The Legacy Of British Raj

How to Make People Stateless

Atanu Chakravarty

The Modi Government's announcement for implemen tation of Citizenship (Amendment) Act [CAA] after notification of Rules in the cusp of Lok Sabha election has again become a centre of heated debate and discussion all over the country. Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 was enacted four years ago. The Central Government has now notified the Rules laying down the procedures for granting of citizenship under the Act. Needless to say, this notification is brazenly unjust, violative of India's constitutional secularism, discriminatory and divisive.

Once, the Union Home Minister coined his infamous ‘chronology' when he stated that CAA is a precursor to a nationwide NRC- NPR, aimed at denuding undocumented citizens of their citizenship right. This anti constitutional act will grant citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian "illegal immigrants" from countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. The Act excludes Muslims from its purview and what is highly objectionable, discriminates against them based on their religion alone. The government wants people to believe that this Act will give fast track citizenship to persecuted persons, but intriguingly, there is no mention of persecution in the statute or Rules nor any proof of persecution is asked for by the Rules prior to granting of citizenship.

Regardless of religion, Indian Constitution confers citizenship by way of birth, descent and migration which are mentioned in Articles 5,6,7, 8,9, and 10. These are the underpinnings of the basic feature, the secular nature of the Constitution. The Citizenship Act, 1955 which was enacted by the Parliament does not make religion a criterion for the grant of citizenship. With the amendment and Rules, citizenship will be granted by naturalisation based on religion and religion alone!

The notification says that a long list of 9 documents have to be submitted with the application to prove that the applicant is a national of Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan. No such document is called for to prove persecution per se.

An applicant who has entered India on or before December 31, 2014 has to submit any of the 20 documents listed in Schedule 1B. One wonders, whether the same liberal approach would be used for persons claiming to be Indian citizens when the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is prepared.

Prior to these Rules, an application seeking citizenship was to be made to the district collector concerned, but now this federal structure of administration has been highly centralised. Now an applicant seeking benefit of the CAA has to submit his /her application before the empowered committee formed by the Central Government.

More than 200 petitions have challenged CAA in the Apex Court on the ground that it violates Article 14 which upholds that, "the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of laws within the territory of India". Article 14 applies not just to citizens but to all persons.

The CAA denies equal benefit of fast tracking citizenship by registration or naturalisation to similarly placed Muslims.

The question remains: If CAA was aimed at protecting and granting citizenship for the vulnerable, why not it brings the Rohingyas from Myanmar, the Ahmadiyas from Pakistan or even Tamils from the Sri Lanka under its purview? It is a proven fact that Muslims belonging to different sects in those very countries are persecuted by members of its own community that dissent from the mainstream politics. Ahmadiya Muslims in Pakistan are one of the most persecuted minorities. If the sole aim of CAA is to confer the benefit of fast track citizenship to persecuted minorities, then why the persecuted sections mentioned above are left out?

The past NRC experience of Assam, the ongoing demolition drives across the country clearly shows that poor and vulnerable of every community, the Adivasis, the forest dwellers had to bear the brunt, the tragedy of thousands of 'stateless citizens' was the cruel destiny of NRC–NPR. associated by suicide deaths, detention camps, grievous mental trauma.

This assault on Constitution must be resisted at any cost–come what may!

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Vol 56, No. 42, Apr 14 - 20, 2024