The Supreme Court of India recently held a pivotal hearing on petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act 1955. This provision grants citizenship to certain foreign migrants who entered Assam between 1966 and 1971, sparking debates about its impact on the state’s cultural identity and immigration concerns.
Arguments for Section 6A:
- Limited applicability: Solicitor General Tushar Mehta emphasized that the provision applies only to a specific period and region, addressing a historical context of migration into Assam.
- Foreign policy considerations: He highlighted the role of Section 6A in maintaining international relations with Bangladesh, reflecting considerations beyond the scope of domestic law.
- Parliamentary authority: Mehta asserted that Parliament holds the power to enact laws on citizenship, and the court’s role is limited to reviewing their constitutionality.
- Demographic changes and migration: Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, argued that pinning demographic changes solely on Section 6A is inaccurate. He highlighted the historical context of migration into Assam, dating back to the British era, and the impossibility of attributing these changes to a single event.
- Cultural rights and Article 29: Sibal challenged the argument that demographic changes violate Article 29 of the Constitution, which guarantees the preservation of cultural rights. He argued that the burden lies on the petitioners to demonstrate specific violations of language, script, or other cultural aspects protected under the article.
- Constitutional culture: Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, representing the All Assam Minority Students Union, emphasized that the court must prioritize “constitutional culture” when interpreting the Constitution. She argued that the Assamese language and traditions are adequately protected, and the concept of “indigenous persons” lacks a legal definition and should be used cautiously.
Arguments against Section 6A:
- Singling out Assam: The Supreme Court questioned why Assam was singled out in Section 6A, while other border states like West Bengal facing similar migration challenges lack mirroring provisions.
- Unclear legal status: The court expressed concerns about the unclear legal status of non-citizen individuals residing in Assam, highlighting their limited access to services and potential human rights violations.
- Impact on indigenous rights: Petitioners argued that Section 6A disregards the rights of indigenous Assamese communities by allowing a significant influx of migrants, potentially impacting their land rights, cultural practices, and social identity.
- Article 14 and equality: Some argued that Section 6A violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to equality before the law. They contended that the provision creates an arbitrary distinction between migrants in different states.
Demands for further data and solutions:
The Supreme Court directed the Union Government to furnish data on the inflow of illegal migrants to Assam and North-Eastern states after March 25, 1971. Additionally, the court requested information on the extent of border fencing and the estimated timelines for completion, highlighting the need for robust border security measures.
Open questions and future considerations:
The hearing raised several critical questions that require further examination:
- Does Section 6A strike an appropriate balance between cultural preservation and integration?
- How can the government address the concerns of indigenous communities while upholding the rights of migrants?
- What role can data analysis and evidence-based policies play in developing effective solutions to the complex issue of migration?
- Is the “foreign policy” argument sufficient justification for a provision that potentially impacts the rights of citizens and communities?
The Supreme Court’s final verdict on Section 6A will have significant implications for Assam and the broader conversation on migration and citizenship in India. By carefully considering the arguments presented by all parties and engaging in a comprehensive analysis of the issue, the court can pave the way for a balanced and just resolution that upholds the rights of all individuals while safeguarding the cultural heritage and identity of diverse communities.
Aditya Pratap is a lawyer and founder of Aditya Pratap Law Offices. He practices in the realm of real estate, corporate, and criminal law. His website is adityapratap.in and his media interviews can be accessed at http://www.youtube.com/@AdityaPratap/featured. Views expressed are personal.
This article has been assisted by Aruj Gupta, a 3rd year law student pursuing B.A., LL.B. from NMIMS Bangalore.