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Citizenship Amendment Act : Critical Analysis

Background

The Bhartiya Janata Party in its election manifesto made a promise to the voters. The promise being, that if the voters entrusted the party with the responsibility of running the country, the government would, among other things, right a wrong that was being overlooked for a long time. The wrong of turning a blind eye to the plight of refugees from India’s neighboring countries who had settled in India after they had to flee due to the persecution and they had to face due to the religion they profess.

Less than one year into its second term, the Modi Government introduced the Citizenship Amendment Act in the lower house of the Parliament on December 9, 2019. On 10th December 2019, the bill was voted upon in the house. 311 members voted in favor of the bill while 80 MPs voted against the bill.

The bill, after being passed by the Lok Sabha, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 11, 2019. After heated debates, the bill was passed by the upper house of the Parliament. 125 MPs voted in favor while 105 voted against the bill.
After the Hon’ble President of India assented to the bill on December 12, 2019, the Citizenship Amendment act was notified in the official gazette on January 10, 2020.

Genesis Of The Legislation

  • AMENDMENT TO THE CITIZENSHIP ACT, 1955:

The CAA amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 by inserting a proviso to section 2, sub-section (1), after clause (b). According to the proviso, “…any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as an illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act.”

Simply put, persons belonging to Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Parsi, Christian communities who came to India on or before December 31, 2014, from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh shall not be treated as illegal migrants.

  • THE BENEFICIARIES

According to Intelligence Bureau records, the immediate beneficiaries of the Amended Act will be 31,313 people, which include 25,447 Hindus, 5,807 Sikhs, 55 Christians, 2 Buddhists, and 2 Parsis.

Under the Citizenship Act, 1955, one of the requirements, for citizenship by naturalization is that the applicant must have lived in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years. The 11-year requirement has been relaxed to 5 years for persons belonging to the same six religions and three countries. The bill exempts the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura from its applicability.

The bill also exempts the areas regulated through the Inner Line Permit, which include Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. The inclusion of Manipur in Inner Line Permit was also announced on 9 December 2019.

The bill includes new provisions for cancellation of the registration of Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) if there are any violations of the provisions of this act or provisions of any other law of India. It also adds the opportunity for the OCI holder to be heard before the cancellation.

The Controversy

A. EXCLUSION OF PERSECUTED MUSLIMS FROM PAKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN AND BANGLADESH

One of the primary reasons for the controversy is, that the act includes all religions except the Muslim religion. Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan are not offered eligibility for citizenship under the new Act.

The Central Government’s rationale for the exclusion of the Muslim community is that the bill provides for citizenship to migrants from countries that have Islam as their state religion. Yet, there are sharp diversions in the view different people hold towards the act. Dissent towards and support to the act has taken forms of horrendous riots threatening the peace and tranquility of various parts of the country.

B. RELATIONSHIP TO THE NRC

As of January 2020, the NRC has only been implemented for the state of Assam, but the BJP has promised its implementation for the whole of India. The NRC documents all the legal citizens so that the people who are left out can be recognized as illegal immigrants (often called “foreigners”).

There are concerns that the present amendment of the Citizenship Act provides protection to non-Muslims, who can claim that they were migrants who fled persecution from Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Bangladesh, while the Muslims do not have such a benefit. Muslim leaders have interpreted the CAA–NRC package in precisely these terms, viz., that the Muslims in the country would be targeted (by considering documents as insufficient) as potential foreigners, leaving out all non-Muslims.

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