Explained: Should you read the CAA in conjunction with the proposed NRC?

With the Citizenship Amendment Act passed and the looming possibility of a nationwide NRC, the country is on the boil. Is the CAA really discriminatory? What does it say about Indian Muslims? Is it linked with the NRC, and is it right to conflate the two? Know the facts and decide for yourself.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) amends the Citizenship Act of 1955 to make illegal immigrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered India on or before December 31 2014 eligible to apply for Indian citizenship.

According to the 1955 law, a person must have resided in India (or been in the service of the Central Government) for at least 11 years in order to be eligible for citizenship. The amended Act reduces that period to five years for all migrants from these three countries belonging to these six religious communities..

♦ What is the government’s reasoning for CAA?

The Act has been introduced ostensibly to aid refugees fleeing religious persecution in the three nations. The reason for excluding Muslims  from the purview of the act, as stated by Home Minister Amit Shah, is that the likelihood of Muslims facing persecution in these Muslim-majority countries is low. But critics point out that sects like the Ahmediyas and Bahais do face religious persecution in Pakistan.

The conspicuous exclusion of Muslims from the purview of the Act has evoked widespread condemnation. The government, on its part, has said that the exclusion of Muslims is not an act of Islamophobia, as the countries listed in the Act are Muslim-majority nations, whose minorities are vulnerable.

♦ How many people are likely to apply for naturalisation under CAA?

With the cut-off date set at December 31 2014, the number of people who will benefit from the amendments stands at 31,313, a figure submitted by the IB during a parliamentary committee hearing on the bill in 2016. 

“As per our records, there are 31,313 persons belonging to minority communities (Hindus- 25447, Sikhs – 5807, Christians – 55, Buddhists – 2 and Parsis – 2) who have been given Long Term Visa on the basis of their claim of religious persecution in their respective countries and want Indian Citizenship. Hence, these persons will be immediate beneficiaries.”

However, the Home Minister has stated that crores of people will benefit as those who have been illegally residing in the country will now feel empowered to apply for citizenship. 

♦ Will the law only give refuge to “persecuted religious minorities”?

While the reason for enactment of Citizenship Amendment Act is to provide a safe haven for persecuted religious minorities in the three Islamic countries, there is no mention of this phrase in the text of the act. The Act states that migrants of the six religions mentioned may seek citizenship without any explicit mention of the grounds for granting them this option..

♦ Why is there opposition to the Act?

The countrywide protests against the CAA stem not so much from the inclusion of specific religious refugees from the three countries mentioned in the Act. It is more out of fear that the Act could be the first step in stripping the rights of millions of Muslims residing in India, when viewed in conjunction with another proposed nationwide exercise, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), as announced by the Union Home Minister.

♦ Why is the northeast against CAA?

The opposition to the CAA has been widespread but especially vociferous in the north-eastern states. Assam and Meghalaya saw internet shutdowns and imposition of curfew. The protests took a grim turn with reports of four deaths during the crackdown by the police and armed forces on protestors. 

The north-eastern states have for long faced large scale migration from neighbouring countries and resultant protests from indigenous residents over the strain this migration placed on the social, economic and political fabric of the region. The protests against the provisions of the CAA in these states is against legitimisation of all immigrants from any country irrespective of their faith rather than excluding only Muslims.

♦ What is the NRC? What was required to prove citizenship when the Assam NRC exercise was carried out?

The National Register of Citizens is an exercise that will enlist all Indians citizens on a ‘national register’ by vetting their documentation. Those who fail to provide adequate documentation risk being stripped of their citizenship and sent to detention camps

If the model followed in Assam is replicated across the country, the following documents and conditions are necessary to prove Indian citizenship and be eligible to enroll in the NRC, 

  • Electoral roll(s) up to <cutoff date>
  • Land and tenancy records
  • Citizenship certificate
  • Permanent residential certificate
  • Refugee registration certificate
  • Any government issued license/certificate
  • Government service/ employment certificate
  • Bank or post office accounts
  • Birth certificate
  • State educational board or university educational certificate
  • Court records/processes
  • Passport
  • Any LIC policy

These documents must be dated no later than the cut-off date. If a person does not have any of these documents prior to the cutoff date, they may be able to register on the basis of any of the documents listed above belonging to their father or grandfather. 

However, they will have to prove their relationship with their father of grandfather, for which they must produce any of the documents  listed below.

  • Birth certificate
  • Electoral roll
  • Ration card
  • Board/University certificate
  • Bank/LIC/Post office records
  • Land document
  • Village panchayat secretary certificate in case of married women
  • Any other legally acceptable document

While the cut-off date in Assam was 1971, the nationwide NRC is expected to have a different cut-off date for the necessary documents. The rigorous requirements of this exercise could potentially affect those who do not possess the above documents as the onus of proving their citizenship is on them.

♦  The NRC appears to be a completely different exercise; how is it linked to the CAA? 

Supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act question why people should have any objections with the legislation on grounds of religious discrimination, since

  1. It does not exclude any Muslim who is a genuine Indian citizen
  2. It seeks to provide citizenship only to minorities from Muslim-majority nations, where the former are known to face persecution.

Those against the move argue that it is here that the Act needs to be read in conjunction with the NRC, for its true implications to be grasped. The NRC exercise in Assam showed that a large number of those excluded from the formal list were in fact Bengali Hindus. By relaxing the conditions for citizenship for members of the six communities mentioned, the CAA gives them a second chance to claim citizenship. 

This, opponents of the CAA argue, makes Muslims living in India vulnerable. If the NRC exercise is, in fact, extended to all parts of the country, all Muslims who lack documentary evidence required for the NRC would be labelled illegal immigrants, burdened with the onus of proving their Indian-ness irrespective of how long they may have been residing in this country.

Similar fears also extend to other groups like Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who have been residing in Tamil Nadu for decades and are not covered by the latest amendments. And the Rohingyas, an ethnic group facing genocidal violence in their home country of Myanmar, who are also excluded from the CAA. In fact, the Home Minister has explicitly asserted that Rohingya refugees will never be granted citizenship in this country.

♦ Will CAA apply to all Indian states?

The amended law inserts a new clause that says:

Nothing in this section shall apply to tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under “The Inner Line” notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.

Apart from the above exceptions, the law shall be applicable across all states. The Chief Ministers of Kerala, Punjab, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have stated that they will not implement the act in their respective states. However, reports suggest that states may not have the power to refuse implementation of the law, as it is enacted under the Union List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.

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