Is there more to the Citizenship Amendment Act(CAA) ?
The Indian Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) on 11th December 2019. It amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 to issue Indian citizenship to all the Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, and Christians from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who were forced/compelled to flee to India due to religious persecution, before 31 December 2014. Notably absent were the persecuted minorities, mainly Muslims belonging to other South Asian countries.
Since the passage of the CAA, protests have broken out across the country from North East India, who accuses the government of passing fundamentally anti-indigenous and anti-poor legislation. Many others across the nation are protesting against what the UN human rights office has termed as “fundamentally discriminatory” legislation and anti-secular legislation. In the past few weeks, protests have also turned bloody in universities such as Jamia Milia University in New Delhi, and Aligarh Muslim University in Aligarh. Uttar Pradesh has seen protests turn violent with police excesses being reported from western UP. The protests have also broken out against not just CAA but also against a nationwide National Registry of Citizens (NRC) exercise and the National Population Registry (NPR) updation. Experts fear that these two exercises when coupled with CAA, would be used to delegitimize the rights of Muslims and could lead to many lakhs being declared stateless.
The CAA law has polarised the society in a never-before fashion. Pro-CAA rallies and events are being conducted across the country. On 3 January 2020, two different people in Hyderabad made strikingly different arguments at two different events held simultaneously. Professor Faizan Mustafa, the Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law at Hyderabad was invited to speak about various key aspects of the constitutionality of the CAA affecting citizenship and the apparent upcoming plans to implement the NRC nation-wide. The talk organised by Manthan took place at Vidyaranya School at Saifabad, Hyderabad. Meanwhile, at the same time, BJP national General Secretary, Ram Madhav held a talk on why India needs CAA at Marriott Hotel in Begumpet, Hyderabad.
Between the government blaming others for fear-mongering and bringing NRC into the discussion about CAA to “mislead people”, and various dissenters and protestors viewing the whole story of citizenship together, factual clarity is the need of the hour to look at the issue from both sides. Even as it isn’t quite clear about how or even if NRC will roll out for the other parts of India, the probability to produce documents to prove citizenship remains a key component in the stir. Protestors say that the Act violates the constitution and is discriminatory against Muslims.
Ram Madhav’s event host Giridhar Mamidi, General Secretary of Pragna Bharati, a nationalist think tank founded in Hyderabad, spoke to Suno India about the CAA and claims made by protestors. He claims that the other religious minorities from other nations either have not asked for citizenship or have gone back when issues in their nation were resolved. Majorly, concerns were raised by people about Ahmadiyya and Shia Muslims in Pakistan, Rohingya Muslims and Hindus in Burma, and Hindu and Christian Tamils in Sri Lanka. He takes the example of the Rohingya muslims and claimed that the Rohingyas come into India from Bangladesh, hence, they are Bangladeshis. In relation to the Rohingya refugees, since India doesn’t share a border with Myanmar, he said, “India does not share a border. So for us, they fall into the category of the majority of Bangladesh,” showing a rather myopic view of the issue. While talking about the absence of Muslim migrants in India, he says, “there is not a single Muslim from these three countries who have come into India saying we have been religiously persecuted. Even Ahmadiyas who are treated as non-Muslims in Pakistan under their law do not come to India as a refuge.”
One thing that must be highlighted at this juncture is that the government has not presented any legitimate statistics to claim the above, despite being asked by opposition leaders on the floor of the parliament. In 2016, the home minister presented the following data which shows that there were 2,89,394 stateless persons living in India, as of December 31, 2014. Of this, strikingly, the largest group belonged to Bangladesh, accounting for 1,03,817 individuals, followed by Sri Lanka, at 1,02,467, Tibet, at 58,155 and Myanmar, at 12,434. Interestingly, in another response, the home minister claims to have given citizenship to only 2,447 legal migrants from ‘six identified minority communities’ from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, either through registration or naturalization, by collectors from 16 districts and seven states.
