Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC)
Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the Context of Indian Constitution, Rationality, and Humanitarian Perspectives
The Preamble to the Constitution – The Strongest Pillar of India’s Democracy
The Indian Constitution’s Preamble mirrors the democratic tenets that potentially substantiate the state of Secularism, Socialism, and Sovereignty and continue to guide and govern the citizens (of India) irrespective of their religion, class, creed, and community-status (Legal_Service_India, 2019). The Preamble ascertains justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity to the entire Indian citizens irrespective of their racial, religious, language, and regional differences and stratification. Justice in the context of the Indian Constitution is based on the lawful promotion of political, economic, and social equality to the entire Indian citizens. Liberty of thought is a humanitarian provision promised by the Indian Constitution that ensures the right to worship, faith practice, belief, expression, and thought to the people of India. The provision of Equality in the Indian Constitution is based on extending equitable opportunities and status to the Indian People irrespective of their differences in opinions and religious practices. The provision of Fraternity, however, promises the establishment of an integrated nation that does not disempower its citizens or violate their dignity under any circumstances. Sovereignty in the context of the Indian Constitution empowers the Indian government to take independent decisions in the absence of an external dominion (Legal_Service_India, 2019). The Indian legislature exercises the right and power to make rational decisions for the welfare of the country’s citizens. The Indian democratic system is a robust means of promoting socialist principles based on the development of a mixed economy for the welfare of the public and private sectors. The Secular structure of the Indian Constitution is based on equitable support, protection, and respect for all religions in the absence of biasing and discrimination. The democratic authority of the state is constituted by the people’s will and expression (Legal_Service_India, 2019). The head of the Republic State of India is indirectly elected by the common masses. The Preamble of the Indian Constitution is the foundation and cornerstone of the entire democratic structure that assures and promises the thorough protection of rights and privileges of the Indian citizens irrespective of their religious and cultural differences.
Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – in the Context of Indian Constitution
The religious, cultural, and social diversity of India is thoroughly supported, shielded, and protected by the Indian Constitution. The 395 articles of the Indian Constitution segregated into 8 schedules and 22 parts came into existence in 1950 (January-26) (Batra, n.d.). The Indian constitution guarantees the rights to equality, education, cultural practice, religious freedom, autonomy, and freedom to every Indian citizen. The constitutional remedies prove highly conducive to the protection of Indian citizens against all forms of exploitation. The provision of periodic amendments in the Indian Constitution is based on strengthening their rights and privileges while challenging all types of discriminatory practices. The preliminary aim of the Indian Constitution reciprocates with the security and development of the nation through the equitable contribution/share of all stakeholders (i.e. Indian Citizens) without compromising their morale, dignity, and religious freedom.
CAA (No 47, 2019) is an amendment of the Citizenship Act of 1955 enacted by the Indian Parliament during the 17th year of the Indian Republic (The_Gazette_of_India, 2019). CAA is an amendment to the Citizenship Act of 1955 that objectively defines the provisions of Citizenship in the Indian Constitution. The provisions accord Indian Citizenship to every person born on or after 1950 (26th January) and before 1st July 1987 (i.e. citizenship by birth) (India_Code_NIC, 1955). Citizenship by descent, registration, naturalization, and overseas status include other significant provisions that guide the citizenship acquisition or exclusion parameters without violating the human rights, privileges, and religious practices of the eligible candidates. CAA grants the provision of Indian Citizenship to specific classes of illegal immigrants through an amendment in subsection-1 (clause-b) of section-2 of the Citizenship Act of 1955. The amendment allows the grant of Indian Citizenship to the illegal immigrants from Christian, Parsi, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, and Hindu communities of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who entered into the Indian territory until 31st December 2014 (The_Gazette_of_India, 2019). Furthermore, the CAA provision 3(3) cancels any legal proceeding against the illegal migrants of the selected communities concerning their Citizenship claims or discrepancies. Most importantly, CAA does not advocate the submission of documentary evidence by the selected illegal immigrants to prove their illegal immigration status. The provision-3(3) of CAA grants Indian Citizenship to the selected illegal immigrants based on their citizenship applications. The provision-3(3) also states that such applications for Indian Citizenship by the selected illegal immigrants shall not be rejected, and the applicants will, therefore, acquire the Indian Citizenship rights and privileges based on their (unsubstantiated) illegal immigration claims. This indicates that the concerned applicants or aspirants of the Indian Citizenship will not require submitting any documentary evidence of their illegal immigration claims based on their community status and illegal immigration cut-off date specified under section-2 of CAA (The_Gazette_of_India, 2019). The section-6 of CAA also reduces the tenure of naturalization for Indian Citizenship from 11 years to 5 years. This naturalization duration change is solely applicable to the selected Christian, Parsi, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, and Hindu communities of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who file their claim for attaining Indian Citizenship.
