Explained: Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019

If for two minutes we imagine that you are in a river travelling in a boat and all of a sudden you hear that two men are drowning in the river and shouting for help. Then you see that yes there is enough space in your boat that you can rescue both of them. But now if I say that among these two persons one is a Hindu and one is a Muslim, will you save both of them? I think that the majority will say that what religion has to do with it. Of course we will save both of them as they are about to die. But now if I say that the person who is sailing the boat saves only the Hindu man and not the Muslim one because he himself is a Hindu. He rescues the Hindu and says to the Muslim that you wait here and some other boats might be coming here whose boat driver might be a Muslim and he will surely save you, but I cannot save you. Now the Muslim man will say you must save me I’m dying here and you are talking about religion at this time.

So the metaphor which I just mentioned basically summarises the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019. This Act says that any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jain, Buddhist or Parsi community who had fled persecution from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh before December 2014 will be provided citizenship of India.

It seeks to amend the definition of illegal immigrants for Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Jain, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who have lived in India without documentation. They will be granted fast track Indian citizenship in 5 years. So far 11 years of residence had been the standard eligibility requirement for naturalisation.

The legislation applies to those who were “forced or compelled to seek shelter in India due to persecution on the ground of religion”. It aims to protect such people from the proceedings of illegal migration.

The cut off date for citizenship is 31 December 2014 which means the applicant should have entered India on or before that date.

SALIENT FEATURES OF THE ACT

  • The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on 9 December 2019 and it received President’s assent to become an Act on 12 December 2019.
  • The Amendment Act seeks to amend the principal Act to provide that the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, will not be treated as illegal migrants.
  • In order to get this benefit, they must have also been exempted from the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 by the central government.
  • The 1920 Act mandates foreigners to carry passport, while the1946 Act regulates the entry and departure of foreigners in India.
  • Citizenship can be acquired in 2 ways: by registration or naturalisation: The Act allows a person to apply for citizenship by registration or naturalisation if the person meets certain qualifications.
  • For example, if a person resides in India for a year and if one of his parents is a former Indian citizen, he may apply for citizenship by registration.
  • To obtain citizenship by naturalisation, one of the qualifications is that the person must have resided in India or have been in the service of the central government for at least 11 years before applying for citizenship.
  • The Bill creates an exception for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, with regard to this qualification. For these groups of persons, the 11 years’ requirement will be reduced to 5 years.
  • On acquiring citizenship:
    • such persons will be deemed to be citizens of India from the date of their entry into India, and (ii) all legal proceedings against them in respect of their illegal migration or citizenship will be closed.
  • An illegal migrant is prohibited from acquiring Indian citizenship. An illegal immigrant is a foreigner who either enters India illegally, i.e., without valid travel documents, like a visa and passport, or enters India legally, but stays beyond the time period permitted in their travel documents. An illegal migrant can be prosecuted in India and deported or imprisoned.
  • In September 2015 and July 2016, the government exempted certain groups of illegal migrants from being imprisoned or deported. These are illegal migrants who came into India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan on or before December 31, 2014, and belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian religious[1] communities.

CENTRE’S LOGIC BEHIND THE ACT

  •  Centre says that these minority groups have come escaping persecution in Muslim majority nations. That these are those minority groups who face a lot of discrimination and attacks in these three countries i.e. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and hence they say that the Centre will protect them and give them shelter in India.
  •  This may seem quite logical in one sense but this logic fades away as soon as we see that there are various other communities also which are facing discrimination in these three countries and which are not included in this act, For example the Ahmedia and Shia communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh face a lot of discrimination as the other Muslims in Pakistan does not consider them as Muslims. Atheists face a lot of discrimination in various Islamic countries. They suffer attacks, hate crimes but there is no relief for these persecuted minorities in this act. So it can be said that this Act is selectively protecting some communities and religions and ignoring [2]the others.
  • In counter-argument some people say that there are 50+ Islamic countries in the world and so the Muslims can seek shelter in those countries, we don’t have any place for them in India. As there are Muslims so they must seek help from Muslim countries it is not our problem. This is very much similar to the example which has been mentioned earlier in this article that when two people are drowning and you being Hindu save only Hindu and leave the Muslim to be saved by other boats drived by Muslim drivers.