In another reply to a question in the parliament, the home ministry replied that the data regarding the number of religious minorities living in India who are having the citizenship of Pakistan and Afghanistan is not maintained centrally. However, as per the information available with MHA, 41,331 Pakistani nationals and 4,193 Afghan nationals belonging to religious minorities have been reported to be living in India on a long term basis, as on December 31, 2018. This data doesn’t provide the religious breakup of those seeking refuge in nation. However, in the same reply, the MHA further stated “keeping in view the difficulties being faced by members belonging to six identified religious minorities from Pakistan and Afghanistan living in India in acquiring Long Term Visa (LTV), an online LTV application processing portal was launched in the year 2014. The online application-cum-processing platform was further revamped in Sept, 2018, and a new online platform was launched with features such as time-bound disposal of LTV applications. It further provides facility for extension of LTV at the local level by Foreigners Regional Registration Officers/Foreigners Registration Officers (FRROs/FROs) without referring the matter to State Government or Central Government. The ministry had also said that 1,595 Pakistani and 391 Afghani migrants “of all religions” had been granted citizenship from 2016 to 2018. It must be noted that the culmination of CAA began in September 2015 when the government tweaked the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, and the Foreigners Act of 1946 in favour of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It allowed members of such minorities who had entered India because of “religious persecution” or the fear of religious persecution before December 31, 2014, to stay on in India even if they had entered without valid travel documents or if such documents had expired. So in essence, the CAA was already being implemented through tweaks and changes in different laws governing citizenship.
When asked to respond to people of all faiths and religions gathering to protest against CAA and NRC, Giridhar Mamidi said that the protestors are protesting against NRC. Given that NRC hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, he says, “These people are all protesting on a wrong, fake, orchestrated, manufactured problem.” He refused to acknowledge the fact that those protesting the CAA were not protesting against India providing refuge but against the exclusion of one religion from the Act. It is further nuanced when taken into account the protests breaking out in Northeast which faces different challenges owing to the borders the States share with different countries. Mr Mamidi also said that “There is no guarantee that the government will implement NRC across the nation, and even if they do so, there is no talk about what kind of documents will be required or what the process might be.” While this may be true, news reports on NPR are worrying enough as for the first time in census, the parents place of birth will be sought and collected.
On the other side of the spectrum, Faizan Mustafa tells us about citizenship and discusses the constitutional values that the anti-CAA protestors claim that they are fighting to uphold. He says, ”Citizenship talks of rights and duties of citizens and makes one accept the value system, for membership of the republic is not to be based because of somebody’s buff or residence, but how committed are you to the principles of the republic.” If the government does implement the NRC, one of the major questions raised is what about all the people who are excluded, since we always talk about deportation of illegal migrants, so far we have only deported 4 people to Bangladesh in the last five years. This is adding to the anxiety surrounding the CAA and NRC.
Faizan Mustafa holds the Supreme Court responsible, he says, ”It’s our Supreme court which has given judgments which are not found in law, and we are contrary to the constitutional vision and how constitutionality is examined.” He raises the question about Parliament making laws for citizenship, although it is in their mandate to do so, he doesn’t believe that parliament has the power to go against the “constitutional scheme” of India. The earlier idea of citizenship by birth was diluted over a period of time and made stringent. The current law states that if you are born after the commencement of the constitution and before July 1, 1987, you will be given citizenship on the basis of birth. If you are born on or after July 1, 1987 and before the commencement of the 2003 amendment, then in addition to your birth, one of your parents has to be an Indian citizen. The 2003 amendment stated that in addition to your birth in India, both your parents have to be Indian citizens or one parent should be an Indian citizen and the other should not be an illegal migrant.
In the context of the talks of implementation nation-wide NRC, although NPR is not NRC, there is always a possibility of it leading to NRC since NPR isn’t under the Census Act of 1948, Faizan Mustafa says, ”In NPR the govt has added eight new questions from the NPR of 2010. In addition to asking for a mobile number, aadhar number, pan number this and that, we are asking the date of birth of parents and place of birth of parents.”
He further says that a false narrative is being pushed by the government, “ You really don’t need the Citizenship Amendment Act. The problem is they created a false narrative that there are millions and millions of illegal migrants and we thought all these illegal migrants are Muslims. Therefore, we said anyone who is an illegal migrant cannot get citizenship in any way.”
He also spoke about NRC experience in Assam which declared 19 lakh people as illegal migrants. Protestors claim that many genuine Indian citizens have been excluded from the NRC. For eg: Former President of India, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed’s brother’s son’s family has been excluded from NRC. If your name is excluded from the list, you had 120 days to appeal to the Foreigners Tribunals which are quasi-judicial courts set up to hear the appeals of the people. He pointed out however, that the qualification for members of the tribunals has been lowered and are now appointed on the basis of a contract.