CAA – Contradictions and Clarifications
Several critics have presented serious concerns on CAA provisions that in their opinion grossly violate the secular tenets of the Indian constitution. This is because CAA excludes the illegal immigrants from the Muslim community from the designated countries while disallowing their Indian Citizenship claims at any level. The critics consider CAA as a tyrannical manifestation that potentially subdues the secular and democratic structure of the Indian constitution. The following major public objections to CAA have invoked nationwide protests across several Indian states.
- The advocates of CAA from the governmental front continue to support the Act while calling it as a rational and systematic provision to safeguard the human rights of the religiously persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. Contrarily, none of the CAA 6 citizenship clauses mention the words ‘minorities/minority’ and ‘persecution/persecuted’. The definitions of the 6 clauses nowhere reveal the definition of persecuted religious minorities that contradicts the Indian Home Minister’s statement of granting Indian Citizenship to the selected minorities based on their religious persecution status (News-18, 2019). This raises a serious question about the requirement of determining the religious persecution status of the selected illegal immigrants from the communities that are neither described as minorities nor documented as religiously threatened/persecuted groups or communities.
- The exclusion of the Muslim Community in CAA, according to the ruling front, is based on the presumption that the Muslim community has no scope of facing religious persecution inside Muslim dominated regions of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan (Guardian_News, 2019). However, this claim of the ruling government is not substantiated by any research study, primary report or secondary analysis. The critics of CAA challenge this presumption since the Act does not cover Indian Citizenship claims of religious Muslim minorities including Shias and Ahmedias from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh (The_Economic_Times, 2019). However, this entire debate loses rationality since CAA clauses nowhere mention the terms of religious minorities versus religious persecution.
- The arbitrary selection of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh (i.e. Muslim dominated countries) and the presumption of religious persecution of the selected communities in these regions is a significant concern that questions the core objective of CAA implementation. The critics seek the rational reason for excluding Indian Citizenship claims of Shias and Ahmedia Muslims from Pakistan, Hindus/Rohingya Muslims from Burma, and Christian Tamils/Hindus from Sri Lanka (The_Economic_Times, 2019). The ruling government’s response to these questions reveals that the exclusion of Muslims is based on their extended options of seeking refuge/Citizenship in Islamic countries. Ironically, India stands firmly based on its secular tenets and does not hold the status of a majoritarian (i.e. Hindu dominated) nation. The arbitrary selection of three Islamic nations for Indian Citizenship allocation also questions the reasonable classification that the ruling government presents in its claim for substantiating the clauses of CAA.
- The UN Human Rights chief recognizes CAA as a fundamentally discriminatory act that not only violates the Indian constitution but also fails to comply with international law and human rights obligations (The_Wire, 2019). The UN Human Rights office considers CAA as a biased law that discriminates Indian Citizenship claims on religious, ethnic, and racial grounds. The UN Human Rights Office shares serious worries about the discriminatory implications of CAA on the nationality access of the Indian Citizens (i.e. Muslims in particular). However, the Ministry of Home Affairs claims that CAA does not impact the Indian nationals in any manner. CAA also excludes the regions pertaining to the Inner Line Permit (as specified in the 6th schedule) with the core objective of safeguarding the interests and human rights of Indigenous masses and tribal communities (Times_Of_India, 2019). The question, however, prevails regarding ‘how the arbitrary protection of the rights and interests of selected communities is substantiated through reasonable classification?’. The critics also question the reason for excluding other communities and countries from their Indian Citizenship claims. Since the selection appears entirely arbitrary, the critics question the rational classification utilized to provide Indian Citizenship privilege to the randomly selected communities of the arbitrarily shortlisted countries.