DEFECTS IN THE CENTRE’S LOGIC

  • Where will the Atheists go, as they do not believe in any religion?
  • If we start discriminating on the basis of religion India could no longer be a secular country. And if this happens India’s international reputation would be destroyed and it will reach the level of Pakistan, a country which defines itself on the basis of religion i.e. Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

SECULARITY: TOOL FOR DEVELOPMENT

Here some people will say that Yes, we want India to be a Hindu Rashtra.

I would like to ask these people that had they ever seen the condition of those countries, which define themselves on the basis of religion. They are among the least developed countries of the world. If you see the top developed countries of the world such as European countries, USA, Japan, Singapore, Australia all of these are secular countries. On the other hand, see the least developed countries of the world which always undergo fights and all these things and are the most underdeveloped countries, for sure there facing some of the other religious riots or division on the basis of religion.

So, it is up to us if we also fight on the basis of religion India will also fall down to the level of these underdeveloped countries and if we want to take our country among the top countries of the world we have to remain Secular.

This has also been believed by our freedom fighters Sardar Wallabh Bhai Patel, Mahatma Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Shaheed Bhagat Singh none of them wanted India to become a Hindu Rashtra, they all wanted India to be a secular country and advocated equal treatment to all religions.

On the other hand, the people who wanted to divide India into a Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India were the Muslim League on one side under which Jinnah comes and other side included Hindu Mahasabha, who wanted a Hindu Rashtra, under which comes people like Godse and Savarkar.

So, here if we support CAA, we will basically be supporting the 2 nation theory which was suggested by Jinnah, that Hindu Muslims cannot live together peacefully, we have to provide different countries to them. This theory was rejected by almost every Indian Freedom Fighter. They were of the belief that we can live together, we will show that we can live together peacefully.

So, if we support CAA, it will go against the policy of one nation and also “Vasudeva Kutumbkam”, which means that Indians live as a one single family, which was suggested by our great Freedom Fighters.

NORTH- EAST ISSUE

In north eastern states like Assam, Tripura, Sikkim, etc. protests broke out on a large scale against this act. The protesters claimed that this act promotes the illegal immigration, because today if you start giving citizenship to people just like that, tomorrow people will come in more and more no.s, when they will see that citizenship is being distributed in India and they will ask for citizenship. This will have a great stress on our resources specially in the north eastern states which had already been under a great stress historically. When Bangladesh was liberated, a large number of refugees migrated to these north eastern States and it was very difficult at that time to accommodate such a large population. As it is not easy to accommodate such a large number of people when our own country is in bad conditions, poverty is going on increasing, unemployment is increasing, economy is crashing,  so how can we call people from outside to make our situation even worse.

There has been Internet shutdown in Assam and other north eastern states, there were curfews everywhere, also there was news that various army troops are being moved from Kashmir to Assam to control people. Here the voice of the people is being ignored. Indian Army which we must use to protect our country from foreign intruders and terrorists is being used against the people of our own country.

Moreover this bill is a big threat to our National Security. Our Intelligence Agency, RAW has also claimed that due to this Act, illegal immigration will become easy as people will get citizenship just by showing one affidavit that they are Hindu and they will get citizenship. This will lead to the entry of infiltrators and terrorists in the country by pretending to be a Hindu, which will be a great threat to our country.

So this Act is not only against our founding principles but can be a danger to north eastern states as well as national security of India.

REAL REASONS BEHIND CAA

The reasons which the government stated behind bringing up this act had already been discussed previously in this article.

The real reasons may be:

  • That BJP wants to distract people from the real issues such as Economy, GDP growth, Unemployment, etc. So that the population do not get a chance to concentrate on these real issues.

