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Article India: Government Begins Implementing Controversial Citizenship Amendment Act

On May 15, 2024, the government of India began to grant citizenship to applicants under a controversial law that grants citizenship to certain religious minorities fleeing neighboring Muslim-majority countries but excludes Muslim and other religious minorities fleeing persecution in the region.

The law in question, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, received presidential assent on December 12, 2019, and came into force on January 10, 2020. However, the law was not implemented for four years, until the Citizenship (Amendment) Rules, 2024 were published on March 11, 2024.

According to the BBC, the law was “put on hold amid massive protests in which scores of people died and many more were arrested,” but the amendment rules were announced weeks before general elections.

Main Features of the Act & Rules

The act amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to include a special provision that fast tracks the acquisition of citizenship for persons who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, and who belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Bangladesh. Persons are eligible for citizenship if they are resident in India for five years instead of the usual requirement of 11 years. The special provision does not apply to individuals in certain tribal or protected areas of the country.

In order to be eligible, the persons also have to be exempted under section 3(2)(c) of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or “from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder.” This refers to the government’s decision in September 2015 to exempt the above-specified religious minorities from Pakistan and Bangladesh based on “humanitarian considerations” to regularize the entry and stay these individuals who had entered India fleeing persecution without passports or other valid travel documents. In 2016, a similar notification was issued for the specified religious minorities from Afghanistan. These exemptions meant that these persons would not be subject to internment/detention or deportation for being without valid travel documents.

The amendment rules amend the Citizenship Rules, 2009 in order to regulate the application process; specify categories of persons eligible to apply for citizenship by registration or naturalization; list documents applicants need to prove they are a national of a specific foreign country; provide for electronic submission of the application form; and a tiered committee system to verify and to evaluate applications. India’s central government has said eligible applicants can apply online through a web portal.

There are currently over 200 petitions challenging the law and rules before the Supreme Court of India. In March 2024, the Court refused to put a stay on the rules implementing the law.

Reaction to the Amendment Act

According to the AP, the government defends the law “as a humanitarian gesture to extend citizenship to religious minorities fleeing persecution and . . . doesn’t affect the citizenship of Muslims born in India.” The law has come under criticism for being discriminatory and in violation of the secular principles enshrined in India’s Constitution. The law excludes Muslim and other religious minority groups that face persecution in neighboring countries. Amnesty International noted that “[m]any other groups in South Asia region such as Rohingya Muslims, Sri Lankan Tamils, Bhutanese, Hazaras, Shias and Ahmadiyyas face exclusion without justification by the discriminatory 2019 amendment.”

Though the government denies they are linked, there is also concern that the law, combined with a possibly expected nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), would “disproportionately impact Muslims.” The NRC would “serve as a database of demographic information on all Indian citizens and would exclude those purported to be illegal immigrants.” Critics state that the Citizenship Amendment Bill would provide non-Muslims who are excluded from the NRC with protection while Muslims who are excluded would be deemed illegal migrants. Indigenous rights and student groups in the state of Assam have also opposed the CAA, arguing it “threatens Assamese identity” because it “offers a path to citizenship for Bangladeshi migrants who would otherwise be excluded from the NRC, as long as they are not Muslim.”

Tariq Ahmad, Law Library of Congress
June 3, 2024

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Ahmad, Tariq. India: Government Begins Implementing Controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. 2024. Web Page.

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Ahmad, Tariq. India: Government Begins Implementing Controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. 2024. Web Page. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.