The CAB(Citizen Amendment Bill) or CAA (Citizen Amendment Act), 2019 bill amends the Citizenship Act of 1955, to give eligibility for Indian citizenship to illegal migrants who are HINDUS, SIKHS, BUDDHIST, JAINS, PARSIS, and CHRISTIANS from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, and who entered INDIA on or before 31 December 2014. The bill doesn’t include Muslims. According to the Intelligence Bureau records, will be just over 30,000 people. India’s previous citizenship Act 1955, did not consider religious affiliation to be the criterion for eligibility.
In this act, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalization is that the applicant must have resided in INDIA during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years. The bill relaxes this 11-years requirement to five years for persons belonging to the same six religious and three countries. The bill exempts the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura from its applicability. It also exempts the areas regulated trough the Inner Line Permit, which include Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland. The inclusion of Manipur in Inner Line Permit was also announced on 9th December 2019.
The bill includes new provisions for cancellation of the registration of “OVERSEAS CITIZENSHIP OF INDIA” (OCI) such as registration through fraud, in case of OCI holder sentenced to imprisonment for 2 or more years within 5 years of registration and in necessity in the interest of sovereignty and security of INDIA. It is also includes a provision on violation of any law notified by the central Government. It also adds the opportunity for the OCI holder before the cancellation.
The country is witnessing an unprecedented debate on CAA with a government trying to reassure people that there is nothing to be afraid of for any Indian citizen of any denomination. On the other hand, the opposition is painting the bill as a draconian instrument that goes against the secular credentials of the country and targets the Muslim community in particular. The home Minister Mr. Amit Shah Speeches in both houses of the parliament were perhaps a master class for any debate in the parliament and would qualify among the finest witness in the last 72 years. The opposition, in contrast, has not been as convincing and therefore they have relied more on public rhetoric and fear-mongering rather than a more balanced assessment on the bill.
Before we start the topic first we discuss what CAA is? And what are the main points discuss in this bill?
What is CAA?
The CAA or CAB, 2019 was passed by the parliament of India on “11 December 2019“. It amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 by providing a path to Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jain, Parsies, and Christian religious minorities from the neighboring Muslim Majority Countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. The CAA Act was the first time religion have been used as a criterion for citizenship under Indian law.
The religious persecution of minorities such as Hindus, Sikhs, And Christians has been a serious and widespread problem in Pakistan. The Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janta Party, which leads the Indian government, had promised in previous election manifestos to offer Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from neighboring countries, such as Hindu Refugees. Under the 2019 amendment Act, migrants who entered India by 31 December 2014, and had suffered “Religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” in their country of origin, were made eligible for citizenship by the new law. The Amendment also relaxes the residence requirement for naturalization of these migrants from 11 years to 5 years. According to the Indian intelligence Bureau, The act will add about 31,300 new citizens to India 1.3 Billion population. About “25,400 Hindu, 5,800 Sikhs with less than 100 Christian and other religious minorities are expected to be immediately eligible for citizenship under the amended Citizenship Act“.
The amendment has been widely criticized as discriminating based on religion. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for human rights called it “fundamentally Discriminatory“, adding that while India’s “Goal of protecting persecuted groups is welcome”, this should be done through a Non-Discriminatory “Robust National Asylum System“. Critics express concerns that the bill would be used, along with the National Register of Citizens, to render 1.9 Million Muslim immigrants stateless. Commentators also question the exclusion of persecuted religious minorities from other regions such as Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. The Indian government says that Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh are “Muslim-majority countries” where Islam has been declared as the official state religion through constitutional amendments in recent decades, and therefore Muslims in these Islamic Countries are “unlikely to face religious persecution” and can’t be treat as persecuted minorities.
The passage of the legislation caused large scale protests in India. Assam and other northeastern states have seen violent demonstrations against the bill over fears of non-Muslim illegal immigrants being naturalized under these provisions, thus impacting the local culture and society. Universities across the country saw a huge protest by students and the police were subsequently accused of resorting to brutal suppression. As of 12 December 2019, the protest had resulted in more than a thousand arrests and 15 death; civil liberties and communication facilities were frequently suspended by the police in response.
Why did India need to implement CAA?
The Indian constitution was implemented in 1950, which is a secular constitution that guarantees citizenship to all of the country’s residents. The Indian Government passed the Citizenship act in 1955; 7 years after India became an independent country. This act, and its subsequent amendments, prohibited illegal migrants from obtaining Indian citizenship. The act defined illegal migrants as Citizens of other countries who entered India without valid travel documents, or who remained in the country beyond the period Permitted by their travel documents. It also allowed these individuals to be deported or jailed. According to “UNHCR“, there are more than “200,000 refugees residing in India“. India is not signatory to the 1951 UN refugee convention and does not have a National policy on refugees. All refugees are classed as “Illegal migrants“. While India has been willing to host refugees. Its traditional position formulated by Jawaharlal Nehru is that such refugees must return to their home countries after the situation returns to normal.
