GENERAL NEWS

CAA-NRC AND THE CITIZENSHIP CRISIS

Written by Alabhya Das

Our story begins at the Citizenship Act, which was conceived in 1955 to define exactly who an Indian citizen is. The Act was amended in 2003-2004 to mandate the creation of a National Register of Citizens (NRC), which requires all residents of the country to prove their citizenship. So far, the NRC has been updated only for the state of Assam, where close to 31 million residents were able to prove citizenship while 1.9 million residents failed to make the list. There did exist an appeal process for excluded residents- the individual could present their case in front of a Foreigner’s Tribunal, with secondary appeals at the High Court and Supreme Court as needed. So far, so good.

Then came the Assam Accord of 1985.

In 1979, Assam suddenly saw a large jump in the number of voters during a Lok Sabha by-election. This new group of voters consisted primarily of immigrants from Bangladesh, which caused widespread protests against the inclusion of foreigners on Indian voter lists. Six years of agitation later, the All Assam Students Union (AASU) which spearheaded the movement, reached an agreement with the Rajiv Gandhi government to sign the Assam Accord (1985). The Accord contained 15 clauses, but it is clause 5 that is the heart of the contention we face today. It is this clause that deals with not just the identification of foreigners in Assam, but also their deletion from voter lists and subsequent deportation from the country. The Accord regularized residents who came to Assam prior to 1966, while requiring immigrants arriving between 1966-1971 to register as foreigners with immediate loss of voting rights. All immigrants arriving after 1971 were to be summarily expelled from the country.  

So now we have a country left mostly unaffected by either the NRC or the Assam Accord, save for Assam itself. Even within Assam, those affected were mostly immigrants who settled in India post-1971. While the system is now clearly not as smooth as it once seemed, the cracks aren’t yet large enough to send the country into an uproar. 

Enter the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019. Under this Act, religious minorities fleeing persecution from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are being given the opportunity to obtain Indian citizenship. The Act cites eligible religious communities as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Jains and Christians. Many have called the Act ‘glaring in its omission of Muslims’, but Home Minister Amit Shah has repeatedly held the stance that “Indian Muslims have nothing to worry about…[The CAA] does not snatch anyone’s rights.” Indeed, the CAA by itself merely offers (an admittedly select group) the opportunity to naturalized citizenship without any fear of punitive action.

The true problem arises at the juxtaposition of the NRC and the amended Act (2019). With the NRC slated to be expanded to include residents across the entire country, all illegal immigrants but Muslims can appeal to be recognized as naturalized citizens under the CAA. Whether or not this is a deliberate political move, the CAA/NRC interplay is viewed by many to be an instance of religious persecution of Muslims. In essence, the largest affected demographic under this series of legalities are Muslims who are unable to prove Indian citizenship. It is this demographic that will majorly fill up the mass detention camps intended to hold illegal immigrants prior to their deportation.

Unfortunately for the CAA, that’s not where its problems end. It has faced much backlash on the Assamese front- on entirely non-religious grounds. So how is it that a state that so staunchly supported the NRC finds itself in such stark opposition to the CAA?

Historically, Assam’s most prominent political rallying points have been a call for legal rights to property and protection of ethnic Assamese social identity. Protesters led by the AASU believe that it is exactly these issues that are threatened by two major tenets of the 2019 Act. 

The first of these is clause 3(d) of the Act, which states that “the aggregate period of residence… [to be] “not less than five years” in place of “not less than eleven years”.” Essentially, this clause fast-tracks the naturalization of eligible immigrants by  lowering the eleven-year residence requirement as mandated by the Citizen Act of 1955 to a shorter, 5-year period. Assamese protestors are concerned that this accelerated naturalization of immigrants would cause ethnic dilution within the state. This concern is particularly pronounced in Assam given that it shares a highly porous border with Bangladesh.

The problem is exacerbated by the addition of a proviso under section 2 of the amended Act. This proviso cites that all immigrants belonging to eligible religious minorities who entered the country prior to 2015 may apply for citizenship. Effectively, the proviso extends the 1971 date for summary expulsion of foreigners as laid down by the Assam Accord.

Protest has naturally run rampant as a direct consequence of these anti-CAA factions. AASU protestors have declared a Satyagraha in Guwahati, and major metro cities like Delhi and Bengaluru have seen an upsurge in student protests. While protests in Bengaluru have remained peaceful, the capital has seen week-long protests that have ended in violence and allegations of police brutality. Citing an attempt to curb violent protest, Section 144 of the CrPC has been imposed in certain parts of Delhi and Bengaluru, prohibiting groups of larger than four from meeting. Additional telecom and internet shutdowns across the country have been imposed, making this the 93rd internet shutdown India has initiated this year alone.

 

Sources

  1. National Register of Citizens (NRC). Retrieved from https://assam.gov.in/en/main/NRC

  2. Dutta, P. K. (2019, December 13). What is Assam Accord of 1985 and how amended citizenship law challenges it? Retrieved from https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/what-is-assam-accord-of-1985-and-how-amended-citizenship-law-challenges-it-1627965-2019-12-13.

  3. Press Trust of India. (2019, December 11). Citizenship (Amendment) Bill: Amit Shah says Indian Muslims have nothing to fear. Retrieved from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/citizenship-amendment-bill-amit-shah-says-indian-muslims-have-nothing-to-fear/articleshow/72481306.cms.

  4. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. (No. 47 of 2019 dated 12th December 2019). Retrieved from http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/214646.pdf

  5. India Post News Weekly. (2019, December 20). People’s unified voice will eventually prevail in anti-CAA movement: AASU. Retrieved from https://www.indiapost.com/peoples-unified-voice-will-eventually-prevail-in-anti-caa-movement-aasu/.

  6. India Post News Weekly. (2019, December 20). People’s unified voice will eventually prevail in anti-CAA movement: AASU. Retrieved from https://www.indiapost.com/peoples-unified-voice-will-eventually-prevail-in-anti-caa-movement-aasu/.

  7. Gettleman, J., Goel, V., & Abi-habib, M. (2019, December 17). India Adopts the Tactic of Authoritarians: Shutting Down the Internet. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/17/world/asia/india-internet-modi-protests.html.

  8. Featured Image Source: India Today

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Alabhya Das

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