Citizenship Amendment Act came into effect from 10th January 2020. To say, it has been a hot topic for more than a month, would be an understatement. It has had a polarising effect on politics as well as the citizenry of India.
Citizenship Amendment Act, a part of the ruling party BJP’s electoral manifesto, was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016. With the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha, the bill did not see the light of day. It was re-introduced in the Winter Session of 2019, the year BJP came back to power at the centre with a thumping majority.
Passed by both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the Act aims at giving citizenship to certain migrants belonging to persecuted minority communities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Citizenship will be granted to migrants belonging to Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi, and Christian religions. As per the 2019 amendment, now these migrants will not be treated as illegal migrants. Those who have entered India before 31 Dec 2014 will be given Indian citizenship. Refugees from these communities will, in general have their naturalisation period reduced to 5 years instead of the standard 11 years. The 11 year naturalisation period will still be applicable to other migrants.
CAA had also been announced during the Congress regime. It aimed at providing citizenship to religiously persecuted minorities. No religion was specified back then. CAA 2019 has sparked flames because of the apprehension of conducting NRC after CAA. The plan to implement a nationwide NRC has been emphasized multiple times by HM Amit Shah in the recent past.
CAA has been opposed by the states in the North East, specifically regions of Assam and other surrounding states not covered under the Inner Line Permit as they feel a threat to their linguistic, cultural and social identity. Despite ILP, Assam fears the already growing presence of Bangla speaking people, who hold various important positions in the social fabric. It is to be noted, that the amendment is not applicable to tribal areas of the North East and areas falling under ILP.
The primary opposition to CAA in the rest of India is based on the speculative fear that it will be a safety net to ensure the citizenship of non-Muslims, after which NRC will be implemented to discriminate against Indian Muslims. This fear has been stoked by certain parties in the opposition who claim that the government is taking away rights from Muslim citizens in the country. They see CAA as a threat to the fundamentals of the Indian constitution.
The opposition argues that the amendment violates the right to equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution because it provides differential treatment to illegal migrants on the basis of their religion. Article 14 permits laws to differentiate between groups of people only if the rationale for doing so serves a reasonable purpose. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill does not explicitly explain the rationale behind differentiating between illegal migrants on the basis of the religion.
The government has tried to address these fears by repeatedly stating that CAA is not applicable to Indian citizens. Prime Minister Modi has also come out and said, “The Bill has no provision to snatch citizenship from anyone but to grant citizenship only to the refugees. There is no need for Indian Muslims to live in fear.”