- The critics question the conscious exclusion of the Muslim community from CAA by the ruling government. They recognize CAA as a measure to disintegrate the permanent settlements dominated by the Muslim community across the Indian regions. They consider CAA as an outcome of the Hindu hardliner agenda that aims to establish (Hindu) Majoritarianism all over the nation. The critics and Rights organizations claim that CAA will legitimize the deportation of thousands of Muslims who fail to pass the test of Indian Citizenship due to the absence of relevant documents. This concern also questions the fate of millions of marginalized Muslims across India who do not possess the desired documents to prove their Indian descent. The critics seek answers regarding the fate of Indian Citizens (Muslims in particular) who despite their Indian lineage will fail to prove their Citizenship due to non-possession of documents.
National Register of Citizens (NRC) through the Lens of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)
NRC exercise was conducted in Assam following the MoS (Memorandum of Settlement) signed between Assam Movement leaders and the Government of India in 1985 (August 15). The formulation of the Assam Accord occurred after the 6-years of agitation by AASU (Assam Students’ Union) that demanded the deportation of Illegal immigrants from the region. The NRC exercise was conducted under the directions and supervision of the Supreme Court of India in the year 2013. The NRC measure required the Indian Citizens in Assam to prove their pre-1971 existence in the region (Government_of_Assam, 2019). Accordingly, NRC demanded the submission of legacy data of the Indian Citizens with the objective of tracking and deporting the illegal migrants to their native destination (i.e. Bangladesh). The final list of Assam NRC was published on August 31, 2019, and did not include the name of approximately 2 million candidates from 33 million applicants (Wikipedia, 2019). The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party rejected the NRC outcome since that did not satisfy its predetermined or presumed expectations. The party opposed the Assam NRC results based on the presumption of including illegal immigrants and excluding legal immigrants in the final list. Interestingly, the majority of the illegal immigrants in the NRC list belonged to the majority Hindu community. The commitment of a Pan India NRC was challenged by the Assam NRC results that prompted the ruling party to introspect and revisit the entire idea. Subsequently, the recent formulation of CAA facilitated the provision of granting Indian Citizenship to the non-Muslim (minority) communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. This measure effectively clears the path of granting citizenship to the Hindu community people in Assam who failed to prove their Indian Citizenship claim despite declaring themselves as valid Indian Citizens in the NRC process. The Provision of CAA will facilitate the grant of Indian Citizenship to the Hindu and other non-Muslim illegal immigrants; however, it will not provide any protection to the Muslim illegal immigrants whose names were excluded from the National Register of Citizens. The critics question this religion-based exclusion of the Muslim community from NRC while recognizing it as a severe violation of the Preamble to the Indian Constitution. The critics claim the CAA Citizenship provision violates Article-14 of the Indian Constitution that promises equal protection to all foreigners, Indian Citizens, and persons without any discrimination (PRS_India, 2019). The arbitrary selection of communities and countries for Citizenship allocation repeatedly challenges the reasonable selection procedure adopted by the ruling government. Most importantly, the Right to Equality in the Indian Constitution does not allow any discrimination against any Citizen or person with respect to the place of birth, or sex, or caste, or religion. The biggest question is that whether CAA discriminates this right to equality while arbitrarily rejecting Muslim illegal immigrants’ Indian Citizenship claims? Does the selective and unsubstantiated allocation of Indian Citizenship to the illegal immigrants of non-Muslim communities (from the selected countries) radically violate the Indian Constitution’s commitment to equality and non-discrimination? How does CAA not support prejudiced treatment with Muslims in India? Interestingly, will the provision of CAA force the Assam NRC-based non-Muslim (excluded) communities to declare their foreign descent while subduing their initial claims for Indian Citizenship?
CAA is encountering nationwide criticism by the advocates of Indian Secularism. Some of the significant questions and concerns regarding CAA-NRC require clarification by the ruling government.
- International media and human rights groups are vehemently supporting the anti-CAA opinion and considering this move in terms of majoritarian rhetoric inspired by the ethnic elimination of the Rohingya Muslim community (The_New_York_Times, 2018). Will the reverse perceptions of CAA downgrade the secular credentials of India to an unprecedented level?
