By Mudassir Husain
Dec 19: The issue of citizenship is again at the forefront with the recent changes made to the Citizenship Act of 1955 by the central government. While the government claims that the changes were made purely to help the religious minorities of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who were facing persecution, people across communities feel that this is a brazen attempt to destroy the secular nature of India.
The ruling party at the center has time and again stated that the National Register of Citizen (NRC) process will be extended to the rest of the country. The fact that Citizenship Act of 1955 was amended just before the implementation of NRC raises many eyebrows.
Over the past two weeks, there has been widespread civic unrest all over the country. The exact implications of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and NRC are unknown. Here, I have attempted to provide some clarity on the subject based on my reading of the Citizenship Amendment Bill and other relevant laws.
What is Citizenship Amendment Act?
The provisions relating to Indian Citizenship are provided under the Citizenship Act ,1955, which has now been modified by the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Normally, illegal immigrants are detained and penal consequences under the Passport (entry into India) Act 1920 and Foreigners Act 1946 are levied upon them. The central government in 2015 and 2016 exempted the illegal immigrants belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi or Christian communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh from the penal consequences and even made them eligible for long term visa to stay in India.
Now, by way of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, the illegal migrants from these countries who belong to the above-mentioned communities and who have migrated to India before 2014 shall be granted certificate of citizenship by naturalization. Citizenship by naturalization essentially means that any person staying legally in India for a minimum period of time as stipulated under the law shall be eligible to seek citizenship. Earlier, a person irrespective of his religion, had to stay for a minimum of 12 years to be eligible to seek citizenship. CAA now brings it down to 5 years and does away with the requirement of ‘legally staying’.
Summary: In essence, any person from these countries belonging to these communities shall be granted a certificate of citizenship if they entered India before 2014 irrespective of whether they legally entered India or not. Illegal immigrants belonging to Muslim or other communities shall never be granted citizenship by naturalization even if they have been staying here for generation. They will be detained and prosecuted.
What is National Register of Citizens?
As the name suggests, it is a register which identifies all the citizens of the country. To establish oneself as a citizen, he/she has to prove that his/her forefathers were habitants of India before a particular date set by the government (In Assam, the cutoff year was 1971 wherein large-scale migration from Bangladesh into India took place).
How does NRC and CAA affect Muslims?
NRC, when seen in isolation, does not seem to be very harmful. Likewise, though CAA is heavily biased against Muslims, when see in isolation, it will not be perceived as a great problem. However, the problem arises when you read NRC in conjunction with CAA. The joint effect of NRC and CAA is that 20+ crore Muslims and others are forced to prove their nationality to save themselves from detention centres and prosecution while a blanket immunity is provided to people belonging to the other communities as mentioned in the CAA. It essentially means that when NRC process is initiated, if a Muslim fails to establish that his forefathers were habitants of India before the cutoff date, he will be detained. However, if a non-Muslim fails to establish the same, he can always seek the help of CAA and claim immunity. Is it fair? You decide.
Does NRC and CAA affect non-Muslims in any way?
As against the popular belief, NRC and CAA affect each and every citizen of this country. Sadly, it is not just about helping refugees from other counties as claimed by the government. Remember the inconvenience caused to you during demonetisation? This time around, it will be 100 times worse. While you tried to prove the legitimacy of your money then, brace yourself to prove the legitimacy of your citizenship now.
Technically, only people belonging to Hindu, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist or Christian communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who have migrated to India to escape religious persecution are eligible to avail the benefits of CAA. What happens to a Kannadiga Hindu or a Tamilian Christian who lacks the required documentation to prove his citizenship? Purely going by the statement of objects and reasons provided in the Citizenship Amendment Bill, it appears that people with different language and ethnicity as compared to the ethnicity and language of the above mentioned three counties, may end up in detention centres if they fail to prove their citizenship.
In Assam, out of the 19 lac immigrants identified during NRC process, 12 lac were non-Muslims. Unless a non-Muslim with no documents can convince that he is from those three counties, he may face the same consequences which a similarly placed Muslim faces.
Why should you protest against NRC and CAA?
NRC and CAA are not about any particular community. NRC and CAA strike at the very foundation of our country. The fight against NRC and CAA is to protect the core ideals and principles upon which our country stands. India is a diverse country and its laws are designed in a way such that all communities can maintain their distinct identities without being in conflict with each other. The minorities in any country are always in fear of majority domination and our Constitution provides sufficient protection to address these fears of minorities. The current regime is however adding onto those fears.
As witnessed numerous times in history, treating minorities as second class citizens by majority always ends badly for the country. Sri Lanka is a classic example. The Sinhala-Tamil conflict turned into a civil war which ultimately destroyed the country’s thriving economy.
India is currently facing many economic challenges. Unemployment rate is steadily increasing day by day. Businesses are closing down. At this juncture, civil unrest is the worst thing that can happen to us. Students, acientists, academicians have come out in the open protesting against these laws which are aimed at destroying the secular fabric of our country. Remember, they are not doing a favour to the Muslims, but merely performing their duties as citizens of India to wrest the control of our country from fascist forces who are trying to divide us on religious lines.