CAA - 2Sides of the Act



On 11 December 2019, the Rajya Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, thereby making it an Act. The CAA, as the act is popularly called, amends the 1955 Citizenship Act such that the criteria for citizenship is relaxed for certain groups of refugees and immigrants, namely, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian from three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Whereas anyone can apply for Indian citizenship (by process of naturalisation) provided the person has resided for 11 years in India, the bill relaxes this criterion to 5 years for the aforementioned groups, provided they entered India on or before December 31, 2014. According to the Intelligence Bureau, this bill will directly benefit 31,313 people - 25,447 Hindus, 5,807 Sikhs, 55 Christians, 2 Buddhists and 2 Parsis.


The Pro-CAA Argument


To understand CAA, a long-standing demand of Indians of various hues, we must go back to its very roots – the founding of the state of Pakistan in 1947. With Jinnah’s stated goals of creating an Islamic state, a great migration was set in motion – Muslims from mainland India to Pakistan and non-Muslims from Pakistan to India. The genocide that followed is also well known. But there remained a vast population of minorities in the newly formed East and West Pakistan – Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christians. The fact that these people, who stayed behind, or were forced to stay behind, for various reasons, have faced religious persecution in these states, is undeniable.

What CAA thus aims to do is right this historical wrong done to these groups of people. India simply does not have the resources to support every refugee coming to India - like the Sri Lankan Tamils or the Rohingyas from Myanmar - and neither is it in our interest to do so. However, for the groups mentioned in the act, we have a moral responsibility to. They have Indian roots and are fleeing religious persecution from states which are decidedly not secular in nature. India, with our secular credentials, is, and should be, a natural home to these victims of violence.

The greatest argument against CAA is that it leaves out Muslims from its ambit, even though there are Muslims in the three countries who face persecution. But it has to be kept in mind that there is a distinction between sectarian and religious persecution. In an Islamic state sectarian violence can happen to Muslims and India does not have an inherent moral responsibility for those fleeing the failure of the state to protect them. However, by definition, there can be no religious persecution. CAA is an act of generosity and kindness in response to the great humanitarian crisis caused by religious violence in the three religious countries which come under its ambit. It reaffirms India’s standing as a land of peace and welcoming, one which follows the mantra “Atithi Devo Bhava”.

The Anti-CAA Argument


India is a secular state. The word secular was introduced in the preamble of the constitution by Indira Gandhi in 1976. But that does not mean India was not a secular country before that – our constitution framers inherently considered India to be a secular state and instances of the same can be found throughout our constitution. Thus, by definition, India will not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, caste or other such classifications. It is precisely this that CAA violates. CAA is a discriminatory bill, and it discriminates against one particular section of the society as seen fit by the ideology of the ruling party. It is the stated goal of the RSS to create a Hindu Rashtra, and the CAA spearheaded by the old RSS hand Amit Shah, is a step in that direction.

CAA is cleverly disguised as a magnanimous bill, but its intent is one of polarisation – to exacerbate the us vs the them. The defense of the act starts to crack when we consider how it brings under its ambit of granting citizenship to minorities facing religious persecution in only the 3 Muslim majority neighbours of India and conveniently forgets the other 4 non-Muslim majority nations. The argument that we have a special responsibility to the refuges of these nations falls flat as Afghanistan, sharing a boundary only 160km long with India, has also been included in the act. It is blatantly clear that these 3 nations have been chosen so that the definition of minority will exclude Muslim immigrants.

What the CAA thus signals, in essence, is this: India is not the land for Muslims. There exists the Islamic states of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and Muslims should remain in these countries. The CAA discriminates against Muslims immigrants by stating that Muslims need to stay in India an additional 6 years compared to non-Muslims to be naturalised and granted citizenship. Granting of citizenship, and thus basic human rights, would thus be decided on the basis of religion when CAA comes into force. This goes against the very basic fabric of the Indian state, against the principles on which the secular state of India was founded. This is why the nation is protesting, and should resist, this draconian, and unconstitutional, act of hate.

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