After over 70 years of vantage of democracy, India is now being reduced to an unsecular country or particularly to a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. With the passage of the new bill know as Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) on December 9, 2019, now a law Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the Indian Constitution and its secular values have come under unprecedented threat. India is the world’s largest democracy, it embraces secularism and thrives on its ‘Unity in Diversity.’
Indians of all stripes have hit the street to protest against the discriminatory law which grants citizenship on the basis of religion and a parallel exercise known as National Register of Citizens (NRC). The Home Minister of India, Mr. Amit Shah has persistently emphasized on ‘the chronology’ of the implementation process of the CAA followed by the exercise of National Register of Citizens (NRC). Henceforth, it is important to understand the nature of the changes proposed by the CAA and its relationship with the NRC. It is the inefficient exercise of NRC that provides organic meaning to the CAA, a move to expand the notion of Hindu India, targeting the existence of the minority Muslim community.
Modes of Acquisition of Indian Citizenship:
Post-partition, framers of the Indian constitution were committed to drafting formal requirements of being an Indian citizen. On 29 November 1949 newly drafted provisions of the Indian Constitution came into force. Though citizenship is not defined in the Constitution, Part II of the Constitution i.e. Articles 5-11 provides the framework for Indian citizenship. According to the Indian Citizenship Act of 1955, Indian citizenship can be acquired by Birth (Sec 3), by Descent (Sec 4), by Registration (Sec 5), by Naturalisation (Sec 6). This sec 3 is the trajectory and has been amended in 1986, 2003 which changes the nature of acquiring citizenship by birth to descent i.e. after the commencement of the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2003, anyone born to parents with Indian Citizenship will be Indian citizen by birth.
But the latest amendment to the citizenship known as CAA by the current ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has sparked outrage and political polarization within India and also worldwide criticism. This Act offers amnesty to non-Muslims illegal immigrants from three neighboring countries i.e. an attempt to privilege peoples from six faiths Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs to give Indian citizenship based on religious persecution from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh excluding the Muslims.
An Act with Idea of Theocratization
CAA obliterates the idea of diverse India and its secular character. Despite Government’s claims that this Act gives citizenship and does not take away citizenship, it is not a well-thought-out act. The on-going nation-wide protest mostly led by the Indian students and the women of India prove that the government claims are falling short in creating confidence among the protestors. The Act excluding Muslims is not unintentional, it spells 2.0 partition of the Indian sub-continent. The ‘two-nation theory’ and its proponent’s Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s core belief that ‘Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, and literary traditions. They don’t intermarry each other and indeed belong to different civilizations’ provided an official basis of partition.
Modi government’s persistent attacking and eroding of the social identity of the Indian Muslim community is reminiscent of the same discourse where CAA becomes an attempt to attack their political identity. The act is theocratic, it redefines the idea of India. Adding religion to define the relationship of the nationals with the state paves way for India’s theocratization. It fulfills the idea of Jinnah and his claim that the Muslims who chose to stay in India have to prove their loyalty for India entire Life.
CAA and NRC: Organically Related
As mentioned above, NRC till date is the biggest administrative drive carried out by the Government of India (GOI) to verify the infiltrators. It has its root in Assam Accord where then Government promised to conduct NRC in Assam and identify illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who have settled in Assam after 25, March 1971. On the order of the Supreme Court of India in 2013, the exercise of NRC was started in Assam from 2016. Citizens residing in Assam were asked to provide documents to prove their citizenship. After four years of this exercise, the final list of the NRC was published on 31 August 2019, in which 1.9 million people could not prove that they are Indian citizens. The Government of India (GOI) is keen to implement the Assam Model NCR nationwide henceforth asking 1.2 billion Indian citizens to prove their for citizenship.
CAA and NRC are two sides of the same coin- NRC is a graveyard of Indian citizenship and CAA is a graveyard of Indian democracy. To prove citizenship prominent Indian identity proofs such as voter’s ID card, passport and Adhaar card are not sufficient, one needs to provide ancestors documents place of birth or electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971 (criteria for Assam NRC exercise). For a non-Muslim who has lived in India but could not present required documents, all is not lost as CAA gives them the privilege to argue that they fled their respective above-mentioned countries to escape persecution, but a Muslim who lived in the country and couldn’t stand the same test, does not enjoy the same privilege to this claim.
Citizenship is such a concept that defines civil, political, social rights and duties of citizens, how will the underprivileged and uneducated Indian citizens who don’t have any documents, or whose documents are misplaced in events of natural calamities, riots and migration prove their citizenship? The NRC done in Assam is an example of how inefficient this exercise could be when family members of former President of India and veteran army members’ names were excluded from the final NRC list. This very law is draconic, inhuman, unconstitutional, it is against Article 14 of the Indian Constitution i.e ‘equality before law or equal protection of laws within the Indian territory’. It relegates Indian Muslims to second class status and is a majoritarian step to please BJP’s Hindu voters and its wishes to create a Hindu land for its narrow political gains.
Both being organically related, NRC on one hand is the product of decades of chauvinism in Assam which excludes non-Assamese outsiders, while CAA on the other hand is the product of Hindu supremacist hearth of the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which deprives Muslims to take a Indian citizenship or impedes them to retain it.
CAA: An Unnecessary Intervention
I fail to understand the logic of crafting such a law and the need for it, how can a democratic secular country exclude one religion and deprive them an opportunity for citizenship. The United Nations has also labeled CAA as ‘discriminatory against the Muslims.’ The whole idea to prove Indian citizenship based on certain documents is also flawed. NRC is the legal policy variant of institutionalizing polarization- Hindus feel included and privileged to get assured citizenship, while Muslims & other minorities would be vulnerable to legal status.
Doing nationwide NRC is a utopian idea and a Kafkaesque exercise. The expense of the nationwide NRC would cost around 500,000 million just for administrative expenses. At the time when the Indian economy is suffering from high inflation and unemployment, such financial burden does not make much sense. This Act not only negatively impact the political and social sphere of the country but equally is a financial burden to is own citizens.Prime Minister of India failed to understand the whole of India, which will not be the ground test for his Gujarat model. He cannot polarize the rest of India based on the social polarization, cultural othering, and hatred to exploit its electoral dividends for successive terms.
I would appreciate if Government of India would rethink its approach towards refugees by signing the 1951 UN refugee convention and the 1967 protocol, rather then just politicizing the issue of giving citizenship. By implementing CAA on religious identity i.e. by prioritising the identity of refugees over the humanitarian reasons, India is doing a great disservice to the global refugee crisis. It is unethical to appropriate a humanitarian crisis to serve a party’s long-cherished political goal in India. What gives me hope is that the young India is protesting against this discriminatory law. The student community is in fore-front to challenge these discriminatory policies and is standing united to save the basic fabric of secular India.
Ms. SADIA RAHMAN is a Ph.D. candidate at National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan. She received her Master’s Degree in Political Science from Presidency University, Kolkata. She is also a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) Taiwan Fellowship Recipient.