Opinion | Citizenship Amendment Act: Humane and Inclusive – News18

Written By: Sanju Verma
Last Updated: March 14, 2024, 13:18 IST
New Delhi, India
The CAA exercise is constitutional, legal and simply put, symbolises the greatest good of the greatest number. (PTI Photo)
There were over 200,000 Sikhs in Kabul in the 1980s, but after the start of the Civil War in 1992, most had fled. Seven of Kabul’s eight gurudwaras were destroyed during the Civil War. At the start of 2021, there were only 400 Sikhs left and at the end, post the annihilation and capture of Afghanistan by the Taliban, only a measly number of 150 Sikhs are left. Shocking? Yes, indeed, but that is the harsh reality. Only Gurudwara Karte Parwan, located in the Karte Parwan section of Kabul, remains today. Christians in Bangladesh account for 0.30 per cent (roughly 500,000 believers) of the nation’s population as of the 2022 Census. Together with Judaism and Buddhism (plus other minority religious groups such as Atheism, Sikhism, the Bahá’í Faith and others), they account for less than 1 per cent of the population.
Pakistan was home to approximately 20,000 Sikhs in the 1990s but this group was excluded from the most recent population Census. Most Sikhs live in the Punjab province of Nankana Sahib and the Peshawar province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is believed that the Sikh population has dwindled to barely 2000 or lower, due to rampant persecution over decades. The Hindu population in large parts of Pakistan which was anywhere between 22-27 per cent in the 1950s is down to barely 2.5 per cent now, due to the systematic and horrifying persecution of Hindus by the theocratic Islamic State of Pakistan, over the years.
The above data clearly shows religious minorities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan have been almost forced into oblivion and have been obliterated, demographically. This has not happened by virtue of any organic law of nature but due to severe, persistent and often State-sponsored persecution. Amidst these tumultuous conditions, it is to the credit of the Modi government that the CAA rules have been notified.
As soon as the Indian government notified the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), Qatar-based international news organisation Al Jazeera recklessly called the law ‘anti-Muslim’. CAA is not anti-Muslim. In fact, CAA has nothing to do with Indian Muslims. The Act does not take away the fundamental, constitutional, civil, legal, religious, property or any other rights of any Muslim or any individual from any minority community in India.
It does not take away the citizenship of any Indian citizen irrespective of religion and is not against any community. It’s an enabling law only to provide citizenship to persecuted minorities from the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan & Bangladesh. History was made on December 9, 2019, when the Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) with an overwhelming majority of 311 votes to 80 votes. Again, on December 11, after a nine-hour long, intense debate, the Rajya Sabha passed the CAB with 125-105 votes. Needless to add, the passage of CAB by the Indian Parliament, which represents the will of a large part of India’s 1.4 billion citizens, is the biggest endorsement that this landmark law has both its head and heart in the right place.
What then, explains the vicious narrative against the CAA? First and foremost, it does not violate Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Those harping about the ‘Right to Equality’ under Article 14, have no problem in taking specific privileges conferred on minorities in India under Articles 29 and 30. Why? Is it a case of wanting to “have the cake and eat it too?” Of course. In any case, all rights including those under Article 14, are not absolute but subject to “reasonable restrictions” pertaining to “public order, morality and health”. It took a fearlessly resolute leader of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stature to bring in the CAA, easily one of the most enabling and empowering provisions in recent times.
Parties with a divisive agenda like the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) even moved the Supreme Court against the Ministry of Home Affairs’ notification pertaining to citizenship for non-Muslim refugees. As per the notification dated May 28, 2021, the MHA invited applications for citizenship from Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Christians and Buddhists hailing from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who are currently residing in 13 districts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab. While the rules under the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, will be framed soon, the Ministry invoked the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955. “In exercise of powers conferred under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (57 of 1955), the Central government hereby directs that powers exercisable by it for registration as citizen of India under Section 5, or for grant of certificate of naturalisation under Section 6 of the Citizenship Act 1955 in respect of any person belonging to minority community in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, residing in the districts mentioned and the States mentioned below,” the Home Ministry notification said.
This is in addition to the 16 districts in seven states that were given powers to verify and approve citizenship under the Citizenship Act, 1955 (and rules framed under the law in 2009), earlier. Now, the provision is being implemented in a total of 29 districts in nine states. Interestingly, the MHA order makes no mention of West Bengal and Assam, both of which have long borders with Bangladesh. It is also in no way connected to the CAA enacted in 2019.
The MHA order has been issued under the older Citizenship Act passed in 1955 and not under CAA 2019. A similar notification was issued in 2018 as well for other districts in several states. Under the 1955 Act, people who are neither born in India, nor can claim citizenship based on ancestry (illegals are excluded) can also become citizens of India by registration, by fulfilling any one of the criteria, like being of Indian origin.
