Citizenship Amendment Act- Ramifications for North East

 

About the Act

The Citizenship Amendment Bill was first passed in the Lok Sabha in 2016, but got stalled in the Rajya Sabha as the government failed to get a majority. The Bhartiya Jananta Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance managed to get the bill passed in both the houses; in Lok Sabha on 10 December 2019 with 311 voting in favor and 80 against and in Rajya Sabha on 11 December 2019 with 125 voting in favor and 105 against.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 adds a proviso in section 2 of the Citizenship Act 1955, granting Indian citizenship to refugees belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st December, 2014. Prior to the Act, refugees could not get Indian citizenship (unless in few exceptional cases where Government has granted them).

Further the CAA also fast tracks the grant of citizenship to foreigners from the six minority community of the three countries mentioned above. The Citizenship Act, 1955 has provisions which allow foreign nationals (not illegal migrants), irrespective of their religion to apply to get Indian citizenship through the criterion of naturalization, that is if the person stays in India for eleven years out of fourteen years.  However with the 2019 amendment, foreign nationals of the three countries belonging to six communities will be granted Indian citizenship in only five years, while Muslims from these countries would get citizenship in eleven years.

Exceptions

The CAA 2019 does not apply to areas under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and areas covered under “The Inner Line”. The Sixth Schedule demarcates autonomous tribal areas mostly in North-East India in states of Meghalaya, Tripura, Assam and Mizoram.


Figure 1: Arears in North-East under Sixth Schedule

The Inner Line Permit (ILP) system is designed to regulate the inflow of Indian citizens outside those states. Inner Line Permit is a document issued by the governments of states protected under the ILP system, allowing an Indian citizen to visit or stay in that state. No Indian citizen can overstay beyond the said period specified in the ILP. Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland have enacted this system.


Figure 2: North-Eastern states under ILP regime

 

Criticism and protest

The government is facing criticism as the Act is being perceived as being against the secular values enshrined in the Indian Constitution because it grants citizenship on the basis of religion. The BJP government has also been accused of appeasing their conservative Hindu voter base for political gains. Critics have argued that the Act violates the Article 14 (right to equality before law) of the Indian Constitution and the basic structure of Constitution as well.

In the North-Eastern states, especially Assam, there are tens of thousands of Hindu and Muslim refugees from Bangladesh. With the implementation of CAA, the Hindu Bangladeshi refugees will be granted Indian citizenship which will cause a demographic change in these States. There is genuine fear amongst the indigenous communities that the Citizenship Amendment Act will adversely affect their socio-economic, cultural and political well-being.

At the same time, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam published in August 2019 has left out around 1.9 million persons. Assamese fear that through CAA, Hindu Bangladeshis will get Indian citizenship. This las led to Assam witnessing some of the most violent protests over the CAA.

The Act has also has been criticized as it does not include persecuted communities from other neighboring countries of India. For example, Hindus in Myanmar, Madheshi community from Nepal, Tamils from Sri Lanka, Buddhists from Tibet (China).

 

Government’s Justification

The government has justified that the Act is not in violation of the Article 14 (which guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the laws of all persons residing in the Indian Territory) of the Indian Constitution as in past cases the Supreme Court has emphasized that positive discrimination or discrimination on the basis of reasonable classification does not lead to violation of Article 14. Building on this, the government has argued in the parliament that Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians amounts to persecuted minority community in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan where Islam is the official religion. These minority communities have faced systematic persecution and their population have been continuously declining.

The objective of the CAA is not exclusion of any community but inclusion of persecuted religious minority communities. The Act does not take away individual rights of Muslims belonging to these three countries in applying for citizenship, refuge or asylum. Another important fact is that despite the signing of Nehru –Liaquat pact of 1950 (which provided framework for treatment of minorities in the two countries), Pakistan never respected it as largescale exodus of Hindus from both West and East Pakistan to India continued. This is also evident from the dwindling population figures of Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The government therefore felt that India is under constitutional and civilizational obligation to protect the rights of these persecuted minorities.

The Sri-Lankan Tamil refugees came in large numbers in Tamil Nadu when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was fighting against the Sri Lankan government. However with the fall of LTTE, Sri-Lankan Tamils have been repatriating. Moreover, Indian government is constructing houses for Tamils in Sri Lanka and has planned to repatriate the few thousands of them left in Tamil Nadu once the construction work is complete.  

The government has further promised to the people of North- East India that areas belonging to the Sixth Schedule and The Inner Line will be exempted from the Act. After violent protests throughout the country, government has reassured Assam that Assam Accord will be respected.  

The connection between the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and CAA

The Home Minister Amit Shah and other BJP leaders have said on several occasions in election rallies and television interviews about conducting a nationwide NRC exercise in order to identify illegal migrants. However, no official statement has yet been released by the government regarding the procedure and regulations of conduct of NRC. This has caused confusion and fear among people as they are viewing CAA in conjunction with the NRC. Once the NRC is completed, through the CAA refugees belonging to the six minority communities from the three mentioned countries can get Indian citizenship.

