The CAA is yet another instrument in the divisive politics of India's ruling dispensation

The largest persecuted groups in recent times have been Tamils (largely Hindus) in Sri Lanka and Rohingyas (largely Muslims) in Myanmar. Why have they been left out from the list of the ones who will be given shelter citizenship here in India under the CAA?

Dr Ram Puniyani Mar 21, 2024
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Representational Photo (Photo: Twitter)

As a massive scam related to election funding was unfolding in the shape of electoral bonds, India's Home Minister Amit Shah declared the rules and procedures for implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which was passed nearly four years ago. The correlation of its implementation now, when the electoral bond scam is coming to the surface and the general elections are around the corner, is very obvious, knowing the pattern of politics pursued by the BJP.

One recalls that the CAA was brought to the fore in the aftermath of the National Register of Citizenship (NRC), which was undertaken in Assam. The people were asked to provide the papers related to their citizenship. The understanding was that Assam had been infiltrated by the Bangladeshi Muslims to the tune of 15 million; so this step would help the government to expel them. They were called "termites" and detention centers came up and were planned in more places. The results of the NRC were surprising. Out of the around 19 lakh (1.9 million) people who did not have proper papers nearly 12 lakhs (1,2 million) were Hindus. To bypass the issue CAA was brought forward. The propaganda of 15 million Bangladeshi Muslims fell flat.

As per this, CAA, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, who came from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh before December 2014 (the BJP government came to power in the Center in June 2014) were to be given citizenship. Interestingly, Muslims were kept out of this list. This led to strong protests all over the country and the protests in Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Milia Islamia in particular were brutally crushed. This in turn led to one of the biggest mass movements in independent India, a series of protests in Delhi's Shaheen Bagh and other places. Remarkably these protests were led by Muslim women; they protested with the Indian Constitution in hand and Gandhi in their hearts.

Violative of constitution

The matters were in cold storage so far and have been rekindled. What are the norms for giving refuge to the persecuted people from neighboring countries? Senior advocate Indira Jaisinh points out “The Constitution confers citizenship by birth, descent and migration, regardless of religion…The Citizenship Act (1955) was enacted by Parliament to regularize the grant and termination of citizenship. The 1955 act also does not make religion a criterion for grant of Citizenship. With the amendment of rules, citizenship will be granted by naturalization based on religion alone.”

As such this amendment violates Article 14 which ensures equality before law and equal protection, irrespective of religion.  Article 14 applies to all persons, not just citizens. The CAA denies fast-track citizenship to Muslims. It also excludes people from countries other than Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. That the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan are one of the most persecuted minorities is well known; but the CAA is silent on them because of the religious criteria.

Will the Supreme Court act?

The BJP-led NDA government has argued that the CAA was enacted to provide quicker citizenship to persecuted minorities in neighboring countries. Still, the statute or rules do not mention persecution, and proof of persecution is not required before citizenship is granted. Under the CAA rules, immigrants from the three countries need only prove their religion, date of entry to India and country of origin, and knowledge of an Indian language. The rules regarding proof of country of origin have been considerably relaxed. The earlier requirement of a valid residential permit from India and a valid passport issued by Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, has been eliminated. As such in such cases, the proof of persecution has to be there. The proof of persecution has been waived. The process has been fast-tracked, cutting it down to five years from eleven years.

The subtext behind this is to facilitate Hindus in these countries on the logic that Muslims have many countries while Hindus have only India to look forward to. This is a flawed logic. In Pakistan, apart from Hindus and Christians, the Ahmadiays and Kadiyanis face victimization. When we talk of giving refuge to the persecuted communities, humane values have to come to the fore. The largest persecuted groups in recent times have been Tamils (largely Hindus) in Sri Lanka and Rohingyas (largely Muslims) in Myanmar. Why have they been left out from the list of the ones who will be given shelter citizenship here in India under the CAA?

Right since when the CAA was first introduced many organizations and individuals have challenged it on different grounds, mainly relating to the provisions of the Indian Constitution. These pleas are pending in the Supreme Court; an early resolution of this vexed issue is more than overdue. The totality of the problem will have different solutions and different laws to deal with the persecution of religious minorities in neighboring countries.

This is yet another issue that is going to be used against the Muslim community. Already this community is facing problems related to hate and violence against them. The BJP has constantly thrown up emotive and divisive issues to strengthen its electoral power. CAA in a real sense has no relevance here; rather the way it is being brought forward is one more instrument in the hands of the ruling dispensation to alienate and intimidate the Muslim community. Its electoral impact is not difficult to guess as it is around such issues that BJP achieves polarization, which is both emotive and divisive.

It is good that many chief ministers like Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal and Pinarayi Vijayan of Kerala have declared that they will not let it be implemented in their states. The hope is that the party which has its primary goal in promoting divisive issues has to be combated at social and political levels. 

(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.)  

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