THE RIGHT TO VOTE AS VIEWED THROUGH THE LENS OF CITIZENSHIP

By- Syed Mohammad Haroon



Citizenship in India


As stated earlier, citizenship was an alien concept in India. It was originated in the west and was evolved over time in accordance to the social and political requirements of the country. Where western countries were silent to award citizenship to all residents and restricted it only to the elite classes, India had it for all its residents irrespective of the class, colour, ethnicity, sex etc. The reason for India to consider the concept of citizenship and recognizing its citizens can also be a result of partition of the sub-continent in the post-Independence era, where India needed to distinguish between the Pakistani and the Indian residents in order to reduce the chances of havoc that might be caused because of foreign interference. And thus the Citizenship Act, 1955 was promulgated and along with the Part II of the Indian Constitution. It became the source of identity for every resident of India and here, every citizen does include women and poor and it is not limited to only a certain group of people.

Issues faced by the Citizenship


By reading the history of mankind, it is natural to observe that when humans get their hand into very diverse and complex matters (such as Citizenship in India), then there is a huge probability of a backfire.


The first major case was not many years after the Independence of the country from the colonial rule. With the division of country on the basis of religion, India faced a mass migration from different religious groups. Strong measures were taken in order to tackle the issue of knowing who is an immigrant and who is a resident/citizen. By the act, except as provided in sub-section, every person born in India,- on or after the 26th day of January,1950, but before the 1st day of July, 1987; on or after the 1st day of July, 1987[1], but before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 and either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of his birth; on or after the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003, where-both of his parents are citizens of India; or one of whose parents is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of his birth, shall be a citizen of India by birth[2]. Here, the initial problem arose as a result of loss of evidence of residential and citizenship proof because of almost immediate and reckless migration, this led to residents becoming refugees in their own land with no proof to prove otherwise, the borders were not fixed yet and trespassing without the knowledge of boundaries was a normal thing, this kind of havoc that was created is well described in the story by Sadat Hasan Manto by the name “Toba Tek Singh”. However, with time the residents were made aware of the boundaries and other rules regarding the same. Citizenships were provided after this and new provisions were brought by the government to list the citizens.


The other huge issue arose in the recent past was the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in 2016. The bill talks about Amendment in the Citizenship Act; 1955 and inclusion of certain changes into it, such as Persons belonging to minority communities, that is, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan shall not be treated as illegal immigrants[3]. The third schedule of the 1955 Act is proposed to be amended to decrease the residence requirement from 11 years to 6 years and that the Overseas Citizens of India card holders are susceptible to lose their status if they violate any laws of the country. The main issue with this is that the amendments talked about in this bill are completely based on religious and political beliefs, which is completely unconstitutional and tries to make change in one of the basic structure of the constitution, secularism. The carelessness in promulgating the bill can be clearly seen by the loopholes present. The bill excludes Muslims and Jews without any justification. This will make a large number of Muslims who migrated from Bangladesh and Myanmar to India as illegal immigrants and thus they can be forced to leave the country even if they were born here. The example can be seen in Assam, where over 4000000 residents are taken out from the National Register of Citizens and they are now deprived of their rights, with nowhere to go.


The CAA and NRC fiasco


The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 was passed by the parliament on December 11th, 2019. It has to power to grant Indian citizenship to illegal immigrants from specific religions namely Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian who come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. With the passing of this act, there have been a huge uproar regarding its constitutionality and the intentions of the ruling right wing government with it, however, we will majorly focus on the aspects effecting right to vote. As per an Intelligence Bureau records, there will be around 30,000 immediate beneficiaries from this act[4] and more of them likely to be added later. And at the same time, the reports suggest that around 19 lakhs people were excluded from Assam NRC[5]. Now, even though these people have the option to prove their citizenship by providing certain documents, they might not be able to do so because they failed to produce them for several reasons, one of them being natural disasters such as a flood.

While the idea behind CAA and NRC prima facie seems to have a positive intention, it still lacks proper implementation and disregards Indian Constitutional provisions at several occasions. This turmoil in the voting rights may bring a huge change in the elections set to take place in the future as this change in demographics has many fold effects.

Conclusion


It is clear that from the scenarios described above that there is a dire need to define citizenship with greater depth in the Act of 1955 and in Part II. In country as complex as India, it becomes very difficult to acknowledge who is a citizen and who is not, keeping in mind the continuous immigration from neighboring countries. Whether and under which circumstances, a refugee or an immigrant can be given the citizenship is a very grey area that India needs to work on extensively. The current steps taken by the government seems to diminish the work done so far. If such measures are not taken soon, whilst taking into consideration the basic structure of the Constitution of India, the time may not be far where the problem becomes too deep rooted to fix with ease.

[1] Citizenship Act, 1955 [2] Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 [3] Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2016 [4] How many immigrants will benefit from Citizenship Act? 25,447 Hindus, 5,807 Sikhs, 55 Christians, two Buddhists and two Parsis, says Intelligence Bureau available at https://www.firstpost.com/india/how-many-immigrants-will-benefit-from-citizenship-act-25447-hindus-5807-sikhs-55-christians-two-buddhists-and-two-parsis-says-intelligence-bureau-7784581.html (Last updated on December 15th 2019)

[5] Explained- Who are the 19 lakh excluded from Assam NRC, and what next for them? available at https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-assam-nrc-final-list-published-19-lakh-excluded-5953556/ (Last updated on September 14th, 2019)


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