The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 was passed by the Parliament of India on 11 December 2019. It amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 by providing a path to Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities fleeing persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Muslims were not given such eligibility. The act was the first time religion had been used as a criterion for citizenship under Indian law.
The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads the Indian government, had promised in previous election manifestos to offer Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from neighboring countries. Under the 2019 amendment, migrants who had entered India by 31 December 2014, and had suffered “religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” in their country of origin were made eligible for citizenship. The amendment also relaxed the residence requirement for naturalization of these migrants from eleven years to five. Immediate beneficiaries of the Bill, according to the Intelligence Bureau of India, will be 31,313 refugees: 25,447 Hindus, 5,807 Sikhs, 55 Christians, 2 Buddhists and 2 Parsis.
The amendment has been widely criticized as discriminating on the basis of religion, in particular for excluding Muslims. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called it “fundamentally discriminatory”, adding that while India’s “goal of protecting persecuted groups is welcome”, this should be accomplished through a non-discriminatory “robust national asylum system”. Critics express concerns that the bill would be used, along with the National Register of Citizens, to render Muslim immigrants stateless. Commentators also question the exclusion of persecuted religious minorities from other regions such as Tibet, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The Indian government says that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are Muslim-majority countries where Islam has been declared as the official state religion through constitutional amendments in recent decades, and therefore Muslims in these Islamic countries are “unlikely to face religious persecution” and cannot be “treated as persecuted minorities”. Scholars describe Muslim minorities in these countries, such as Hazaras and Ahmadis, as also facing persecution.
The passage of the legislation caused large-scale protests in India. Assam and other northeastern states have seen violent demonstrations against the bill over fears that granting Indian citizenship to refugees and immigrants will cause a loss of their “political rights, culture and land rights” and motivate further migration from Bangladesh. In other parts of India, protestors said the bill discriminated against Muslims and demanded that Indian citizenship be granted to Muslim refugees and immigrants. Major protests against the Act were held at universities in India. Students at Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia alleged brutal suppression by the police. The protests have led to the death of several protesters, injuries to protesters and police personnel, damage to public and private property, the detention of thousands of people, and suspensions of local internet and communication infrastructure in certain areas. Some of the states have announced they will not implement the Act, however the Union Home Ministry said that states lack the legal power to stop the implementation of CAA.