Let’s begins by understanding that the newly inducted Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 is a process of inclusion in itself. The act seeks to amend its predecessor Citizenship Act, 1955, through which the citizenship laws of India were being governed till now.
Popularly known as CAA, this act enables minorities from the neighbouring Islamic countries – Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, who are facing atrocities in their place of living, and are being prosecuted due to their religion and have come to India on or before 31 December 2014, will not be treated as illegal immigrants and can acquire Indian Citizenship. Such provisions are meant for non-Muslim minorities, including Jain, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi, and Christians who ultimately look towards India as their natural homeland.
The act has been passed in the light of the longstanding demand of thousands of Hindus, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi, and Christians who have entered India, even without any valid document, after facing religious persecutions in the above mentioned Islamic states. Being the originating place of a few religions of the world, a soft power, and a nation with an accommodating culture; India is morally obliged to protect the people of these communities who have ethnic, cultural and religious connectivity with India.
Another reason is that India is one of the fast-growing economies in the region. This is why migrants hope to find peace and prosperity by settling in India. Moreover, neighbouring countries – Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan have Islam as their state religion wherein other religious groups have fallen in the minority bracket. India being a secular country, ought to support the cases and causes of non-Islamic people from these states.
Providing citizenship to some of the selected groups of people from a particular country is not new in India. After the partition, over many years, various groups of refugees have settled in different parts of the country. For instance, Hindus and Sikhs settled in northern parts of India, including J&K, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, and Rajasthan, and made these places their primary settlement zones.
Similar is the situation with the Bangladeshis, who are the largest migrant group in West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura. Tibetan Buddhists in Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, and Odisha; Buddhist Chakmas and Hindu Hajong in Arunachal Pradesh, India had welcomed them all. Amid all uproars, to be fair with the Indian government, citizenship had already been offered in the past, for instance- between 1964 and 2008, to Tamils coming from Sri Lanka.
India has always been perceived as the protector of humanitarian ideals of the world, and implementing CAA is another step to strengthen its promise to bring light to the life of those who have been facing the perils of religious prosecution. Continuous discrimination, unjustified treatment, frequent attacks on certain communities by the fundamentalist in these Islamic dominating countries have raised fear, brought uncertainties and illusions in the mind of these people.
This led to a shrinking of people from these groups from 28% and 32% to 4% and 8% in Pakistan and Bangladesh, respectively, since partition took place in 1947. In such a scenario, non-Islamic minorities have been looking for another home wherein they can restore their identity with dignity for themselves and their future generations.
Citizenship laws in India were governed by the Citizenship Act, 1955, before the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 came into the picture. The persons who seek to enter the country without any permission and valid document are illegal immigrants and are liable to be deported. With the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi, Christian, and Jain communities, came to India to evade religious prosecution on or before 31st December 2014- will be helped by granted Indian Citizenship.
Also, the previous condition of a minimum stay for 12 years provided by the previous citizenship act, 1955 has been reduced to six years. Meanwhile, for the refugees who have been struggling to get either long-term visas or citizenship in India, the act will act as a boon.
Many spurious uproars in a few parts of the country have occurred due to misrepresentation of facts and information on CAA by linking it with NRC and NPR. However, the act has no provision related to the exclusion of the existing citizens of India of all groups, including Muslims. Prime Minister of India has repeatedly asserted that no citizen of India will get affected by the Citizenship Amendment Act. The successor bill amends the previous act to allow people from the Jain, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi, and Christian communities to be granted Indian Citizenship.
The bill is nowhere linked to the exclusion of people of India irrespective of the religion and community they belong to. The act will allow the migrants from certain communities to be eligible for Indian citizenship even if they do not possess any valid documents. However, to get this benefit, they must be exempted from Passport (Entry into Act), 1946 and Foreigner Act, 1946 under which illegal immigrants were deported.
Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) of 2019 is likely to create a huge impact on domestic and foreign policy fronts. Citing the newly passed CAA bill as the new ray of hope, Union Minister of Home Affairs, Amit Shah, said that the bill would work for providing dignified life for the people from minority groups to neighbouring Islamic countries who are facing problems for decades.
The bill has nothing to do with curtailing the rights of minorities in India, and the same will be equally protected. Moreover, all the legal proceedings against them would end up, besides protecting their work-life or businesses on an equal footing. The bill will end up the tag of illegal migrants and provide them legal and constitutional rights available to all other citizens of India.
The act, on one side, is protecting the religious prosecuted minorities, while on another side, no outsider non-citizen will be permitted to stay in India at any cost. Underlining the fact that the partition of India was on religious grounds wherein the large segment of the population from every community was forced to flee their ancestral home, land, property, and businesses, etc., to migrate to different places. Meanwhile due to the large influx of people from the Islamic community and large outflux of non-Islamic from these countries has led to reducing the status of non-Muslims to minorities and prone to attacks, killing, brutal behaviours, significant discrimination, and ultimately to flee the nation. This took the Indian government to establish routes to restore those communities to a dignified life, prospective future, and re-assert faith.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in Lok Sabha in July 2016 and was further referred to the Joint Parliamentary Committee for scrutinizing. The committee went for a series of marathon talks with all the concerned stakeholders before finally recommending the bill in January 2019 in its report. A bill that is meant to extend protection and benefit to certain classes of people cannot be said to be discriminatory and unconstitutional merely based on the ground that legislation could have created for a broader class.
Even the principle of equality does not necessitate the universal application of each law. The application may vary from case to case. Meanwhile, a state is always authorized to make a classification for a particular defined group while not denying the equal protection of people from the other groups.
