About the Act
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.
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).
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.
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
1: Arears in North-East under Sixth Schedule
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.
2: North-Eastern states under ILP regime
Criticism and protest
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Sudarshan Gupta is a first year Masters student of Diplomacy, Law
and Business at Jindal Global University. He is currently working at MitKat as