CAA Reality vs Propaganda
The hotly debated and widely discussed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 is an Act to further amend the Citizenship Act 1955. Under the Citizenship Act 1955, a person can be a citizen of India at least in four ways, namely: i. by birth; ii. by descent; iii. by registration and iv. by naturalization. While the first three criteria are intact, the procedure related to grant of citizenship through naturalization was modified to illegal migrants belonging to Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, Sikh and Parsi religions who came to India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh before 31st December 2014 instead of 12 years provision as mentioned in the Citizenship Act before CAA. The intent of the law has been to provide refuge and a dignified life to the non-Muslim illegal migrants came to India suffering from religious persecution in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh on account of their minority status.
While the issue is long overdue, many questions the timing of the Act to which Home Minister Shri. Amit Shah has arguably answered by saying that “We are not here only to run the government but to solve the genuine problems of the common man”. To be honest, while no where does this Act target India’s minority community, no illegal immigrants would be allowed to stay in the country at any cost. Since, the population of minorities in the Islamic States of Pakistan and Bangladesh had reduced considerably over the years, as they were either killed or forced to change their religion, and thus were forced to flee to India, the Act is most humane as it provides citizenship and a dignified life to the people taking refuge in India. In fact, the partition of India on religious lines and subsequent failure of the Nehru-Liaqat pact of 1950 in protecting the rights and dignity of the minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh are the reasons for bringing this Bill. The biggest mistake in history was partition of India on religious lines. Had this bill come 50 years ago, this situation would not have arisen said Shri Shah.
Responding to the questions on why only three countries were considered and why Muslims were not included in this bill, Shri Shah said that at different points of time in the past, citizenship had been given to refugees coming from countries like Uganda, Sri Lanka. Then, refugees coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan were not considered. He stated that the process of awarding citizenship to refugees has been undertaken by different governments in the past on case to case basis from time to time, on reasonable qualifications to Article 14. This time the case of refugees fleeing by religious persecution from these three countries has been considered through this Bill, which is not unconstitutional. He also informed that more than 560 Muslims from these three countries have been granted citizenship in the last 5 years. Further, he added that the previous UPA government granted citizenship to 13000 Hindus and Sikhs only, but Modi government is giving citizenship rights to six persecuted minorities, including Hindus and Sikhs. Muslims are not included as they are the majority in these countries and do not face religious persecution in these Islamic countries. Shri Shah reiterated that Indian citizens of Muslim community do not need to fear anything, as this bill would not affect their citizenship in any way. He unequivocally stressed that, “This Bill aims at granting rather than taking away someone’s citizenship”.
Responding to the apprehensions of the people of North-Eastern regions, it can be stated here that the linguistic, cultural and social identity of the people of the region would be preserved and this Bill contains the solution to the problems of the people of these States, as amendments have been incorporated after marathon deliberations with various stakeholders from North East for last one month. The Home Minister has also assured the people of Sikkim that the Bill would not affect their rights in any way. Further, this Act would not apply to tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under ‘The Inner Line’ notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. Since, Manipur has been put under Inner Line Permit regime through a Gazette Notification, the people and communities of the state would remain unaffected from the outcomes of this Act. Assuring the people of Assam, Home Minister Shri Shah has said that their linguistic, cultural and social identity would be preserved as mentioned under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord of 1985 which was largely remained dormant until the Modi Government has taken effective actions for its ramification.
To be precise, this Act contains provisions to grant Citizenship on reasonable grounds to refugees facing religious persecution in the above three countries, which in no way go against any provision under the Constitution of India and does not violate Article 14. Hence, the issue should be seen as a humanitarian one, beyond political ideologies. All kind of fear mongering and misinformation with regard to the Act linking it with National Register of Citizens (NRC) is unwarranted and politically motivated.
In a nutshell, the Citizenship Amendment Act is in resonance with international refugee norms as promulgated by UNHCR and in spirit with the laws of Human Rights. The greatest ever humanitarian act has been done through this Act by giving citizenship to the denizens who were helpless until now and living the life destitute were now eligible to live a civilized and decent life without any fear of deportation. In fact, this is in line of India’s world view of Vasudheiba Kutumbakam (one world one family). There is hardly any reason why the opposition is jumping into protest except political chauvinism. The hypocrisy of the opposition can be well noticed from its duality of stand taken since Nehru to Man Mohan Singh in favour of the Citizenship issue of the non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In fact, the roots of CAA lie at the failure of the Nehru-Liaquat pact signed in 1950 to protect the minorities in their countries and provide them with equal rights. While the rights and security of the minorities in India have been continuously and effectively safeguarded, Pakistan has persistently contravened the provisions of the pact though consistent neglect and harassment of the members of the minority community. That is why Mahatma Gandhi was in favour of the idea of giving shelter to the non-Muslims facing persecution in Pakistan. This thought of Gandhi was well supported by Congress stalwarts like Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Maulana Azad. Gandhiji unequivocally have stressed that, Hindus and Sikhs who do not want to live there (Pakistan), without doubt have the rights to come to India. In this matter, the Government of India is bound to provide them Citizenship, employment and facilities to live a comfortable life. Similarly, Nehru was equally concerned about the plight of the brothers and sisters who are alienated due to new political boundaries and are not able to participate in the freedom celebration and he said, “I want to make it clear they belong to us and shall belong to us. Their welfare is uppermost on our minds. I want to assure them, Hindus and Sikhs of Pakistan they are free to come here. Whenever they choose to come to India, we shall accept them.” Even Dr. Rajendra Prasad had told, “the minorities of Pakistan are free to come to India and the congress is duty bound to provide complete security to the non-Muslims of Pakistan who have crossed the boundaries and will cross to protect their lives and honour. We will accept these people who flew from Pakistan.”
In recent times, congress leaders like Dr. Man Mohan Singh, Ashok Gehlot and Pranab Mukherjee were the strong proponents of this idea voicing their commitment to grant citizenship to the Non-Muslims from Pakistan. In 2003 Dr. Singh had said that, “it was the government’s moral duty to provide citizenship to those facing persecution in Bangladesh.” Even former President of India, Pranab Mukherjee in 2007 had reiterated that he had conveyed to the Bangladesh government that persecution of minorities will have an adverse impact on public sentiment in India, which in turn will affect bilateral ties. Similarly, Ashok Gehlot the incumbent Chief Minister of Rajasthan had also conveyed a similar opinion to then Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on this issue of Pakistan minorities fleeing to India. As this is the baggage of partition and the circumstances of the minorities in the neighbouring countries particularly in Pakistan have compelled India to take a call on granting them citizenship, any claim by any one otherwise is undoubtedly politically colored and motivated with a hidden intent. The stand of Congress on CAA seems to be a classic case of political chauvinism and hypocrisy at its best to create a political unrest in the country to settle its score with the ruling BJP. If the stand of Gandhiji, Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and Maulana Azad on granting Citizenship to the minorities of Pakistan migrated to India was not communal, then with what right Congress charges BJP as communal. If the problem is so serious as stressed by Dr. Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and Ashok Gehlot, how can the Congress party take stand otherwise to indulge in political mud slugging neglecting the larger question of national interests. Fulfilling the unfinished agenda of partition and providing meaning to the life of the people who were victims of partitions and giving dignity to them is truly humane in all sense and deserves applaud.
By Dr. Atanu Mohapatra
(The writer is Chairperson, Centre for Diaspora Studies, Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar)