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Understanding the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 and its after effects

The Citizenship (Amendment) bill, 2019 was passed by the Parliament of India on 11th December 2019, and after receiving the assent from the President of India on 12th December 2019, the bill assumed the status of an act.

As soon as the bill was passed in the Parliament, it brought along with it a situation of major unrest and protests in the Northern Part of the country and in the North eastern state of Assam. Though the reasons in both these parts were different, but what was similar was the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Briefly, the Amendment now grants Citizenship to illegal immigrants who had entered India before or on the 31st of December 2014 of the following religions, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian, from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

The Criteria set by the government here was that religious minorities who faced persecution in Islamic countries should be provided shelter, and which is why illegal immigrants from the 3 Islamic Countries are now provided Indian Citizenship.

In the History of our Country's Law and Statutes, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 is the first one which Discriminates on the basis of Religion. “Muslims” are mentioned nowhere, and they are not considered as minorities by the government in the current situation as the three countries from where illegal immigrants are being granted Indian Citizenship are Islamic Countries according to their Constitution, and the government claims that how can Muslims be minorities in an Islamic Country.

The implementation of the CAA led to various consequences across the whole Country. Due to the outbreak of the Pandemic Covid-19, the situation in the Country came under control. But will the Act lead to more complications and violence once we come out of the Pandemic?

Introduction
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 acted as fuel to the fire in the tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities of India. CAA came out to be the first ever act which discriminated people on the basis of religion, which was not welcomed warmly by the Opposition Parties, and also by the Muslim population in our country. It also consisted of people who consider themselves as Secular and believe in secularism.

The word Secular was added in our Preamble by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment. This meant that India has no official religion and that it separates the power of the state from religion. Each and every person of the country has the right to profess, practice and propagate the religion of their own choice. But the question now being raised is; that is India truly a secular state?
Intellectuals are also raising their voice as they say that the Act violates the fundamental right of equality.

Article 14 of the Indian Constitution says that everyone should be treated equally irrespective of their religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. But the Act here does not include Muslims and are totally silent about them.

Does the CAA violate Article 14 of the Indian Constitution?

As soon as the bill was introduced in the parliament, the northeastern state of Assam reacted in a very volatile manner which was considered as Riots by the police and the government. The Northern part of the country also started with peaceful protests opposing the bill which eventually became an act. But the question that comes up is, whether the protests were actually peaceful? Whether the reasons for protest in the northeastern state and the rest of the country were same?

The Act has been criticized extensively throughout India and also by Foreign Officials. But everything has 2 sides or stories to it. The government claims that it's not violating any of the existing laws in the country and that they now plan to implement NRC (National Register of Citizens) in the whole Country.

NRC would keep a count on the actual citizens of the country, and those not included in the NRC would be considered as Illegal Immigrants. This declaration by the Home Minister, regarding NRC, made the Muslim community think that the current government is trying to do away with the Muslims of India. NRC again was like a fuel to the ongoing fire.

Understanding the Amendment Act

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was discussed by the Union Cabinet and was eventually cleared for introduction on 4th December 2019 in the Lower House of the Parliament, which is the Lok Sabha. After which, on 9th of December the Home Minister (Amit Shah) introduced the bill in Lok Sabha. The bill got passed in the Lok Sabha on the 10thof December with 311 votes in favour of the bill and only 80 against it. It was pretty obvious that the bill would pass, as the current government has a full majority in the lower house. Which is why the protests had already begun in Assam even before the bill was introduced.

Eventually the bill also passed in the upper house with a majority vote of 125 and 105 against. The bill then got the assent of the President and it assumed the status of an act. Within a time period of 4 days, the bill was introduced and it became an Act. Further the Act came into force on 10th of January, 2020 after a notification which was provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The act along with it brought few major changes in the process of providing citizenship to illegal immigrants.
The various sections that were amended are as follows:
  • Section 2
  • Insertion of a new section 6B
  • Section 7D
  • And the Third Schedule

The amendments were as follows:

  • The following provision is inserted in Section 2(1)(b):
    Provided 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 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made there under, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act;". [i]
     
  • After section 6A of the principle act, the following section is inserted:
    1. 6B. (1) The Central Government or an authority specified by it in this behalf may, subject to such conditions, restrictions and manner as may be prescribed, on an application made in this behalf, grant a certificate of registration or certificate of naturalisation to a person referred to in the proviso to clause (b) of sub-section (1) of section 2.
       