- Bangladesh has recently clarified its stand while committing to accept illegal immigrants only when the Indian government presents valid evidence of their Bangladeshi status (India_Today, 2018). This stand apparently reflects the lack of coordination between the Indian and Bangladeshi governments on the issue of illegal immigrants. The ruling party has repeatedly questioned the credibility of the Assam NRC while committing to revise the entire practice to obtain the desired result. The biggest question is whether the NRC process is capable to track Bangladeshi illegal immigrants without violating the human rights of the valid Indian Citizens (Muslims in particular based on CAA provision)? Apparently, the Assam NRC process has had no provision to grant Indian Citizenship to the valid Indian Citizens who failed to prove their Indian legacy through valid documents. Despite the provision of foreign tribunals and court proceedings, how the genuine residents will prove their Indian Citizenship and pass the test of loyalty for their nation? Accordingly, millions of Indian Citizens (again Muslims in particular based on CAA provision) might fail to prove their Indian Citizenship due to a lack of desired legacy documents following the Pan India NRC. Will the statelessness of these people grossly violate their human rights while subjecting them to atrocities in detention centers? Will it never violate the basic premise of equality and protection to all Indian Citizens in the Indian Constitution? What will be the fate of the stateless Muslims when none of the selected countries (i.e. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan) accept to take them back while rejecting the plea or evidence of illegal migration by the Indian government? Will they experience human rights violations and live a directionless life in the darkness of detention centers or forced to migrate out of India to unknown locations?
- How the Pan India NRC will ascertain precision and lack of human rights violations? What measures will guarantee the protection of native citizens, particularly when they fail to prove their Indian descent through legacy documents? What provision will safeguard the Indian Citizens with inconsistent documents or mistakes in spelling names and legacy information? Will the non-inclusion of genuine Indian citizens' names in the NRC list never elevate their mental and economic stress? Will the incapacity of middle-class Indians (Muslims in particular due to the CAA provision) for moving to the court of law for claiming and proving their citizenship not increase their risk of suicide and escape due to socioeconomic and mental constraints? Most importantly, will the impoverished Indian Citizens (Muslims in particular due to the CAA provision) who fail to make their Citizenship claims through legacy documents have enough scope and financial resources to hire lawyers and move to the court of justice for saving their Citizenship?
- What will be the fate of millions of stateless Muslims who have failed to prove their Indian Citizenship in the Assam NRC? Most importantly, what will be the fate of the stateless Muslims after the accomplishment of Pan India NRC? Since CAA will facilitate the inclusion of non-Muslim communities, the detention of millions of stateless Muslims will lead them in a state of socio-economic and mental trauma. What will be the state of these stateless Muslims and how the government will determine their Citizenship status? What mechanism will the Indian government adopt for deporting them to Bangladesh, and/or Pakistan, and/or Afghanistan (as appropriate)? Will the detention and deprivation of human rights of the stateless Muslims (after PAN India NRC) not violate the Preamble and basic tenets of the Indian Constitution that guarantees justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity to all communities within the Indian territory?
- Will, the average Indian Citizens (Muslims in particular due to the CAA provision) not lose their bread and butter opportunities or employability due to the stress of taking uncountable rounds to the courts of justice in case they do not find their names in the NRC list? What will be the fate of such masses and how their rights to equality, justice, and employability remain protected under chaotic circumstances?
- The Pan India NRC practice will require the expenditure of millions of dollars and substantial time and resources by the ruling government. Media reports have affirmed the consistent decline of Indian GDP (Gross Domestic Product) Growth from 5% to 4.5% in the quarter – 2 of the year 2019-2020. Will the nation able to manage the financial burden of executing a PAN India NRC exercise in a state of unprecedented socio-economic crisis? The PAN India NRC guidelines have yet not been published and there is no clarity on how the exercise will aptly authenticate the Indian Citizenship of genuine residents (Muslims in particular due to the CAA provision) without violating their human rights as committed by the Indian Constitution. Although, a recently posted media update reveals the Indian government’s comments stating that the PAN India NRC will not follow the Assam NRC format and the Indian Citizens might not require submitting their legacy documents for proving their pre-1971 ancestry (News-18, 2019a). However, the clarity on this matter is still awaited until the availability of the Pan India NRC guidelines (final draft). The media updates reflect an impression of intense anxiety and panic among Indian Citizens on CAA-NRC measures that might soon force them to testify their loyalty for the nation through their Indian Citizenship claims.
The Preamble of the Indian Constitution ascertains justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity to the entire Indian citizens irrespective of their racial, religious, language, and regional differences and stratification. The ruling government claims that CAA and NRC are two distinct exercises that do not intend to discriminate Indian Citizens in the context of their religious, cultural, racial, language, and regional differences. Ironically, the anxiety and fears of the Indian masses on CAA-NRC combination appear to aggravate in the wake of continuous protests and agitations. The international community is waiting to witness the fate and progress of the Indian democracy following the accomplishment of a PAN India NRC.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Dr Khalid Rahman