Government’s Hurry to implement Citizenship Amendment Act ! by Ram Puniyani

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Currently India is facing the worst effects of Corona pandemic (June 2021). The death of people due to the disease, lack of adequate facilities, shortage of hospital beds and Oxygen is frightening on one side; on the other the Home Ministry of GOI has begun the process of implementing CAA. It has sought application from non Muslim refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangla Desh. This is further to the controversial passage of CAA in the Parliament. Interestingly a circular issued by the ministry asked the persecuted minorities from those countries and residing in 13 districts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab to apply for citizenship of India. What is eye catching in this is the fact that the circular does not mention refugees in West Bengal and Assam. These were the states where CAA was continually brought up during recent assembly elections.

In response to this Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a Congress party’s ally in Kerala, has moved the Supreme Court to challenge the controversial decision planned by the ruling Government. The IUML plea states that Section 5 (1)(a)-(g) and section 6 of the Citizenship Act read together do not permit such a classification of applicants on the religious grounds. And so the order violates the provision itself. The terms for persons eligible in Section 5 (1)(a)-(g) lay down which persons are eligible to apply for citizenship by registration, section 6 permits any person (not being an illegal migrant) to apply for citizenship by naturalization.

 

It further pleads that if this order is implemented and citizenship is given to persons based on their religion, and further ahead if the court strikes down CAA and the order, then it will be a very difficult to reverse the process through which citizenship is granted. It is not very hard to understand the intentions of the government in hurrying up the process, despite the matters pending in Supreme Court. The Government seems to be determined to create hassles for Muslim minority, under the garb of CAA.

Firstly, it is itself doubtful whether our constitution permits discrimination on grounds of religion in granting citizenship. Granting of citizenship to persecuted persons in neighboring countries is a global norm. One knows that many Muslim minorities in Pakistan like Ahmadis are persecuted. It is a matter of amazement as to why the Hindu Tamils persecuted in Sri Lanka are kept out of the gambit of this CAA. Additionally the worst persecution has been seen is those of Rohingyas in Myanmar, who will be out of this process!

The CAA itself has been responded to by severe criticism by UN. In the wake of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) UN High Commissioner, Michele Bachelet, had filed an intervention in the Supreme Court petition challenging the constitutionality of the Citizenship Amendment Act, as she was critical of CAA. Responding to her, India’s Foreign Minister S. Jai Shanker strongly rebutted her criticism, saying that the body (UNHCR) has been wrong and is blind to the problem of cross border terrorism. Also there was an argument that CAA is the internal matter of India.

The Foreign minister’s assertion is that it is a matter internal to India, where India’s sovereignty is all that matters! As far as sovereignty is concerned we should be clear that in current times any sovereign power has to consider the need to uphold the citizenship as per the principle of non-discrimination which, is stipulated in Art. 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political (ICCPR) rights.

India has witnessed strong agitation against the CAA-NPR. The initial protest in Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Milia Islamia and other places was met with strong reaction from the state. Police entered the campuses and beat the students mercilessly. This was followed by one of the biggest, most democratic and peaceful agitation by Muslim women. This Shaheen bagh movement spread all over the country and shook the conscience of the people to no end. The repression of this took place through the Delhi riots and later due to the process of spread of Corona.

This landmark movement was also a outburst of the accumulated frustration of the Muslim community, who have been pushed to the margins of society through the processes of communal violence, issues of Cwo-beef lynching, beating of Muslim boys on the pretext of love jihad, targeting the Muslim community in the name of Corona Jihad and what have you. The quest for equal citizenship for all religious minorities got strong expression through this movement; it was the most articulate democratic voice against CAA-NRC.

As such CAA cannot be seen in isolation. India’s Home minster Mr. Amit Shah had tweeted “First we will pass the Citizenship Amendment bill and ensure that all the refugees from the neighboring nations get the Indian citizenship. After that NRC will be made and we will detect and deport every infiltrator from our motherland.”

NRC experience of Assam should have woken us up to drop such an exercise for good. In the painful process of NRC, the people of Assam faced lots of hardships at all the levels. The process of keeping documents is not easy for villagers and slum dwellers. Despite that nearly 19.5 lakh people were found to be without proper papers for citizenship and interestingly nearly 12 lakhs of these were Hindus. The claims made by BJP and company were that close to 50 lakh people have infiltrated from Bangla Desh, and what turned out was totally different picture.

The migration from Bangla Desh was due to the Pakistan military atrocities prior to Bangla Desh war. There were some economic migrations also. One is not sure how much migration has taken place from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The figures should be made public. As pointed out the norms of humanism and United Nations do guide us to give refuge to persecuted communities in the neighboring countries.  The economic migrations from Bangla Desh are not the order of the day as it has gone ahead of India on economic indices. One hope that SC will protect the vulnerable minorities.

 

 

 

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