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'Waiving' proof of persecution, CAA makes religious identity as the basis of citizenship

By Ram Puniyani* 
Even as the massive scam in the form of electoral bonds was unfolding,  Union home minister Amit Shah decided to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed nearly four years ago, by coming up with its rules and procedures. There is a direct correlation of its implementation today: the electoral bonds scam had already emerged on the surface ahead of the general elections. Strictly following its pattern of divisive politics, BJP decided to implement CAA.

One recalls that, CAA was brought to 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 has been infiltrated by the Bangladeshi Muslims to the tune of 15 millions, so this step will help the government to expel them. They were called termites and detention centres came up and were planned at more places. The results of the NRC were surprising. Out of the around 19 lakh people who did not have proper papers nearly 12 lakh were Hindus. To bypass the issue, CAA was brought forward. The propaganda of 15 million Bangladeshi Muslims fell flat.
As per CAA, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, who came from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh before December 2014 (BJP Government came to power in the Centre 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 the Aligarh Muslim University and the Jamia Milia Islamia in particular were brutally crushed. This in turn led to one of the biggest mass movements of independent India -- series of Shaheen Bagh protests all over. Remarkably, these protests were led by Muslim women all over, they protested with the Constitution in hand and Gandhi in their hearts.
Parvesh Sahib Singh Varma of BJP stated that these protests are a threat to Hindus, as the protestors may rape the Hindus. Kapil Sharma (BJP) threatened that the protestors should be cleared by the police else they will do it. To cap it all, the then Minister of state Aunrag Thakur, gave the slogan of Goli Maro. Soon the Delhi violence followed in which 51 people lost their lives out of which 38 were Muslims.
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? Indira Jaising 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. CAA denies fast-track citizenship to Muslims. It also excludes people from countries other than Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. That the Ahmadiya Muslims in Pakistan are one of the most persecuted minorities is well known, but CAA is silent on them because of the religious criteria.
The Union government has argued that CAA was enacted to provide fast-track citizenship to persecuted minorities in neighbouring countries. Still, the statute or rules does 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 Indian and the 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.
The subtext of the logic 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, Ahmadiyas and Kadiyanis have to face victimization. When we talk of giving refuge to persecuted communities, humane values must come to the fore. The largest persecuted groups in recent times have been Hindus (Tamils) in Sri Lanka and Rohingyas in Myanmar. Why have they been left out from the list of the ones who will be given shelter-citizenship in India?
Ever since 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 and hopefully will come up for hearing soon. It is very clear that BJP is raking it up in pursuance of its divisive politics. 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 which is going to be used against the Muslim community. Already this community is facing the problems related to hate and violence against them. BJP has constantly thrown up emotive and divisive issues to strengthen its electoral power. CAA in real sense has no relevance; but the way it is being brought forward is one more instrument in the hands of the ruling dispensation to intimidate this community. Its electoral impact is not difficult to guess as it is around such issues that BJP achieves polarization, which are emotive and divisive both.
It is good that many chief ministers like Mamata Bannerjee and Pinarayi Vijayan are declaring 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 level. Also if the Supreme Court can settle the matter at the earliest, it will come as a big relief.
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*Political commentator. Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, My Website, My App

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