law in those countries is to grant citizenship to the persecuted individuals. As for those who came to India before December 31, 2014, they will be considered for citizenship. This is a historical perspective, as during India's partition based on religion, those who were affected and persecuted were promised by India that they would be kept here. After that, under the Nehru-Liaquat Pact of 1950, it was decided that both countries would take care of their respective minority communities.

First of all, it should be understood that this is a new Citizenship Amendment Act, which is an amendment to the existing law. The historical context reveals a long-standing historical injustice in India. Looking at the reality in the region whether it is the increasing Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan, the situation in Bangladesh, or the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, where Sikhs have faced persecution. For them, it was natural to seek India as their homeland. Since 1947, there has been religious discrimination and persecution, resulting in social injustice. Many of these people, such as the Matua, Rajbanshi, Bhil, Scheduled Caste, and Tribal families, have come from Bangladesh and have not received full citizenship in either Pakistan or India. Despite guarantees provided in the Liaquat Pact and the Indira Gandhi Pact, these minority communities have faced persecution, including during the Ayodhya movement in 1990. Only Hindus who came to Gujarat and Rajasthan were granted citizenship. To rectify this historical injustice, provisions have been made to grant citizenship to those who sought refuge in India between 1947 and 2014 from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh due to religious persecution. It is important to note that they are considered refugees, not illegal immigrants. This provision aims to address the historical injustice they have endured.

When the partition occurred, the countries to which we are granting citizenship to the refugees who came from there had minority populations. During the partition, these three countries were not Islamic states. However, the basis was that Muslims needed a separate nation. Nevertheless, all countries took responsibility for the minority populations, whether it was Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh. It was a moral, spiritual, and civilizational duty. However, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan stepped back from this responsibility and declared themselves Islamic states, even though they were not initially. As a result, the rights they received at the time of partition, including the right to religious equality, were taken away from them.

Therefore, it is India's responsibility to fulfil its duty towards these people. India has made provisions to grant citizenship to those who came and stayed until December 31, 2014, for a period of five years. For other individuals, the period is 11 years. Some people are claiming that the remaining individuals will not obtain citizenship, but that is not true. Just as Adnan Sami has been granted citizenship, others will also be granted citizenship. However, they are not persecuted based on religion but have come to India for other reasons. Hence, unless a Muslim is persecuted in Pakistan or a Hindu is persecuted in Nepal based on religion, they will not be granted Indian citizenship. Once these people receive citizenship, legal actions against them in India will be halted.

A portal has been opened in India for people who arrived before 2014, where they can register. They will visit local authorities and present their documents to establish the region they came from and the duration of their residence in India. Based on this, their intelligence verification will be conducted, and if everything is found to be correct, they will be granted citizenship immediately. This provision is specifically for individuals who have experienced religious persecution in their home countries and does not involve the revocation of anyone's citizenship. Some people have incorrectly associated it with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is a separate issue. The purpose of this initiative is to rectify a historical injustice, with the most significant benefits expected for people from the Scheduled Castes, who face considerable religious persecution in Pakistan. It is important to distinguish between seeking refuge due to illegal migration and seeking refuge due to religious persecution, as they are two distinct cases. While illegal migrants must undergo legal processes, those who have arrived in India due to religious persecution are being provided with this facility. In the United States, there have been laws enacted that include the following three: the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, the Lautenberg Amendment, and the Specter Amendment. These laws provide protection to religious communities, such as persecuted Christian communities in countries like Iran and Germany. The United States has offered them shelter, citizenship, and expedited administrative processes similar to what is being done here. The courts there have recognized these measures. We have a precedent available from the US.

As far as registration is concerned the government will inquire about your arrival date, whether you have any documents or brought any with you, and if you have made any reports or registered as an asylum seeker. You will need to provide all that information. If you don't possess documents, you will be required to provide an affidavit or similar documents and fill them out. Based on your actions, including any intelligence input or other classified government information, they will consider it once they are aware of it. There are five ways to obtain citizenship: based on birth, based on descent, based on registration, based on naturalization, and based on joining a specific region. The laws that have been enacted here, such as registration or naturalization, grant citizenship based on these factors. This process is called naturalization. The only difference here is that a minimum residency of 5 years is required in India, while other countries require a residency of 11 years. Here, it has been fast-tracked, providing you with ways to obtain citizenship.

Illegal migrants are individuals who enter another country without valid documentation, such as a visa, granting them permission to enter. They may arrive in that country with a visa but continue to stay beyond the authorized period, placing them in an illegal status. Different countries have varying provisions concerning these illegal migrants, and an essential requirement is that they must inform the embassy or consulate of their home country, after which they are deported back. This rule applies not only in India but also in other countries. Moreover, these individuals are placed on release on parole to ensure their separation and minimize additional hardships. Consequently, special provisions have been established to facilitate their path to citizenship, including naturalization processes. Some individuals may also argue that they have the right to citizenship due to their long-term residence in the country. However, it is important to note that illegal migrants do not possess the right to obtain citizenship despite their illegal status.

I believe that this law, which aims to provide historical justice, should not be politicized. The already working here are contributing to the Indian economy in one way or another. Therefore, we should refrain from politicizing it and understand this law from a humanitarian perspective and in light of history.

Author is an Advocate practicing in the High Court of Bombay.

[The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Verdictum does not assume any responsibility or liability for the contents of the article.]