New Delhi, Jan 16 : The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) aims to fast-track citizenship for six persecuted minority communities — Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians — who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014 from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The contentious law, an amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955, came into force on January 10 when the Ministry of Home Affairs made the announcement through a gazette notification — almost a month after it was passed by Parliament on December 11, 2019 during the winter session — which triggered widespread violent demonstrations in the eastern state of Assam as protesters feared it would convert thousands of illegal migrants from neighbouring Muslim-majority Bangladesh into legal residents.
The Act got President Ram Nath Kovind’s assent on December 12.
Some Muslims also protested against the law as it does not give the same rights of citizenship as members of other faiths, a move critics say undermines the secular Constitution.
Elsewhere in India, protesters say the citizenship law will be followed by the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which they fear is designed by the Hindu-nationalist government to expel Muslims who do not have sufficient citizenship documentation.
The government has refuted those allegations and vowed to protect all citizens equally, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi clarifying “CAA is a law to provide citizenship, it does not snatch citizenship. The government is providing citizenship through the law, it is not taking back the citizenship of anyone”.
Over a hundred security personnel were injured during violent demonstration against CAA, the strongest dissent against Prime Minister Modi since he first came to power in 2014. Over 2,000 people have been arrested and around 5,000 detained while protesting against the CAA.
Clearing misconception fuelled by the opposition regarding the CAA, the government has, on many occasions, clarified that the law has “absolutely nothing to do with citizens of India” as the rumour was raised that it is against the Muslim community and people belonging to the community residing illegally will be deported.
“It has nothing to do with the deportation of any foreigner from India,” the government has said.
“The deportation process of any foreigner irrespective of his religion or country is implemented as per the mandate of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or The Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.”
Why Is The Citizenship Act Controversial?
Under the law, India will grant citizenship to the six communities that Modi’s government says have historically faced persecution in the three Muslim-dominated neighbours. The government says Muslims cannot be treated as persecuted minorities in those countries.
Critics say the law discriminates against Muslims and undermines India’s secular Constitution. They question why the law does not include Muslims fleeing Sri Lanka and Myanmar, which are majority Buddhist.
Who Does The Law Leave Out?
Opposition parties say the law is discriminatory as it singles out Muslims, who make up nearly 15 per cent of the population. The government says that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are Muslim-majority countries, so Muslims cannot be treated as persecuted minorities.
Who Could Suffer?
Rights groups say Modi-supporting lawmakers have cleared the bill to justify deportation of thousands of Muslims living in the northeastern state of Assam who are unable to provide documents to prove Indian citizenship.
What Are The Discrepancies?
The law does not clarify why minority migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are favoured over those fleeing Sri Lanka and Myanmar from where minority Muslims have sought refuge in India.
The law has been challenged in India’s Supreme Court by a Muslim political party, lawyers and rights groups on the grounds that it violates the secular Constitution. More than 500 eminent Indian jurists, lawyers, academics and actors have signed a statement condemning the legislation.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at [email protected])