In 2014, Indian general elections were won by the Hindu Nationalists to provide a natural home for persecuted religious minorities from neighboring countries. This led to a debate in the media of India being the “natural home” for Hindu refugees according to the BJP. In 2015, the government passed orders legalizing such refugees irrespective of their travel documents and granting them long-term visas. They also announced that Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals belonging to “minority communities” would be exempted from the requirements of the “Passport Act, 1920“ and the “Foreigners Act, 1946″. The minority communities were listed as Hindu, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, and they were required to have been “compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution”. Those that arrived in Indian before 31 December 2014 were granted exemption from the requirements and subsequently issued long-term visas.
The BJP government introduced a bill to amend the citizenship law in 2016, which would have made Non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh eligible for Indian citizenship. Although this bill was passed by the Lok Sabha or lower house of Indian parliament, it stalled in the Rajya Sabha, following widespread political opposition and protests in northeast India. Opponents of the bill raised concerns that the demography of the region would change with an influx of migrants from Bangladesh. The BJP reiterated its commitment to amend the citizenship act in its 2019 election camping. Among its other priorities was its belief that India had a large number of illegal Muslim immigrants. “The BJP government completed an effort to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state of Assam”. The stated aim of this exercise was to identify illegal migrants from neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan a Muslim Majority country. Commentators said it was an effort to target Muslim migrants. The updated register was made public in august 2019; approximately 1.9 Million residents were not on the list and were in danger of losing their citizenship. A majority of those affected were Bengali Hindus, who constitute a major voter base for the BJP. Shortly before the publication of the register, the BJP withdrew its support for the entire exercise.
The citizenship amendment Act of 2019 amended the Citizenship Act, 1955, by inserting the following provisions in section2, sub-section (1), after clause (b):
“Providing the person belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, And Pakistan, who have been exempted by the central government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the passport Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purpose of the Act”.
A new section- 6B, was inserted, providing further that:
“On and from the date of commencement of the act, any person referred to in the first proviso shall be eligible to apply for naturalization and any proceeding pending against such person in respect of illegal migration or citizenship shall stand abated on conferment of citizenship to him.”
The “Exempted” classes of persons were previously defined in the foreigners’ order, 2015 issued under the foreigners Act, 1946.
3A.Exemption of certain class of foreigners-
- Persons belonging to minority communities in Bangladesh and Pakistan, namely, Hindu, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Christians who were compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution and entered into and entered into India on or before the 31st December 2014.
(A). Without Valid Documents including passport or other travel documents and who have been exempted under rule 4 from the provision of rule 3 of the Passport(entry into INDIA) Rule, 1950 or
(B). With valid documents including passport or other travel documents and the validity of any such documents have expired.
Are hereby granted exemption from the application of provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946, and the orders made thereunder in respect of their stay in INDIA without such documents or after the expiry of those Documents, as the case may be.
- The Rules were further amended in 2016 by adding Afghanistan to the list of countries.
- Harish slave, former solicitor General of INDIA, said that the bill doesn’t violate Article 25 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India. He points out that Article 15 and Article 21 apply only to the entities which reside in INDIA, not to those which want to enter India. Slave says that the bill doesn’t violate secularism and describes it as a “Narrowly-tailored” provision that is designed to address a specific issue.
- Nitin Gadkari said that the “Citizenship Amendment Act needed because there is no other Hindu Nation accept INDIA“.
- The legislation has been criticized in INDIA and Abroad for allegedly violating the secular Constitution of INDIA and its promise of equality under Article 14.
- A petition opposing the bill was signed by more 1,000 Indian scientists and scholars. The bill was opposed by the “INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS”, who said it would create communal tensions and polarize India.
- “Indian Union Muslim League” petitioned the Supreme Court of India to declare the bill illegal.
- Pakistan Prime Minister “Imran Khan” criticized the Act in that “violates all norms of international human rights law and bilateral agreements with Pakistan”.
- Bangladesh’s minister of foreign Affairs, “A.K. Abdul Momen” said that Bill could weaken India’s historic character as a secular nation and denied that minorities were facing religious persecution in his country.
- The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights(OHCHR) “criticized the Act and called it “fundamentally discriminatory in nature”. It added, “Although India’s broader naturalization laws remain in place, these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people’s access to nationality.”