The Unnerving CAA: Literal analysis!


Safi H. Jannaty

The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) has rightly brought people from all walks of life to record their protest over the divisive policies and biased politics of the BJP government. Regardless of the faith one follows or the religion one practices or the ideology one believes in, a plain reading of the Act would make one wonder how India, a role model of secularism and diversity, could legislate a law that is full of the seeds of discrimination and bias.

At the first instance, being such a critical move poised to fundamentally alter the essence and spirit of the Constitution, it was a gross error on the part of the government in not explaining the need, basis and objectives of their proposal to the public in order to gauge their mood before even deliberating on the proposed Act in the Parliament.

The thought is no less than BREXIT and those who are averse to demands for a referendum on the issue should know that the United Kingdom, arguably, the oldest parliamentary form of democracy did not hesitate to deploy the mechanism for determining the voice of the people who were almost equally divided and the thin majority voted in favor of exiting the EU. They did not bring to the fore the superfluous talk of the supremacy of Parliament.

Unfortunately, amidst all the storm and people being overwhelmed with empathy towards the victims of police brutality to silence the voice of dissent over the Act, not much attention has been paid to the impact and the effects of the Act in the literal sense or the long-term agenda of the party in power.

It is indeed vital to dissect and analyze the Act with an eye to detail. The Act primarily covers or deals with two main issues. The first and foremost, by amending Section 2 of the Principal Citizenship Act of 1955, the CAA strips the label “illegal migrant” from the sleeves of persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities hailing from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan who entered India before the commencement of year 2015 while leaving the Muslim community uncovered and hence continued to be considered as illegal migrants.

Secondly, the Act adds a full subsection under Section 6 of the Principal Act to bestow upon the Central Government full powers and authority to grant a certificate of naturalization or simply speaking citizenship to the aforementioned category of people.

Moreover, these groups would be deemed citizens from the date of their entry into India retrospectively so that all charges or proceedings against them for violation of any citizenship related laws shall stand abated and the rights and privileges of citizenship shall ensue from the date of application.

As a Machiavellian tactic, the Act deploys a phrase “tribal area” to pacify the people of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura for excluding only those regions from the impact and effects of the Amendment. Extending the privilege of belonging to a non-Muslim community from those three countries, the Act reduces the period of stay of these people to five years instead of 11 years which will still remain “as is” for Muslims and other communities which do not fall into that arbitrary classification.

As a master stroke, the most striking feature of the Act is the obliteration of the “illegal migrant” label for non-Muslim communities to pave the way for the quick granting of citizenship to them.

The amendment will directly benefit non-Muslim communities to obtain citizenship even if they entered India after 2015 whenever they complete five years while Muslims residents will not only have to prove residency of 11 years but should also be out of the throes of “illegal migrant” classification, a near impossible task.

The removal of the illegal migrant tag also paves a way for the persons of those communities to obtain citizenship by registration applicable to people of Indian origin, descent, those married to citizens of India, children born to Indian citizens, etc. while the label “illegal migrant” will continue to be the sword of Damocles and a perpetual obstacle for Muslims residents in becoming Indian citizens.

In the pile of false propaganda, misinformation abounds; from the common man to politicians, scholars, historians, intellectuals, lawyers and journalists, those who are supporting the Amendment are laying emphasis on issues which the law neither covers nor reflects anywhere. The Amendment nowhere stipulates explicitly or implicitly that its intent is to emancipate or accommodate people facing religious persecution in the named countries.

Ironically, despite the fact that the Act generously empowers the government to grant citizenship en mass, legal pundits and luminaries are debating rules and guidelines on which the government would determine applications and go to the extent of asserting that the applicants would be required to present evidence to prove persecution individually. Similarly, there is no indication whatsoever of applicability of the Amendment to refugees or that the Act had been promulgated to resolve the crisis of refugees.

Some experts that notably include Mohammed Arifuddin Khan, governor of Kerala, attempted to convince a gullible audience that the Amendment fulfills the assurances given by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru to communities which had become minorities in West and East Pakistan during the Partition that the doors and hearts of India would be open for them and the nation would accommodate them whenever they wished to migrate to India.

Of course, those assurances were necessary during that painful time and we have passed seven decades from that time and the people living in those two countries must have assimilated and fully integrated by now.

Furthermore, the citizenship law as it stood before the Amendment provided for citizenship to all persons who were born in India before July, 1987 without any condition of parenthood and to persons born to an Indian father or mother if born during the period 1987 and 2003. One would also wonder how Afghanistan suddenly became part of an undivided India to enable non-Muslims of that nation to be extended such generosity.

Extending the argument of persecution and the need for compassion, although a nonexistent provision in the Act, the supporters of the Act including Sadhguru indulge in loose talk of the decimation of 20 percent non-Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh. One would wonder how the genocide of over 140 million went unnoticed. Is the world unaware of such a mass killing in the two countries?

What could be more astounding than the blatant lie that denies talk of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which is the main bone of contention and part of the insidious motive of the right wing party to strip people averse to its ideology of their right to vote and be legal citizens of India?

When the entire election campaign of the party in the Eastern parts of India was focused on providing citizenship to non-Muslims without any conditions and throwing out Muslim migrants, inhumanely labeled as “termites” by means of the NRC, how could people who heard again and again such slogans be assured that they would not be subjected to persecution and the loss of their rights and entitlements as citizens in their own country? Again, the government and its stooges argue that a nation of 1.3 billion must have an NRC.

When there is a government body, the Unique Identification Authority of India, incorporated for issuing a unique identity (Aadhar Card), where is the problem in extending the data base to be the national register? If the government does not trust an authority under its control and supervision, it could dissolve and abandon it.

In essence, the Act is primarily aimed at removing the main legal impediment, namely, the “illegal migrant” tag and empowering the government to grant citizenship to non-Muslims, the vote bank of the ruling party to capture one of the last socialist bastions in the country in the forthcoming Assembly elections. Mind you, the citizenship thus granted will make people take advantage of all rights and entitlements without any waiting period.