Why Is India's Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) Important?

Indian flag

The Government of India notified on Monday i.e. March 11, 2024 the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). CAA was enacted by Indian Parliament in December 2019, and has been implemented now on March 11, 2024. The Citizenship Act, 1955 has been amended six times since its enactment. The amendments were made in the years 1986, 1992, 2003, 2005, 2015, and 2019. The Act has been under intense debate among different sections of Indian society and faced widespread protests like Shaheen Bagh agitation. The Act provides that except Muslims, the other minorities that include Hindu, Sikh, Christians, Buddhist, Jain and Parsi could apply for Indian citizenship. Under the Act, an immigrant must have resided in India for at least one year in the preceding 12 months and a cumulative total of at least five years within the past 14 years. The new law has attracted criticism from some corners but primarily appreciation keeping in view the country has faced a security challenge out of the illegal migration threat in the last three four decades.

Citizenship Law in India

India has mainly five types of citizenship provisions: citizenship based on birth, descent, registration, naturalisation and OCI. ‘Citizenship by Birth’ is granted to persons born in India between January 26, 1950, and July 1, 1987 and for those born after July 1, 1987 it is granted to a person only if one of his/her parents is a citizen of India at the time of birth. ‘Citizenship by Descent’ is given to a person born outside India on or after January 26, 1950, but before December 10, 1992. For those born after December 10, 1992, citizenship by descent is granted only if either parent is a citizen of India at the time of birth. ‘Citizenship by Registration’ is given to people such as persons of Indian origin residing outside India. They can apply for registration under specific conditions. ‘Citizenship by Naturalization’ is given to foreigners who have resided in India for a minimum period and fulfil other criteria specified can apply for Indian citizenship through naturalization. India doesn’t allow ‘Dual Citizenship’. In 2005’ Overseas Citizenship of India’ (OCI)was also introduced to grant certain benefits to persons of Indian origin who are citizens of other countries.

In nutshell under the current laws, the migrants who have illegally entered Indian territory are not eligible to apply for citizenship. Such migrants could be arrested under the Foreigners Act and Indian Passport Act. A person can acquire citizenship by naturalisation if he/she is ordinarily resident of India for 12 years.  Further, Under the Citizenship Act, 1955, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalization is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, as well as for 11 of the previous 14 years. The new Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 has made changes in laws, the Passport Act, and the Foreigners Act. Certain relaxations have ben introduced if undocumented immigrants belong to religious minorities (Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi, Jain, Christian) from three neighbouring countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Sri Lanka has been excluded since Hindus are not persecuted there. Therefore, the Act intends to make it easier for persecuted people from India’s neighbouring countries to become citizens of India. It also exempts the illegal migrants to India before December 31, 2014, if persecuted and produce documents thereof. In case of these six minorities the amendment also relaxes the requirement of naturalization from 11 years to 5 years.

Although, the Act nowhere rules out the right of Muslims to apply for Indian citizenship but the chief cause behind the Muslim protest is that they won’t be able to give the documentary proof of religious persecution, as it is possible for other minorities. The idea of Muslim persecution in a Muslim state is deceptive, though it has been argued that with Muslims the Muhajirs, Shias, and Ahmadis have also been persecuted. In that case such persecuted people have many more options to migrate, but in respect of other minorities that alternative gets confined to India or very few other states.

In case of NRC in Assam the Act may prove crucial to both Muslims and Hindus who have been excluded from National Register of citizenship since “they cannot show the documents stipulated as essential to verify their belonging to India. NRC left out over 19 lakh people from the citizenship register. “According to a report, sourced to the Intelligence Branch of Assam, only about 4.89 lakh of the total belonged to Bengali origin Muslim community. Rest of the breakup is as follows: Bengali Hindus (6.90 lakhs), Gorkha (85,000), Assamese Hindu (60,000), Koch Rajbonshi (58,000), Goria Moria Deshi (35,000), Bodo (20,000), Karbi (9,000), Rabha (8,000), Hajong (8,000), Mishing (7,000), Ahom (3,000), Garo (2,500), Matak (1,500), Dimasa (1,100), Sonowal Kachari (1,000), Maran (900), Bishnupriya Manipuri (200), Naga (125), Hmar (75), Kuki (85), Thadou (50), Baite (85)” (Apporvanand and Gogoi, 2024).  Therefore, CAA is crucial for Hindus also who would be failing to provide the required documents.

CAA has main opposition in the form of argument forwarded by the critics that it is violative of article 14 and the secular principles of Indian constitution. It is also argued that the CAA, when combined with the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR), could be used to discriminate or disenfranchise Muslims. But since the subject of citizenship falls in the Union List, it is within the jurisdiction of Parliament, and not under the control of the state legislatures. Senior Supreme Court advocate KV Dhananjay said, “Any attempt by a state to refuse implementation of citizenship laws passed by the central government would be legally untenable. States are bound by the laws made by Parliament” (Jha, 2024).

The CAA has attracted international criticism also with concerns raised by various human rights organizations and foreign governments. However, such criticism is also orchestrated by anti-Indian forces through international agencies, as has been with the issues of Khalistan and Kashmir. The CAA and its implications have also had ramifications on India’s diplomatic relations, particularly with neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, where concerns have been raised about the potential influx of migrants seeking refuge in India. The CAA has also become an issue that has the potential to polarize Indian politics on community grounds.

Why CAA is Essential

Keeping aside all the protests CAA has become quite essential for India to save its territory from illegal infiltrations and migrations from neighbouring states. Even the border states have also been responsible for allowing illegal migrations for petty political benefits. A 2000 CE estimation placed the total number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in India at 15 million (1.5 crore), with around 300,000 entering every year. In 2004, a rule of thumb was that for each illegal immigrant caught, four illegally entered the country (Jamwal, 2004). The illegal migrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan also runs into thousands. According to Kiran Rijiju, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, in 2016 the Bangladeshi illegal migrants had touched the figure of 20 million (2 crore) (CJP (2023, May 26).  Aljazeera puts the figure of Rohingya refugees around 40,000 who live in slums and detention camps across India, including Jammu, Hyderabad, Nuh, and Delhi, the majority of whom are undocumented (Aljajeera, 2021, march 8). The presence of illegal migrants in such strategically important areas of India is alarming as Rohingya migrants were found to have collusion with Kashmir militants even.

Therefore, keeping in view the security challenge and minority persecution and their radical liquidation, the Act has provided a great relief. Although NRC was introduced in 1951 in India and later in 1976 by Indira Gandhi, it could never progress due to political reasons and lack of political will. The electoral politics will take its own way, as it has been a case with other issues in India. Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar has appealed to everybody, including those in the Muslim community to read the bill since it does not prejudice anybody. The NRC in Assam has to be settled cautiously. At international level too many states have taken serious steps against illegal migrants keeping in view their security scenarios. Australia has straightforwardly told the immigrants to keep the state laws at the top or leave the state since Australia dint invite them, so does Europe against the immigrants. Anti-immigration movement in Europe and US is not a news now. Many countries are having their national citizenship registers to keep check on illegal migrations and ensure security and India has gone for the right path.

Copyright Greekcitytimes 2024