India’s controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA), which was tabled in the Lok Sabha (lower house) on 2 December 2019 and received the support of the Rajya Sabha (upper house) on 11 December came into effect on 10 January 2020.
The law, which determines nationality eligibility based on a person’s religion states that “any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31 December, 2014…shall not be treated as [an] illegal migrant.”
The government has stated in the Statement of Objects and Reasons (SOR) that the introduction of the law is owed to the historical trans-migration into India of these six religious groups from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, where persecution based on religion is a daily experience. The statement also implicitly claims that Muslims from these countries do not require protection, because each country stipulates Islam as a state religion in their respective constitutions.
The Act does not include other minority groups who have taken refuge in India due to persecution based on their religion or belief, including Tamils from Sri Lanka, Ahmadiyya, Shi’a, and Rohingya Muslims, and atheists. Local human rights monitoring groups have criticised the law for violating Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees equal protection to everyone residing in India. The selective nature of the law has given rise to over a month of nationwide citizen protests across India, bringing together diverse communities in a show of solidarity.
Tariq Adeeb, a Supreme Court lawyer in India, told CSW: “The implementation of the CAA from 10 January is the beginning of the dark ages in modern India. The first step in the direction to make the largest secular democratic republic into a Hindu Rashtra. But we will fight this and I am confident we will win. This may take time but ultimately the suppressor and divider in chief will lose. Nobody can take the soul of India, which is its diversity.”
Veteran Indian human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi said: “The CAA is the biggest assault on our Constitution. Opening up citizenship based on religious ground is nefarious politics, which will open the flood gates for the mutilation of the Indian Constitution. The CAA is very much a part of Modi and Shah’s divisive politics and, combined with the National Register of Citizens (NRC)s it will be used like a lethal weapon against religious minorities, Dalits, the tribal community, women and a whole range of economic, political and social marginalized communities.”
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “India’s new citizenship law exposes deep-rooted biases, particularly towards the Muslim faith-community. This departure from a commitment to the values of equality is clearly a subversion of the Indian Constitution, and will aggravate communal divisions and inflame tensions on the basis of religion. The Act will alienate Muslim and other minority communities, creating further mistrust and increasing the risk of violence towards them.”
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Photo: Mohd Abuzar