CAA NRC in India

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 or the CAA is the 6th Amendment to the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955. It was passed by the Parliament of India on 11th December 2019 and provided a path to Indian citizenship for people of 6 faiths, namely Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, if it could be established that they had fled religious persecution in 3 countries, namely Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The Act is widely seen to be constitutionally problematic, discriminatory and at odds with India’s human rights obligations by large sections of the Indian Citizenry, Indian diaspora, The United Nations and governments of progressive democracies around the world for the following reasons:
1. The CAA makes religion a criterion for obtaining Indian citizenship. This is unprecedented. In addition to being in contravention to India’s secular foundations and its international human rights obligations, this also sets a legal precedent that can be carried across to many other things. If there are constitutional grounds for denying or granting citizenship on the basis of religion, then, applying the same to education, jobs, housing, marriage, healthcare and any other issue in the public space has an arguable legal precedent.

2. CAA is illogical and arbitrary in its conception. Every effort to explain the rationale behind the act has fallen flat:

  • If the legacy of partition is what is sought to be addressed, then why is Afghanistan included?
  • If the acts purpose is to address religious persecution in the neighborhood, then why have 3 other neighboring countries with state religions, namely Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bhutan, been excluded?
  • If the purpose is to provide refuge to religiously persecuted groups, why have Muslims been excluded when the most persecuted minorities in South Asia include – the Tamils of Sri Lanka (both Hindu and Muslim), the Rohingyas of Myanmar and the Ahmediyas, Shias, Baluchis and Sindhis of Pakistan?
  • If it is intended to protect Non-Muslim minorities only, why have Sri Lankan Tamils and Christians from Bhutan been excluded?
  • If the argument is that there is ongoing religious persecution in the 3 stated Islamic countries, why is there a cut off date of December 2014 for applying for citizenship under CAA?

3. Moreover, CAA is ineffective with the potential of harassment by the state. Neither the government, nor the proponents of CAA are able to satisfactorily explain how even someone who satisfies all other criteria prescribed by the act will be able to prove that they are victims of religious persecution in their country of origin. Hence, even the demographic the CAA claims to benefit, already impoverished and devoid of legal and property rights, will now almost certainly be caught up in years of legal and bureaucratic limbo.

These deeply problematic and discriminatory aspects of the CAA threaten to create deep divides within Indian society and diminish India’s standing globally. However, even these are dwarfed by the potentially catastrophic impact of the double whammy of CAA and NRC.

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a register of all Indian citizens whose creation is mandated by The Citizenship Act 1955, as amended in 2003. According to the Citizenship Rules, the central government can issue an order to prepare the National Population Register (NPR) and create the NRC based on the data gathered in it. The law further states that the local officials would then decide if the person's name will be added to the NRC or not, thereby deciding his citizenship status.

In the hands of the BJP, the NRC has been weaponized and used for communal polarization by repeatedly asserting a manufactured distinction between Hindu “refugees” and Muslim “ghuspetiyas (infiltrators)”. References to undocumented muslim migrants as termites and intimidatory slogans like “ek ek ko doondh ke nikaalenge” have headlined successive BJP election campaigns.

Taking a cue from its electoral successes in state elections where these campaigns were held, the BJP went once step further. The BJP included the promise of the CAA followed by a nation-wide NRC in its manifesto for the 2019 elections. Its intent to carry out both these exercises, in sequence, was further stressed in the Presidents address to both houses of parliament and in statements by BJP ministers both in and outside parliament.

This lethal combo effectively sounds the death knell for India’s largest minority. Whereas all Indians will be put through immeasurable hardship to satisfy the documentation requirements of NRC, at the end of the day, if they are unable to make the citizen’s register, they still have the remedy of the CAA. Muslims will be left with no such recourse.

India is a land where nearly 300 million live below the poverty line and where a similar number are landless. To place the burden of proof of citizenship at the doorstep of such a demographic is both impractical and unethical. The obvious communal motive behind the BJPs self-proclaimed chronology further underlines the evil that is sought to be enacted in the name of citizenship and nationalism.

Thus far, the NRC exercise has only been executed in the border state of Assam, under the supervision of the Supreme Court and at a whooping cost of 12.2 billion Rupees. It took 10 years to complete and required the participation of 52,000 government employees. Imagine the astronomical cost and strain on national resources resulting from a nation-wide extrapolation of these numbers. This is excluding the costs of building and maintaining detention camps where “suspect citizens” will live out their lives in a quagmire of never-ending legal disputes, as is now beginning to be enacted in Assam.

That a large country like India requires to regulate its borders is unquestionable. There is also no doubting that, as the pivot in the region, she needs to provide refuge to persecuted persons from her neighborhood. However, if India wishes to be seated among the world’s progressive democracies, it needs to find ways and means of achieving this without being lured into the trap of populism, religious bigotry and xenophobia.

Vast sections of India’s populace have come to realize this. They have come out onto the streets in protest and joined hands in acts of civil disobedience, in numbers never seen before in Independent India. The movement has been secular and by and large peaceful.

We stand together here today to acknowledge the precipice at which India currently stands. We stand in solidarity and in honor of our brothers and sisters protesting peacefully to champion the case for the Republic and her Constitution. Together, we stand tall and we stand strong because we are pillared by the endearing Indian principle that come what may, at the end of the day, truth alone triumphs.

Satyamev Jayathe.
Jai Hind.



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