A group of Indian scientists and scholars from within and without the country have released a note of protest against the draft Citizenship Amendment Bill, expected to be tabled in parliament on December 9. The Bill proposes to grant citizenship to Indians on the basis of religion as well as passively excludes Muslims, and has triggered protests around the country and from various civil society groups as a result.
The scholars’ note, shared in full below, also calls attention to this aspect of the Bill and states that it violates the spirit of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Over 750 scholars from around the world have signed the note, including the directors of three major research institutions: Sandip Trivedi (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai), Rajesh Gopakumar (International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, Bengaluru) and Atish Dabholkar (International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Italy).
We are a group of Indian scientists and scholars.
We are issuing this statement in our personal capacity as concerned citizens to express our dismay at the reported plans to table the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 in parliament. We do not have access to the exact text of the current version of the Bill. Our statement is based on media reports and the text of the previous version of the Bill that was passed by the Lok Sabha in January 2019. Nevertheless, we feel compelled to issue this statement already at this point of time in view of the reports that the Bill may be tabled in parliament early next week and may be taken up for voting in both houses soon after.
We understand that the Bill seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The stated intent of the Bill is to provide refuge to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries. While we support this laudable objective, we find it deeply troubling that the Bill uses religion as a legal criterion for determining Indian citizenship.
The idea of India that emerged from the independence movement, and as enshrined in our constitution, is that of a country that aspires to treat people of all faiths equally. The use of religion as a criterion for citizenship in the proposed bill would mark a radical break with this history and would be inconsistent with the basic structure of the constitution. We fear, in particular, that the careful exclusion of Muslims from the ambit of the Bill will greatly strain the pluralistic fabric of the country.
We note that Article 14 of the Indian Constitution prohibits the state from denying “to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” While it is the job of legal experts to determine whether this draft Bill violates the letter of the constitution, it seems certain to us that it violates its spirit.
For the reasons mentioned above, we call for the immediate withdrawal of this Bill and as its replacement request for appropriate legislation that will address the concerns of refugees and minorities in a non-discriminatory manner.