    2. Subject to fulfilment of the conditions specified in section 5 or the qualifications for naturalisation under the provisions of the Third Schedule, a person granted the certificate of registration or certificate of naturalisation under sub-section (1) shall be deemed to be a citizen of India from the date of his entry into India.
       
    3. On and from the date of commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, any proceeding pending against a person under this section in respect of illegal migration or citizenship shall stand abated on conferment of citizenship to him:
      Provided that such person shall not be disqualified for making application for citizenship under this section on the ground that the proceeding is pending against him and the Central Government or authority specified by it in this behalf shall not reject his application on that ground if he is otherwise found qualified for grant of citizenship under this section:

      Provided further that the person who makes the application for citizenship under this section shall not be deprived of his rights and privileges to which he was entitled on the date of receipt of his application on the ground of making such application.
       
    4. Nothing in this section shall 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.'.[ii]
       
  • After section 7D(i)(d), the following has been inserted:
    (da) the Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder has violated any of the provisions of this Act or provisions of any other law for time being in force as may be specified by the Central Government in the notification published in the Official Gazette; or";

    (ii) After clause (f), the following proviso has been inserted:-

    "Provided that no order under this section shall be passed unless the Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder has been given a reasonable opportunity of being heard.”[iii]
     
  • In the Third Schedule of the principal Act, in clause (d), the following proviso has been inserted:
    'Provided that for the person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community in Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, the aggregate period of Residence or service of Government in India as required under this clause shall be Read as "not less than five years" in place of "not less than eleven years".'.[iv]

    So basically the amendment act says that people belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi orChristian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who have entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 will no longer be considered as illegal immigrants. All such people would be granted a certificate of naturalisation or would be granted Indian Citizenship. Further to make it even easier to provide these people citizenship, the amendment act now requires a minimum of 5 years of residence or service of government in India by such immigrants, which was 11 years earlier.

    The act seeks to provide shelter to people who are facing religious persecution in Islamic countries which are adjoining to the Indian boarders, which is why the act only talks about Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But is it really true that Muslims do not face persecutions in an Islamic country?

Why Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh

The Amendment that has been made only benefits the non-Muslims of these 3 particular Countries and is silent about the others. What actually makes the government to differentiate and to not include the other countries? Adjoining to the Indian boarders are various other countries like, Bhutan, Nepal, China, and Sri Lanka. But the amendment mentions about none of these countries.

The government believes that these 3 countries, particularly, are Islamic Countries and are not secular. These countries have an official Religion of their own which is Islam. So it's very likely that the non-Muslim population which is living there faces a lot of religious persecution and might also face discrimination. The government also believes that there is no other country that has an official religion of its own, be it Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism or any religion for that matter.

India being a secular country respects all religion, and that is why the government is welcoming the immigrants from these Islamic countries to India. But is the act really a secular one? Because the Muslims are not included in it! The government here argues that these three countries being Islamic Countries, it is very unlikely that the Muslim population over there would have to face religious persecutions. This is why Muslims aren't mentioned in the act.

So apparently the main motive of the government is to protect the minorities of various other religions who were stuck in the Islamic state and are now living in India.

What made the people to protest against the Amendment

Part III of the Indian Constitution deals with the Fundamental Rights. These fundamental rights are the supreme rights that the people in India enjoy. If any of the fundamental right is violated, then that particular person has absolute right to move directly to the Supreme Court of India or the High court. With the help of article 32 the person can seek remedy in the Supreme Court and with the help of article 226 the High court can be approached.

One of the most important fundamental rights provided by the Constitution is the Right to Equality. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution states that -“The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”[v]

The article states “no person.” This means that it's not necessary that a person should be an Indian citizen to enjoy the fundamental right of equality in India. Majority of the people started opposing the bill which now has become an Act. Questions were raised that why aren't Muslim immigrants being given citizenship by the amendment. There are various Muslims also who face religious persecutions, like the Ahmedia Muslim sect, Shias, Rohingya Muslims etc. Why are these Muslim minorities being neglected by the government, and why is the government discriminating people and violating the fundamental right of equality. The government had no reply to this.

Another thing which led to large scale protests in the country was the statement given by the Home Minister Amit Shah. He stated that:
“First we will pass the Citizenship Amendment bill and ensure that all the refugees from the neighbouring nations get the Indian citizenship. After that NRC will be made and we will detect and deport every infiltrator from our motherland.” This made the Muslim community and various other people in India infuriated.

