The great Citizenship Tangle

Amit Chanda

As the year 2019 ends and we enter into a new decade, it is a good time to look back, in a dispassionate manner, and analyse one of the most contentious issue of 2019 - the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019. The CAB (Citizenship Amendment Bill), and consequently the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), has, undoubtedly, been one of the major issues that dominated the mind space of every concerned Indians. There has been slew of rallies and marches both in support of and against the said act. The society, it seems, is sharply divided on the issue. Before we jump into any conclusion and become a part of either pro-CAA or anti-CAA camp, let us first try and discern what CAA is and, more importantly, what it is not.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 - passed by Parliament on 11 December 2019 - amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 and altered the definition of illegal immigrant for Hindus, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, parsi and Christians immigrants who have come to, and had been living without documents, in India before December 2014 following persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The act paves the way for providing, in a swift and fast-track manner, Indian citizenship to immigrants belonging to abovementioned six religious communities. Indian citizenship, prior to the amendment, was given to immigrants (not illegal immigrants), if applied for, who have resided in the country for a minimum of 11 years. Though this provision still stays, the amendment fast-tracks the citizenship process - by reducing the compulsory residence from 11 years to 5 years - for immigrants belonging to aforesaid six communities who fled persecution from the three neighbouring countries.

Addressing the concern of North-Eastern states - that the CAB, if passed, would open the floodgates of Hindu Bengali immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh which would in turn alter the demographic, cultural and linguistic uniqueness of the indigenous people - the government, in the final act, said that the areas under the sixth schedule of the constitution - covering the tribal dominated regions of Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram - and the states that have the Inner Line Permit regimes - Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram - would be exempted from the ambit of CAA. Though the assurances and provisions pacified some of the north-eastern states but large section of Assam and Tripura, and to certain extent Meghalaya, continues to oppose the CAA, who wants the act to be repealed in Toto.
Insofar as the protest in rest of the India is concerned, the protesters argue that the act is fundamentally discriminatory and divisive in nature and the act, conspicuously, exclude Muslim immigrants from availing the Indian Citizenship.  They argue that the act, for the first time, made religion a criterion for citizenship and this is against the fundamental ethos of Indian constitution - specifically, Secularism and right to equality. Therefore the protesters - led mainly by university and college students - want the act, which creates fissures in the society and affects the unity and fraternity of Indians to be repealed at the earliest.

However, to say that every section of the society is against the act would not be correct. Of late, people from different parts of the country have begun to come out in numbers in support and solidarity of the CAA. The pro-CAA marches and rallies, which has largely been peaceful, are mainly sponsored and backed by the ruling BJP and its mother organisation, the RSS. They argue that the CAA is in line with rich Indian civilisation which is fundamentally inclusive and that has, time and again, opened up its border in the past to embrace people fleeing religious persecution - be it persecuted Jews or parsis or Christians. Given the fact that people belonging to religious minorities in the abovementioned three Islamic republics are facing rampant persecution, time has, therefore, once again, come to open our borders and embrace our brethrens from the neighbouring countries. They also argue that since Islam is the dominant religion in these countries so Muslims, in those countries, has full freedom of their religious practice and therefore there is no question of them being persecuted. PM Modi also urged the Indian Muslims not to heed to any rumours and misinformation which are deliberately being spread by some groups, having vested interest, with the intention of stoking confusion, inflaming the passions and inciting violence. He specifically said, and rightly so, that the act, in no way, alters the citizenship rights of Indians and the act is only directed to provide relief to persecuted immigrants.

Though it is perfectly legitimate that everyone may have his/her own opinion, but I would urge the fellow citizens to formulate your opinion only after reading the provisions of the act and not simply join the bandwagon of pro or anti CAA camp by falling prey to random whatsapp forwards or facebook post. Though the constitutionality of the act has been challenged in the court of law and its constitutional validity remains to be established, you must not be the part of tangle that the CAA has become.

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