A person can also become a citizen by naturalisation – this has the broadest eligibility. There are no requirements of Indian descent, birth or Indian origination. To become a naturalised citizen, a person must be residing in India throughout the 12 months preceding the application for citizenship. Also, immediately before these 12 months, the person must be residing in India for a total of 11 out of 14 years.
The option of naturalisation or registration is not available to illegal immigrants.
For legal migrants who want to apply for Indian citizenship, all the rules are the same. There is no discrimination between Muslims and non-Muslims. Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan can also become Indian citizens through legal ways like everyone else. Illegal migrants are foreigners who enter India without a valid passport or travel document or stay beyond the permitted time.
Here’s where the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 comes. The Act states that Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will not be treated as illegal migrants, and therefore, be eligible for naturalisation. This exception has been provided as the above communities, facing religious persecution, were forced to cross the border to save their lives and dignity. Also, under provisions for citizenship by naturalisation, they will have to fulfill the requirement of five years of residence in India, as opposed to 11 out of 14 years for others.
The Act exempts all Northeast states except non-tribal areas of Tripura and Assam. It also puts a cut-off date – only those who have come to India before December 31, 2014, are eligible though there is a buzz that cut-off date norms may be further relaxed.
The Act simply makes it easier for persecuted minorities from India’s neighbours – Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – to become citizens of India as it entitles Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians facing religious persecution in these nations to seek Indian citizenship. The Act says the refugees of these six communities will be given Indian citizenship if they entered India on or before December 31, 2014, after residing in India for five years, vide Amendment 2 of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
Well, the legislation applies to those who were “forced or compelled to seek shelter in India due to persecution on the grounds of religion”. The requirement to stay in India for those belonging to any of the aforesaid six religions for at least 11 years before applying for Indian citizenship has been reduced to five years. Indian citizenship, under present law, is given either to those born in India or if they have resided in the country for a minimum of 11 years.
The Act does not apply to tribal areas of Tripura, Mizoram, Assam and Meghalaya, because of being included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Also, areas that fall under the Inner Limit notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation,1873, will also be outside the CAA’s purview. This keeps almost the entire Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland out of the ambit of the Act.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is an exercise that will enlist all Indian citizens on a ‘national register’ by vetting their documentation. The NRC does not exclude any Muslim who is a genuine Indian citizen. It only seeks to provide citizenship to minorities from Muslim-majority nations, where the said minorities are known to face persecution.
NRC does not discriminate based on religion, so Muslims have nothing to fear. Every sane country in the world has a national register of its citizens and India is no exception. Opposition parties like the Congress have amnesia and have conveniently forgotten that the Assam accord inked by Rajiv Gandhi in 1985 provided for NRC exercise in Assam, to check illegal migrants and infiltrators. Congress-led Central governments also made suitable insertions in the Citizenship Act thereafter by way of Clause 14A in 2004, relating to the issuance of national identity cards to all citizens of India and later, Schedule 4A in 2009 was also added.
Hence, fanning passions, by spreading falsehoods regarding the NRC and CAA to further the Congress brand of divisive politics simply because it has been electorally vanquished by the electorate, is not justified.
Home minister, the very erudite and dynamic Amit Shah, has said that the measure has the endorsement of over a billion Indians as it was always a part of the BJP manifesto, both in the general elections in 2014 and 2019. The Act does not discriminate against anyone and does not snatch anyone’s rights and that is precisely the reason the BJP-led Modi government stormed to power with a brute majority, in two successive Lok Sabha elections.
The exclusion of Muslims is not an act of Islamophobia. Muslims in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the majority community and the CAA is meant for only minorities facing religious persecution in these nations. In any case, there are 50 Muslim-majority nations globally, of which 45 have officially declared themselves as Islamic Republics. Muslims, including Ahmediyyas and Bahais, can find shelter in any of these 50 Muslim-centric nations but a persecuted Hindu, for instance, has no country to turn to. Hence those protesting against CAA are exhibiting Hinduphobia. Being pro-Hindu or pro-Buddhist does not make CAA anti-Muslim.
With the cut-off date set at December 31, 2014, the number of people who will benefit from the amendments stands at 31,313, a figure submitted by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting during a Parliamentary Committee hearing on the bill in 2016. As per official records, there are 31,313 persons belonging to minority communities (Hindus – 25447, Sikhs – 5807, Christians – 55, Buddhists – 2, and Parsis – 2) who have been given long-term visa on the basis of their claim of religious persecution in their respective countries and want Indian citizenship. Hence, these persons will be immediate beneficiaries.
