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Immigration to Infuriation—The Citizenship (Amendment) Act

The Citizenship Act 1955, elucidated the laws for a person to be determined an Indian citizen. According to the Act, Indian citizenship by naturalisation could be acquired by a foreigner who is a legal migrant and has resided in the country for a period of twelve years. The person in question had to be present in the country for the twelve whole months and eleven out of fourteen years preceding the date of application.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019 was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in July 2016. Due to pressure from the opposition, the bill was submitted to the Joint Parliamentary Committee in August 2016. In the event of the May 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the bill was left stagnant for a while. On 9th December 2019, the CAB was brought before the Lok Sabha. Even though there was massive resistance from the opposition, the bill was passed in the lower house with 311 votes for and 80 votes against. Soon after, the CAB was passed by the Rajya Sabha with 125 votes in favour of and 105 votes against it on 11th December. President Ram Nath Kovind ratified the bill on 12th December, thus making it law.

In 1950, the Nehru-Liaquat Act was established between India and Pakistan. This act was signed to curb the communal violence that was taking place between the two nations at the time. The act laid down the conditions for the treatment of minorities, particularly Muslims in India and Hindus in Pakistan. But minorities in Pakistan were, and still are, treated abysmally. To bail religious minorities out from this situation, the CAA was brought into existence.  As estimated by the government, the act will immediately help about 31,000 people.

Image Credits: Scroll.in

The amended clause states that any person belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan who entered India on or before 31st December 2014 shall not be treated as an illegal immigrant. The clause relaxes the residential period required for citizenship from eleven years to five years for the same communities. This act does not change any existing laws for applying for citizenship. Current Indian citizens will not be subject to the requirements of CAA in any way.

The nation erupted with protests immediately after the bill was passed. The criticism surrounding the CAA is that it makes no provision for Muslim minorities such as Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan, Hazaras in Afghanistan, and Rohingyas in Myanmar. Minorities from non-Muslim countries such as Tibetans from China, Tamil minorities from Sri Lanka, and minorities from Nepal and Bhutan are not included in this act.  The argument for exclusion of Muslims is that their home countries practise Islam as the state religion, and therefore, they are not persecuted for it. In these three countries, the population of these minority religious communities has dwindled drastically. This has primarily been due to economic concerns, discrimination, and Taliban rule. Some sectors of the Muslim population do qualify as minority groups, but they are not subject to the same level of brutality as the non-Muslim groups. Muslims can still apply for refugee status or asylum as individuals but not as a religious minority.

Certain legal experts believe that if the NRC is implemented in conjunction with the CAA Muslims would be at risk of being disenfranchised. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a registry that contains a list of all the residents of India and relevant information pertaining to them. The NRC was mentioned in the 2019 BJP election manifesto. It stated, “There has been a huge change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration, resulting in an adverse impact on local people’s livelihood and employment. We will expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens process in these areas on priority. In future, we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country.” At this time, there is no relation between the CAA and NRC. During the Lok Sabha CAA debate Home Minister, Amit Shah, expressed, “When we introduce the all-India NRC, we will bring it to this House and then we can hold a discussion on it. Don’t try to connect the citizenship bill with NRC. But you should keep this in mind that NRC is about to come.”  

Image Credits: The Indian Express

Under the event that NRC is implemented, it will not be applied on the basis of religion. Similar documents such as those required while applying for an Aadhar card or voters ID shall be asked for. A definite decision is yet to be taken on what qualifies as acceptable documents. The list will likely include voter cards, passports, Aadhaar, licenses, insurance papers, birth certificates, school leaving certificates, documents relating to land or home or other similar documents issued by the government. Citizens will not be required to submit any proof of ancestry pre-1971. This is applicable only for the Assam NRC according to the Assam Accords and the directive of the Supreme Court. NRC is currently enforced only in Assam. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, asserted at a rally on 22nd December, “Ever since my government came to power in 2014… from then until now… there has been no discussion on NRC anywhere… we only had to implement it in Assam to follow Supreme Court directives.” This statement made by Narendra Modi is in blatant contradiction to what was said by Amit Shah and mentioned in the BJP manifesto 2019.

The response to the CAA in the north-east was jarring. The act would have a more significant effect in this region because of the Assam Accords and NRC. Thousands of people took to the streets to showcase their opposition. The violent demonstrations quickly led to rising death tolls and the imposition of Section 144 in Assam and Tripura. This dissent spread to West Bengal where protests went out of control. Foreign nations issued travel advisories against travelling to this region at this time. In Assam, 3.11 crore people have been included in NRC compared to the 3.29 crore who applied. Detention camps are being constructed for those considered to be illegal immigrants. There have already been reports of 28 deaths in these camps so far in the last three years.

Massive protests took place in the national capital, Delhi. Metro stations in several areas were shut down. Students of Jamia Millia Islamia held a peaceful march to the Parliament. But they were met with resistance from the police and were pelted with stones and charged with batons. Dozens of students were injured and sustained bullet wounds. On 15th December, the police entered the campus and allegedly viciously assaulted the students. In response to this brutality, protests erupted in over twenty colleges across the nation including IIT Bombay, BHU, Patna University, and Aliah University. Rallies and demonstrations were implemented throughout the country as a sign of solidarity.

Image Credits: Siasat

Section 144 was imposed in parts of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan. There were also internet shut-downs in various parts of the country. In Mangalore, two civilians were killed in the protests that took place on 19th December. Police allegedly released tear gas in the hospital lobby, near the ICU. Due to such incidents, an internet ban was imposed in Mangalore and parts of Dakshina Karnataka.

Former Solicitor General of India, Harish Salve, remarked that the act does not violate Article 14, Article 15, or Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.  The law is meant for the inclusion of minorities, not for the exclusion of any community. Upon receiving criticism for the bill, Amit Shah said, “Religion-based citizenship has been happening in India since the partition of this country. When Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan were given citizenship during Nehru’s time, it was based on religion.” 

The backlash that the CAA has faced is nearly unprecedented. As matters escalated rapidly, curfews were imposed, a death toll was established, and this unsavoury situation took a vicious turn. Protests continue to be held across the country—most notably—the sit-in at Shaheen Bagh currently in its 38th day as of 21st January 2020. With the government still unrelenting in its stand, there seems to be no end in sight to this sordid affair.

Featured Image Credits: The Week

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