The Hindu Muslim issue almost came to an end with the Ram Mandir verdict given by the Supreme Court. But BJP thought that if the Hindu Muslims riots will come to an end people will again focus on these real issues so they brought this Act which gave another opportunity to religious riots by differentiating between religions.

  • It could have been possible to use the term “persecuted minorities” instead of mentioning the name of particular few religions. But again this was done to make people fight among themselves on the basis of religion. So that the government may “Divide and Rule.”
  • Another reason is that BJP wants to gain a Vote Bank from these immigrants and refugees. By providing citizenship to these people, they will provide them with voter ID cards and then BJP will ask them to vote for their party as they have provided them citizenship.

BJP had in the past, accused Mamata Bannerjee that she calls Bangladeshi people, distributes voter ID cards to them and then ask them to vote for her party. And today BJP is doing the same thing for which it accused Mamata Bannerjee.

  • By combining NRC along with CAA the government wants to create a dangerous weapon through which they can grant citizenship to whoever they want and deny it to the others. They want to divide and rule on a large scale and it can be called ‘Partition 2.0’.

CRITICISM OF THE ACT

The Act has faced a lot of criticism from all over the world:

  • International media all over the world is strongly criticising Modi government for the citizenship amendment act.
  • United Nations has openly said that CAA is fundamentally discriminatory in nature.
  • Nobel Prize winner Ramakrishnan  has also criticised this Act.
  • In Assam, BJP leaders have started leaving the party, even senior leaders are leaving the party, to show disappointment regarding this Act. But then also the BJP leaders are continuing with their lame arguments supporting the Act.
  • The main reason behind people criticising this act is that the government has no planning behind bringing this citizenship amendment act . When  questions are raised before the government such as where will these people live, what will they eat, what all facilities will be provided to them by the government , the government remains silent. As it has no planning before bringing this Act into force.

Even the people of our own country are struggling for jobs, they don’t have enough food, enough housing. India’s rank is declining day by day on the Hunger Index. How will we be able to accommodate new people in such drastic conditions. The government has no answer to these questions.

CONCLUSION

 The classification made in the Act between different religions is prima facie, very arbitrary and against the founding principles of our country. It is against Article 14 as well as Secular nature of the Constitution.

The onus is now on the Supreme Court, being the guardian of the Indian Constitution and also the Apex Court to protect the provisions of the Constitution and to check the validity of various provisions of the Act. It must interpret the various provisions of the Act and consider their constitutionality. That whether the classification made under the Act would come under “Reasonable Classification” provided under Article 14 of the Constitution or not.

The aim of the Act i.e. to protect the people of our neighbouring countries who are being prosecuted there or are suffering in any way, is genuine. But the methods which are used to achieve this end must be in accordance with the Constitutional law of our country. They must not be inconsistent with the Constitution.

The use of the word “persecuted minorities” instead of mentioning the name of particular 6 religions must be encouraged. This would automatically reduce the criticism and protests going on against the Act.

Further the north eastern people must be taken into confidence and must be listened to, so that they do not feel any inferiority complex or that their voice is being ignored. They must be convinced that the linguistic, cultural and social identity of the people of that region would be preserved.

In future, the government must avoid making any such laws which make people fight against one another on any matter, be it religion, equality and the like. India being a developing country, must focus on development goals such as it must work towards reducing poverty, hunger, inequality, unemployment etc. Hence the government must focus on these factors rather than making people fight on matters of religion etc. So that in near future, India might be called a Developed country.


[1] Citizenship(Amendment) Act, 2019, DRISHTI IAS( June 20,2021, 2:30 PM), https://www.drishtiias.com>Paper2

[2] ET Online, Citizenship ( Amendment) Act, 2019: What is it and why is it seen as a problem, THE ECONOMIC TIMES( June 20, 2021, 4:35 PM), economictimes.indiatimes.com


Author: Nancy Goel from Amity Law School, Noida.


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