The Muslim community in India started to think that this move by the centre is to remove all the Muslims in India and make India a Hindu Rashtra. What led the Muslims in India to think in such a way? After CAA came into force, all religious minorities from the three countries get Indian Citizenship, except the Muslims. So now if NRC is implemented all over India, every citizen would have to prove their identity and also they would have to prove that they are legal citizens of India.

Those who fail to prove their identity would be considered as illegal immigrants. Now those belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community would get back their citizenship through CAA if they turn out to be illegal immigrants by not proving their citizenship. But the Muslims in India who are not able to prove their identity and are considered as illegal immigrants would stay as illegal immigrants and would never get back their Indian citizenship and would end up being homeless and stateless.

This majorly led to large scale protests by the Muslim community in India and they were supported by other people of the country too. While various cities in the country were protesting, New Delhi's Shaheen Bagh had become the main hub for the protesters. Various educational institutions were also protesting, like Jamia Milia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University etc.

Protests in the North-Eastern State of Assam

While the whole country was protesting for equality and Muslim rights, Assam had a whole different reason to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which is now an Act. Assam began its protest as soon as the bill was discussed by the union cabinet and was not even introduced in the parliament.

To know the main reason behind the protests in Assam, we have to know about the Political history related to the State and the north-eastern region.

During the partition of India, the north-eastern part of India was under great turmoil. The region of north east India was going to be put under the region of East Pakistan. But the north eastern states wanted to be in the Indian Territory. Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi an Indian independence activist then approached the national leaders and convinced them that the north-eastern region wants to and deserves to stay within the Indian boarders. Eventually this was agreed and the northeast remained as a part of India.

While the partition was taking place, a lot of people started to migrate into the north east region and started living there. Eventually they were considered as legal citizen of the country. Majority of these migrants were Bengali speaking Hindus and Bengali Muslims. This was the first wave when the north eastern land was occupied by people other than those who were originally north eastern.

The second wave came after the Bangladeshi liberation war in 1971. When East Pakistan got its independence and Bangladesh was formed, many people again started to migrate due to the war. These migrants largely occupied the north-eastern region and west Bengal as these two regions were along with the Bangladeshi boarder.

This sudden and on-going influx from Bangladesh started to impact the socio-economic and the ethnic diversity of the north eastern region. It led to insecurity in the original inhabitants and they felt that their rights as the indigenous population had been encroached upon. This led to the Assam Movement.

The Assam movement was being headed by the All Assam Students Union. Their main call was to get the region rid of the infiltrators. They had no religious biases; they just wanted the Bangladeshis who had entered the state illegally to be removed from their land.

From 1979 to 1985 Assam had a 6 year long agitation, which was primarily led by the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP), to fight against the immigrants.

By the 2000s the Indian National Congress had gained power in Assam. But the government didn't do much to protect the land from Bangladeshi immigrants. More over the immigrations increased and the INC started to use these immigrants as their vote banks.

People started losing hope in INC which was led by Tarun Gogoi. The people of Assam had started to find an alternative, and in 2016 they found hope in the BJP government. BJP had now won 60 seats in Assam which is a huge number compared to the previous election in which they got only 5 seats.

The indigenous population of Assam now saw a hope of ray that the infiltrators would be removed. They were expecting implementation of the policy to detect, delete and deport the illegal migrants from Bangladesh. This is why the people of Assam also supported the NRC (National Register of Citizens) process, as they thought the illegal immigrants would now be removed.
But ultimately, in 2019, when the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was introduced, the people of Assam felt extremely betrayed by the BJP government.

This was taken as an insult by the North-Eastern people as this can result in the failure of all central theme of the Assam Movement. The Assamese had nothing to do with the religion, if Muslims are included or not. They just wanted that no illegal immigrant from Bangladesh should enter their land.

They feel that if immigrants keep coming in from Bangladesh, and the government keeps providing them citizenship, then one day the original Assamese people in Assam will become a minority group and the state would be full of Bengali speaking Hindus.

The protest against the CAB/A in the Northeast was not against any political fundamentalism, neither it was against or for any language speakers or religion in particular. It was for the protection of the rights of the people of the state. It is for the promise that was made to the people of the region by the central government. It is for the democratic right of the people to have a distinct culture and tradition of their own.

Relationship Between CAA and NRC

The term NRC (National Register of Citizens) was initially coined in the year 1951 by the government. At that time, the Indian national congress was in power. In 1951 the government had implemented the NRC in Assam on the basis of the 1951 Census. But the register was never maintained thereafter.

