A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde is scheduled to hear a bunch of 20 petitions challenging the validity of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act on Wednesday.
Justices B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant are on the Bench. December 18 is the last working day for the court before it closes for the winter vacation till January 1. The petitioners cut across political party lines and come from all walks of life. They include parliamentarians like Jairam Ramesh, Mahua Moitra and Asaduddin Owaisi to the Asom Gana Parishad, an association of lawyers from Assam, Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam and the Indian Union Muslim League. Though the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam moved a petition, it was not among the 20 listed for hearing on Wednesday.
The petitions have argued that the law welcomes “illegal migrants” into India selectively on the basis of their religion and pointedly exclude Muslims. It has an “unholy nexus” with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise and is against the principles of secularism and the right to equality and dignity of life enshrined in the Basic Structure of the Constitution, a petition said.
“While the NRC exercise would result in identification of persons as ‘illegal migrants’, the Amendment Act seeks to simultaneously offer illegal migrants who are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian citizenship on the presumed ground of persecution,” Mr. Owaisi contended.
The new citizenship law fast-tracks citizenship by naturalisation for minority Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who enter India illegally, claiming religious persecution in their native countries. But the law does not impose any requirement on illegal migrants from the six religions to prove their claim of religious persecution or even a fear of it.
The petitions have argued that the legislation effectuates discrimination on the basis of the intrinsic and core identity of an individual, that is, his religious identity as a Muslim.
The Act ensures that only an illegal immigrant who is Muslim would be singled out and prosecuted under the Passports (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or the Foreigners Order 1949 and deprived of his personal liberty. On the other hand, illegal migrants from the protected six religions would be entitled with Indian citizenship and the benefits that come with it. While Muslim migrants would have to show their proof of residency in India for at least 11 years, the law allows illegal migrants from the six communities to be naturalised in five years.