The NRC exercise which was carried out in Assam under the Supreme Court’s watch was done in order to identify the present residents of the state. Cut-off date of 24th March 1971 was set which means that anyone who entered the State, post this date will identified as illegal migrant. The NRC list published in 2019 has identified about nineteen lakhs illegal migrants in Assam. With the CAA the Hindu illegal migrants of Assam can get Indian citizenship, which has caused widespread anger and protests in the region, as the indigenous people perceive that with the CAA and NRC, the Hindu Bangladeshi will dominate over them.

Although most of the parts of Tripura and Meghalaya are covered under the Sixth Schedule where the CAA does not apply, these states are now demanding Inner Line Permit in whole state. In Assam, where most of illegal migration has taken place in the Brahmaputra valley and Barak valley, are not included in the Sixth Schedule. Hence there is widespread protest in these regions. It is in these regions where once the CAA is implemented, and Hindu Bangladeshis are given Indian citizenship, there will be considerable demographic change. Moreover the Assam Accord, which promised the people of Assam of deporting Bangladeshi refugees, becomes redundant as well.

In West Bengal too there are significant Bangladeshi refugees especially in border districts. The All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) which is the dominant political party of West Bengal has alleged that the BJP is eyeing the votes of these people as the state election in West Bengal comes close.  

Present situation and future outlook

As soon as the CAA was introduced in the parliament there were largescale protests in North-East India as the region has the largest number of refugees from Bangladesh. As protests wage out across India against the Act and also police action in Jamia Millia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University, many Chief Ministers of states in the country have declared that they will not implement CAA and will not carry out the NRC as well. However Citizenship does not fall under the State list therefore states do not have the power to legislate on this subject. Thus CAA remains effective across the country.

The Supreme Court having refused to put a stay on the Act, will be hearing petitions challenging it in January. It remains to be seen how the Court interprets the Article 14 of the Indian Constitution and also whether the Act violates the basic structure of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has also directed the government to publicize the actual intent of the Act so that there is no confusion among the people about its aims.

The opposition and protestors are demanding the government to stall the implementation of the Act and for an enquiry about police excesses in universities. There have been wide-scale protests across India, something which the country has not witnessed since 2011-12. The BJP is under immense pressure as its allies are deserting and its performance in the State elections has been continuously deteriorating. The government has taken steps to curb violent protests by enacting temporary measures. Further the Prime Minister and the Home Minister have clarified that the government has no plans of conducting a nationwide NRC as of now.

The government might not have anticipated protests on this scale against the Act. It seems that fear and backlash against nationwide NRC was also something that the BJP might not have anticipated. Despite of any official notification regarding the conduct of NRC, protests are based on what some BJP leaders have spoken in their election rallies regarding conduct of a nationwide NRC. There are reports of rumors and misinformation as well (reports like citizenship of Indian Muslims will be taken away once NRC is conducted or about detention centers being constructed to hold up people once the NRC is published…) which are adding fuel to fire. Looking at the protests across the country, it can be said that university students have been at the forefront especially after reports of police actions in Jamia Millia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University came out. However it is also important to note that not a single university came out with intellectual debates on the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 based on facts and constitutionality. The protests against CAA which were initially in solidarity with the North-East (as it is here that there are apprehensions about demographic changes) soon became against police actions in universities. Thus it seems that now the protests have become political in nature.

Amid rising criticism of police actions against university students, the BJP government has softened its rhetoric on conducting a nationwide NRC and came out with clarifications regarding CAA. The international media has also been quite critical of the government’s decision in this regard. Be it BJP’s idea of Hindu nationalism, revoking of Kashmir’s autonomy, building of Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the NRC exercise in Assam and now the CAA, Modi government has faced harsh criticism from western media. There have been voices from international community, criticizing the government of marginalizing the largest minorities of India. Considering the current domestic political scenario, it seems the dream run of the BJP might be over. Within a year the BJP has lost five major states (Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Jharkhand). The Indian economy is growing at slowest rate in a decade, unemployment rate has reached decades high and rising inflation has made the government anxious. Opposition has been trying to muster support on these issues. However absence of pan-India opposition leader makes it difficult for them to challenge Narendra Modi.

For the near future, it seems like protests will continue. The BJP led by Amit Shah is not expected to compromise over its core Hindutva issues (which includes CAA). Thus it is not likely that the government will put a hold on implementation of CAA, however it will try to convince people that regional identity of North-East will be protected at any cost and nationwide NRC will not be done in immediate future.

 

About the Author :

Sudarshan Gupta is a first year Masters student of Diplomacy, Law and Business at Jindal Global University. He is currently working at MitKat as an intern.


Published On - Jan 6,2020

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