Part II of the Indian constitution deals with the provisions on Citizenship, and Part III deals with the fundamental rights guaranteed to Indian Citizens and foreigners in India. Amid a series of fundamental rights, article 14 embedded in Part III guarantees equality before the law and equal treatment before the law by the state. This right states that the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
However, the article does not bar the parliament from framing any law based on “reasonable classification” that is applicable to everyone on Indian soil, including foreigners. Article 15 embedded in this part ensures the right to equality- about saving the peoples from all sorts of discrimination with respect to race, religion, caste, age, gender, religion, or place of birth. However, these fundamental rights are not absolute; they are subject to reasonable classifications.
The Supreme court has also asserted that Article 14 is subject to the reasonable classification of the person, process or transaction by the state, as it is deemed fit for the welfare of the same. Saying CAA unreasonable on the count that it does not include Muslim Minorities; apply restrictively to three Islamic countries; is nowhere a valid ground which forbids legislation to make laws for ‘non-citizens’ (to date) to meet specific ends.
Additionally, when some official declared that Muslim states refuse to accept some other ‘Muslims’ and avoid discourse by saying it is a matter of their internal affairs and then expect India, a nation with an inclusive society, to do so, it defies the logic.
The prosecution based on the religion, religious practices, and faith form the reasonable ground to grant protection to these communities coming from the countries whose law of the land-constitution is designed to protect and preserve Islam. Reiterating the stand of the government of India, the supreme court has also maintained that article 14 permits ‘reasonable classification’ by the state to meet certain ends for society’s development.
The newly inducted CAA will help this class to safeguard their interest along with safeguarding the dignity of their women. Moreover, the bill has nothing that fell afoul of article 14, or divisive or communal. Hence, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 goes in line with what has been promised to citizens by our forefathers through the constitution and fit in as an example of positive discrimination.
Upheld by the Supreme Court, the classification is not unconstitutional. It is worthwhile to mention here that the Indian constitution protects the right of minorities too in its homeland and confers them special rights. Had the law been made broader and let all communities access the citizenship rights in India, we could as well do away with our borders with Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. Further tenuous is the argument that how can a law be discriminatory when it does not extend to every citizen of every country facing religious prosecution.
Another falsified aspect wrongly instigated by the non-ruling parties, and so-called members of civil society are on the assumed intention of the government. It has been creating fear in the mind of people from Muslim communities that the intention of the government is to throw them out of the country. In no rule, draft, law, or notification published, any of such intentions have been suggested, written, and/or told by the government.
Moreover, Prime Minister Modi has repeatedly denied the rumours and told people CAA has nothing to do with the exclusion of Indian citizens belonging to any community, including Muslims. Rather it is a process of inclusion of prosecuted people from the neighbouring countries. However, the special measures taken to address the issue of demographic distortion occurred in the North East due to war in Bangladesh should not be seen from the angle of the conflict zone area.
Harish Salve, ex-solicitor general has also endorsed the view of government that CAA is reasonable enough for being based on “Intelligible differentia.” Added in the constitution by the 42nd amendment act, 1976; Secularism is part of the essential fabric of Indian democracy wherein all the religions are equally accepted, respected, supported, and provided equal status on Indian soil. To be fair with the government, article 30 also talks about rights to minorities to help them preserve their identity in the Indian homeland while not snatching the right of other groups.
Due to the consequences of the Bangladesh war in 1971, a large influx of illegal immigrants occurs in the northeastern region of India including Assam, West Bengal, and Tripura. This leads to a change in the demography of the region, mooted the Indian government to take control of the situation and the Assam Accord came into the picture.
Under Assam Accord, the foreigners who have entered Assam before 25 March 1971 will be given citizenship. Herein the rest will be expelled from the state and also the ground of religious prosecution was not a consideration for accommodating illegal immigrants. The Amended Citizenship Act, 2019 has shifted the cut-off date for such consideration to 31st December 2014.
In the context of the North East, to the areas mentioned in the 6th schedule, CAA doesn’t apply. Such areas are the autonomous tribal areas in Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram; notified under Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873; and the state with an inner line of permit- Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland. The people of these areas can continue to function without fearing losing their demographic, cultural, and linguistic uniqueness.
Talks were duly held with all the stakeholders before giving the practical shape to Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. The idea was to closely identify all needs, gaps, and consequences of this act by scrutinizing it. The politics of polarisation between the castes, religions, and different ideologies is not new. This notion is not exclusive to either the old or modern world of India.
Polarised ideas are well choreographed and served for the different audience through modes of communication while ideas beyond it continue to be romanced by the intellectuals, think-tanks, and others who dominate over the voice of a larger segment of people or groups. Perhaps, they don’t get enough courage to come out and address the lies, the rumors which are hampering the texture of Indian-hood.
The need of the hour is to revoking the political history of India and setting up the necessary discourse on the idea of inclusion given in CAA for lakhs of those who have ultimately no place to go but India. One should look beyond the edited sarcasm, designed political sloganeering, short videos, and movie clips which are nothing more than just the innovative strategies to spread the lies, coordinate the protests and mobilize masses in the wrong direction.
The special measures taken by the government for some particular group of people without hampering the interests of others should be seen as a welcome step. Polarised politics has tried to give this act a Hindu-Muslim flavour and spread manipulating and mishandled information while ignoring the duty of delivering the essence of the act to the public which in ‘no-way’ taking away the citizenship right of anyone while only giving the same.
Advancing the right information to the people, not creating hues of hate by making a law an overtly religious issue is the moral responsibility of a responsible society and nation. The people of India must understand the meaning of CAA in its letter and spirit and check it on rational grounds.
The right opinion on CAA should be created by knowing its essence, avoiding rumours, and not believing the haters with unrealistic situations and distorted facts to satisfy the slinging political rivalry and personal vested interests. The BJP led government’s far-sighted vision is to do greater good for India by enhancing its reputation and socially uplifting it on the global platform for the long run.