The Opposition to the CAA has been miniscule. It is only vested, politically aligned groups owing allegiance to the Congress and Leftists who are fanning violence to derive political capital given their depleting political fortunes. Assam and Meghalaya saw normalcy after the temporary imposition of curfew, preventing agenda-driven protests by vested groups from taking a grim turn. The Northeastern states have faced large-scale migration from infiltrators and illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries, thanks to years of lethargy displayed by successive Congress-led regimes.
However, with the unstoppable Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm, Northeast is finally getting its due. It is precisely to prevent any further large-scale demographic invasion by infiltrators like the Rohingyas for instance, that the CAA will step in, by legitimising the residency of only persecuted minorities from the three neighbouring countries, without damaging the existing socio-demographic fabric of the Northeast.
The amended law inserts a new clause that says – “Nothing in this section shall apply to the tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under ‘The Inner Line’ notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.”
Apart from the above exceptions, the law shall be applicable across all states. The chief ministers of Congress-ruled states like Punjab, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have stated that they will not implement the act in their respective states. However, states do not have the power to refuse implementation of the law, as it is enacted under the Union List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
In the last two years, over 30 district magistrates and home secretaries of nine states have been given powers to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan under the Citizenship Act of 1955. The treatment to be given to the “classified communities” in the particular neighbouring countries has been attracting the attention of successive governments but no government took any legislative measure and merely acknowledged the problem and took some administrative action through executive instructions regarding entry, stay and citizenship issues of these classified communities.
It was finally the relentless conviction of PM Modi that resulted in the passage of the historic CAA, to enable and empower these classified communities and legitimise their status in India.
“It is India’s responsibility to give refuge to those people who have been oppressed due to their faith. These people have faced historical injustice… and to stop this and fulfill our old promise, we have brought the CAA. Our government brought in CAA to give citizenship to such people but some political parties are in competition to do vote-bank politics. For whose interest are they working? Why can’t they see the atrocities faced by these people in Pakistan? There are many Dalits (among those who have been oppressed). These people have been oppressed,” PM Modi had rightfully and famously said after the passage of the CAA.
Modi further said that a sanitation job advertisement by the Pakistani Army stated it was only open to non-Muslims, implying it was for Dalits. He also referred to the Enemy Property Act and said those opposing this legislation are also the very lot against the CAA. After partition, those who left India for Pakistan could still lay claim to their properties. The Enemy Property Act 2016 allows the transfer of enemy property from the enemy to other persons.
The Citizenship Amendment Act corrects historical injustices and fulfills the promise made under the Nehru-Liaquat pact to religious minorities in neighbouring countries. What Nehru promised but failed to do was finally done by PM Modi. Don’t forget India had assured minorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan when it gained independence in 1947 that they could come to the country if needed. This was Mahatma Gandhi’s wish and also the intention behind the Nehru-Liaquat pact, which Nehru however deliberately failed to honour, driven by appeasement politics which has always been the hallmark of the Congress.
The pact signed in 1950 between Nehru and his Pakistan counterpart Liaquat Ali Khan was aimed at allowing refugees to return to dispose of their property, return abducted women and looted property and de-recognise forced conversions.
The CAA exercise is constitutional, legal and simply put, symbolises the greatest good of the greatest number. It is yet another example of how the iron will, commitment and conviction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi achieved what a vacuous Nehru promised, but failed to deliver. Not only Nehru, even his daughter Indira Gandhi failed to recognise the rights of indigenous Assamese, as per what was outlined in the Indira-Mujib accord of 1972.
The Indira-Mujib agreement was signed on March 19, 1972, between the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, determining various issues of the two countries, including March 1971 as the cut-off year to identify the Bangladeshi infiltrators/refugees to India. However, thanks to Indira’s incompetence, the accord, largely speaking, was never implemented either in letter or spirit.
Coming back to the CAA, the Matua community, with its long-time demand for citizenship rights, demanded implementation of the CAA for decades. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee of the CPM was the Chief Minister of Bengal from 2000-2011 but failed to solve the simmering issue of the Matua community. Ditto goes for the highly incompetent Mamata Banerjee, who has been the CM of West Bengal since 2011 and despite promising legitimacy to the Matua community, she did nothing for them, with many Matuas who are refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) living in horrible conditions at camps in Bagjola in Nadiad district of Bengal. The CAA notification by the Modi government therefore, holds special significance for the Matua community in Bengal and like the persecuted Hindus of Pakistan living at Majnu ka Tila in North Delhi, who are overjoyed with the CAA notification, the Matuas too have a lot to rejoice about.
What Nehru, Indira, Buddhadeb and Mamata failed to do, PM Modi has done in one fell sweep.
Sanju Verma is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’. Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect News18’s views.


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