Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) are the perfect avenues that the government of the day has found to ostracise a particular section of the society it not only includes large a Muslim population but also other minorities such as the Scheduled Tribes (ST)s, Schedule Castes (SC)s and also the other economically weaker sections (especially people below poverty line) of society.
Now, if we look at the bigger picture, it could be found that NRC and CAA are closely interlinked, as the people who would be left out in the NRC list due to lack of documents and technical glitches, leading to a mismatch of documents in the NRC would not be disenfranchised from their citizenship rights just by the virtue of being a Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, Jain and Parsi; but if you are a Muslim then in just a flick of seconds, you are declared illegal.
To this, the question arises as to what about those who don’t belong to any of the above-given communities such as the Adivasis who don’t belong to any of the above prescribed religious communities or the atheists or the irreligious. Which means this Act is discriminatory on various grounds such as of religion, class, caste and sex as well. As this very exercise would turn out to be treacherous not only for sexual minorities, namely the LGBTQI community, but also the women in the country who would be hardest hit.
Thus, this would result in the social and political exclusion of various communities and of them, the most affected would be social and economically disadvantaged, which means that rather than protecting the minorities and the weak in the society, we would be snatching their lives and livelihoods. Hence, this not only violates article 14 and 15 of the constitution but is also against the basic structure doctrine and the idea of the constitution.
Though there are various grounds on which CAA stands frivolous and prejudiced as mentioned above, I would here emphasis mainly on the Scheduled Tribes (ST)s and the other religious minorities (atheist and antagonistic, which includes various tribes as well).
There are about 8.6% scheduled tribes(ST) in India according to 2011 census which means that we have about 104.3 million Adivasis of which 11.2% live in rural India. Now, since most of the tribal population in India is rural, access to various documentation policies of the government remain out of their reach, this could well be witnessed in the low number of birth registrations among the Adivasis.
In India, almost every two out of five children in the country don’t have birth certificates as of 2015-16, National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) data. If we look at the numbers for the Scheduled Tribes according to the NFHS-4, 2015-16 only about 55% had their births registered and possessed a birth certificate. Now as the data from 2015-16 shows that the number of birth registration is itself so low for Adivasis as compared to the so-called ‘mainstream society’, which mainly comprises the upper caste, that is about 71% of them possess and have a registered birth.
This indicates that in all probabilities the Adivasis would be at a disadvantage. Since a birth certificate is the most basic document that is required to prove your citizenship in the NRC process, and as the 2015-16 data suggests that it is the Adivasis among whom the birth registration is quite low. In case one is not able to authenticate his/her birth certificate, there are all possible chances that one would be detained.
This shows how this very process of NRC in multiple ways could lead to discrimination by making the vulnerable more vulnerable, and in this case, it would be the Adivasis and not the upper section of the society, which means that almost 45% of them have chances of being left out of the NRC list and are likely to be stuffed in the unhabitable conditions of detention camps.
As we have seen in the case of Assam there were about 19 lakh people who were excluded from the final list.
Living in an atmosphere of fear, despondency, hopelessness and more than anything else, breathing every single second being in the apprehension of being declared ‘stateless’ and of being left abandoned without anything to depend on for survival, with no work, no food and shelter.
According to the Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG), there are about one lakh Scheduled Tribes (ST)s who are originally inhabited to Assam were excluded from the NRC list. RRAG also says that the majority of women from one of the tribal community, Reang community, were excluded from the list because of their inability to prove their legacy since 1971.
This very conduct of NRC in India could in all possibilities lead to the expulsion of a large population, especially of the Adivasis or Scheduled Tribe as it can be seen in the case of Assam that one of the main sufferers of this very exercise is the Scheduled Tribes. The data of NFHS-4 above shows that there is a poor documentation level among the tribes across various parts of India. This also means that in the near future, it is not only in Assam but across India that we would soon be facing a similar disastrous situation. Our own people will be on the verge of being declared ‘stateless’, very similar to what Assam today is going through.
According to the 2011 Census data, there are about 2.9 million Indians who didn’t share their religion and there are about 7.9 million Indians who belong to the category of ‘other religions’. This means that theses categories not only include the 33,000 atheists but also the indigenous religious communities and various other believers who don’t recognise themselves as Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Muslim, Christian, Jain or a Buddhist.
These are the forest dwellers, the animists, the syncretises, nature worshipers and the aboriginals who have been an integral part of this country from centuries. These groups reside in the regions, from the Eastern Himalayas of North East India to the plateaus of central India and from Northern Himalayas of Leh to the Nilgiri forests of Southern India and the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Which means that by not recognising these indigenous groups, we are likely to make our society more homogeneous rather than having a more inclusive society, through this very process of NRC and CAA.
As per the 2011 Census data, the rural population among these two categories that is religion ‘not stated’ and ‘other religion’ are much higher than the urban population, so there are about 7.2 million who belonged to the category of ‘others’ and about 1.6 million who didn’t state their religious identity. These numbers clearly indicate that people who didn’t follow a religion or didn’t know their religion, are also part of this category.
Now if we consider 2011 Socio-Economic and Caste Census data, it indicates that the ‘others’ category has the largest population of Scheduled Tribes which is about 82% of the total 7.2 million population from the ‘others’ category and since a large number reside in rural parts and have a very low level of socio-economic development.
The above inputs give us a plausible idea that during the very conduct of National Register of Citizens this very group is going to be the most vulnerable, this includes the various Adivasis and aboriginal communities who are very much likely to be excluded and the chances of them being included through the CAA is quite rare.
The Home Minister of India, Mr Amit Shah, vociferously avowed that the CAA law is to give citizenship to all refugees, which seems to run contrary to this very Act itself. As the act suggests that, only members of the Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Zoroastrian communities who have come from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh till December 31, 2014, and facing religious persecution there will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship. If in true sense persecution would have been the basis for this very law, than probably the ground on which citizenship is provided wouldn’t have been so discriminatory in nature.
The myopic perspective that since these are Muslim majority countries the chances of Muslims being persecuted is unlikely, which is very much far from the real picture as the Ahmadiyyas, the Sufis, the Shias, the Balochis, Jews, the atheists and even the women and children from the majority community have been facing prejudices in Pakistan. The situation is even worse for Afghans as many of these innocents are living under fear and trepidation of being executed, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you are a Muslim, Hindu or a Sikh.
Hundreds of Hazaras, atheists and Shias have been killed, many are of them are living like refugees in various parts of Delhi who aspire to be given citizenship of India, but the reason that they are not eligible to be citizenship through CAA stands quite unfair though they are persecuted but will not be given citizenship just because they are Muslims. Not only religious minorities but also atheists have been facing grave discrimination in Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, an intolerant ideology called ‘atheistophobia‘ has so strongly surfaced that the people who are rational, irreligious or who don’t conform with the majoritarian idea are under death treats day and night. Thus, in all these countries not only are other religious minorities being cherry-picked but also the minorities within the same religion. The story doesn’t stop there, as the atheists, free thinkers and the agnostics face the worst nightmares as they are time and again subjected to capital punishment and harsh blasphemy laws.
In a nutshell, it can be easily said that NRC and CAA in all capacity are detrimental to the very idea of India. They have the capability of denying citizenship to one on the basis of their religion, belief, conscience, caste, creed, sex and your economic status and in this case, all are interconnected. A minor technical glitch can make you homeless and stateless, the anguish among the people is so high that it can be said that- This provokes situations and circumstances where the mind is not without fear and the head cannot be held high.