IKAN report: the Citizenship (Amendment) Act

The team at IKAN Relocations provide us with insight into the history of India and the ramifications of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019.

The team at IKAN Relocations provide us with insight into the history of India and the ramifications of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019.
India – also known as Hindustan – has always been a sanctuary to asylum seekers and refugees across the globe and, in particular, those who may have faced persecution in their own lands. During the 7th century, when the Zoroastrian people in Iran faced severe persecution from conquering Islamic forces, they fled to India where they were welcomed, and subsequently stayed. In recent times, India had provided sanctuary to the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan Buddhists escaping communist China; Tamil refugees fleeing Sri Lanka during the civil war; Afghan refugees during the war with Russia; again during the Taliban civil war Bangladeshi refugees during the 1971 exodus; and even more recently, the Somalians and Syrians who face severe civil disorder, have found shelter in India. The Indian government has allowed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to operate a programme for such political refugees in India.

India: a brief history

India was partitioned in 1947 and two new countries and geographies were created. Pakistan – in the form of West and East Pakistan – was created as the Islamic Republic and India was a republic whose constitution said that it would be a secular nation. The partition displaced 10 million people and saw the largest migration of people in history. In spite of the migration, a sizeable number of people belonging to religions other than Islam stayed behind in the new Pakistan and became citizens of the new Islamic Republic. In 1971, a revolution in East Pakistan resulted in the independence and creation of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh, a new country carved out of Pakistan. This was due to the rise of Bengali Nationalism, but a country whose official religion continued to be Islam is also the fourth-largest Muslim majority nation in the world, comprising of about 10 per cent of the population belonging to minority religions, mostly Bengali Hindu’s. Over the years since 1947, and later post 1971, the members of the minority religions of Pakistan, Bangladesh and even that of Afghanistan, comprising mainly of Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, on facing persecution have looked for refuge in India.

Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019

On 11 December 2019, the parliament of India passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019. This amendment to the 1955 Citizenship Act makes those refugees belonging to minority religions – specifically Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – who may have come to India as refugees before 31 December 2014 from the three Islamic countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for Indian citizenship. The CAA has reduced the minimum residency period for the above category of immigrants to six years from the earlier 12 years to apply for citizenship. The Government of India says that these minority groups have come to India, escaping persecution in Muslim-majority nations. The logic states that India is probably the only Hindu nation in the world, hence it becomes its duty to provide support to minorities escaping these three Islamic neighbours.

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However, the logic is not consistent – the bill does not protect all religious minorities, nor does it apply to all of India’s neighbours. The Ahmedia Muslim sect and even Shias face discrimination in Pakistan (though they both are members of Islam). The Rohingya Muslims and Hindus face persecution in neighbouring Myanmar, and Hindu and Christian Tamils in neighbouring Sri Lanka also face persecution. The government's logic was that Muslims can seek refuge in other Islamic nations, but many argue that the CAA ringfences Muslim identity by declaring India a welcome refuge to all other religious communities, except Muslims. Also that it seeks to legally establish Muslims as second-class citizens of India by providing preferential treatment to other groups. This also then violates the Constitution’s Article 14, the fundamental right to equality to all persons. 

Surging allegations and speculation

India is observing a strange debate on CAA 2019 with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government trying to reassure people that there is nothing to be afraid of for any Indian citizen of any denomination and that the CAA is meant to be an instrument to provide closure to the refugees who have lived in India for many years. The opposition parties are claiming that the bill is discriminatory, goes against the secular credentials of the country and targets the Muslim community. There are several allegations and speculations about the CAA, causing many protests against it and the ruling government. The primary allegation is that the CAA is discriminatory in nature. The government counters this allegation by stating that the logic for including just six religions is that the followers of these are minorities and are subjected to religious persecution in the three neighbouring Islamic countries. Their numbers have fallen sharply since 1947, which is a testimony to their prosecution. The government further offsets this charge by saying that this bill is about religious persecution of minorities. It is illogical for Muslims to be persecuted in their home country if it has officially declared itself as an Islamic/Muslim country. 
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The second allegation about the inclusion of only Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the CAA is widely debated across the nation. The government explained that more than 100,000 minority refugees, particularly from these three countries, have been living in India for decades. These people faced religious persecution and had been denied civic and political rights in their own countries. The CAA must also be seen as a corrective measure for the problems that arose in 1947 because of the partition of the country on religious grounds. Many Hindus, Sikhs and others remained undecided at that point of time, while some could not return to India due to various reasons beyond their control. Muslims had their chance to remain in or migrate out of India during the partition, as it was solely conducted under religious grounds. This doesn’t affect the secular status of India in any way, as this law does not change the rights or privileges of any Indian citizen, irrespective of his/her religion or faith. The government states that the aim of the CAA is only to defend the religious minorities from the listed three Islamic nations having their roots in India.

CAA and National Register of Citizens – a flawed link

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is an official record of those who are legal Indian citizens. As per the Citizenship Act 1955, the NRC contains demographic information about all those individuals who qualify as citizens of India as per the Act. However, the register was updated only recently after it was first prepared during the 1951 Census of India. The recent update was done to the state of Assam. This state-specific exercise was undertaken to keep its ethnic uniqueness unaltered. In 2013, Assam Public Works and Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha & Ors filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court demanding the deletion of illegal migrants' names from voter lists in Assam. Then in 2014, the Supreme Court of India ordered the NRC to be updated in all parts of Assam. The process officially resulted with more than 1.9 million applicants failing to make it to the roster and hence identified as illegal (most were Bangladeshi nationals who had entered India and lived there illegally in seek of economic benefits).Ever since the implementation of the NRC in Assam, there has been growing speculation for its nationwide implementation. Also, there is a sense of confusion among many citizens of India that the CAA and NRC will deny citizenship to certain existing Indian citizens or it is against Indian Muslims. On the contrary, the CAA and NRC are poles apart. While the CAA is nationwide, the NRC is just a state exercise subject to a petition filed by the people of Assam, to draw off surging illegal immigrants from Bangladesh into the state and to protect its ethnicity.The speculation that the CAA will deny rights to Indian Muslims was caused due to the conjunction made between the CAA and a proposed nationwide NRC. The government tried to enlighten people by offsetting these illogical speculations and making clear that it cannot take away the citizenship of any Indian citizen. And the NRC can only detect illegal immigrants and detain them, who can be from any religious background and from any country.

In conclusion

Over the years, several major incidents have caused millions of refugees to migrate into India. The government implemented the CAA and proposed a nationwide NRC to sort these crises among the stranded immigrants, to provide a demographic identity to such immigrants and also to draw off the illegal immigrants from the country. Even many past governments and leaders across the nation have discussed the need for such an Act. The bill is seen discriminatory by the opposition and pseudo-liberals mainly because Muslims migrants have been excluded. On the contrary, Muslims immigrants can still apply for Indian citizenship as per Indian immigration laws that govern the grant of citizenship to anyone across the world irrespective of their religion, colour or nationality. This is supported by official data where 566 Muslims have been granted Indian citizenship from 2014 to 2019 by the current government.Perhaps, if the government could have introduced the CAA without naming the religions and just by stating that it covered the persecuted people belonging to minority religions from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the opposition to the act would have been muted. In spite of the opposition to the law, the government has made it very clear that it would proceed with its implementation.This article was brought to you by IKAN Relocations.

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