The National Register of Citizens is a document which contains the legal citizens of the country. Those who are not included in the NRC are considered as illegal immigrants. Such illegal immigrants would be kept in detention centers and would eventually be deported from the country.

After the failed attempt in 1951, finally the NRC got updated for Assam, and was published on 31 August 2019. Around 1.9 million people were considered as illegal immigrants in Assam through this NRC.

Further the Bhartiya Janta Party had promised to implement the NRC for all of India in its election manifesto in the 2019 Indian general election. After coming into power, the Home Minister, Amit Shah, on 19th of November 2019, declared in the Rajya Sabha that NRC would be implemented throughout the country. This did not grab the attention of the people until the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha.

As soon as the bill was introduced, the people of India started to criticize this step that was taken by the government.
  • Firstly, the people in Assam felt betrayed as on one hand the government had implemented the NRC in Assam to remove illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, but on the other hand the government brought the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which would now provide immigrants with Indian Citizenship from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • Secondly, the Muslim community in India started to feel that the government wants to remove all the Muslims from the country by first implementing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and then the NRC. Because Muslims who won't be able to prove their identity through NRC, would become illegal immigrants under the CAA.

This shows how the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens are related. As the prior one grants citizenship to religious minorities (except Muslims) from Islamic countries, the latter one keeps a track of the legal citizens and eventually deports the ones who are not a part of the register and are hence considered as illegal immigrants. The only community that does not benefit from this combination is the Muslims. As once they are considered as illegal immigrants, they'll be left stateless and there's no way for them to get back their Indian citizenship.

Understanding the Series of Events

Since the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was discussed upon, things in the country started to become ugly.
Here is a brief chronology of the series of events related to the Act.
  • 4th December - The Union Cabinet had approved the bill to be introduced in the parliament.
  • 9th December - The bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha.
  • 10th December - The bill passed in the Lok Sabha with a majority vote of 311 and only 80 in against.
  • 11th December - The bill was now presented in the Rajya Sabha and it got passed the same day with 125 votes in favour of the bill.
  • 12th December - On this date the bill got the assent of the President and had now become and Act.

Large scale protests were being carried out in the country against the CAA.
  • 13th December - Various countries like UK, USA, France, Canada etc had issued travel warning to their citizens who were travelling to the north-east India. Because the protest were turning out to be violent over there.
     
  • 14th December - People in New Delhi came out to protest against the Act. The protest was being held in Jantar Mantar.
     
  • 15th December - Protests in the area of Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi had begun. Things had turned out to become very violent and the protests were no more peaceful. DTC buses in Delhi were burnt up. Students of Jamia and Aligarh Muslim University came out to protest. The police authorities had entered the educational institution without any warrant and they stared to detain the students. Many students were also injured.
     
  • 18th December - The Supreme Court held a hearing for the 60 petitions that were brought in front challenging the Act. After the first hearing, the Supreme Court had declined the stay against the Act and a new date of hearing was given which was 22nd of January.
     
  • 19th December - The protests started to spread throughout the country. As things were now out of control for the government and the police authorities, the government started to suspend the internet in various regions where the protests were taking place.
     
  • 10th January - The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 came into force.
     
  • 14th January - The Kerala Government moved to the Supreme Court to challenge the CAA under Article 131. Kerala became the first government to do so. It stated that the Act violates Article 14, Article 21 and Article 25 of the Indian constitution, which guarantees basic principles such as equality before the law, protection of life and personal liberty and freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion.
     
  • 22nd January - The petitions were again heard in the Supreme Court by a bench of 3 Judges which was headed by Justice Bobde. Notice was given to the government to reply in reference to the petitions filed within a time period of 1 month. Further the court held that the issue in the northeast is different from the rest and a different hearing would be set up for that.

    While all of this was going on, many students, protesters and also police officers lost their lives because of the protests taking place in the country.
    The Act and the government, both were being condemned by various other countries and also by the UN for violation of human rights.
     
  • Ultimately on 24th March 2020, the two month long protest in Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi, came to an end due to the outbreak of the Pandemic, Corona Virus.
But people in the country are still not in support of the Act, and it is very likely that as soon as the Pandemic gets over, people will come out again and will protest against the Act.

Understanding of the topic and Suggestions
  • The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill became an Act on 12th of December 2019.
  • The act discriminated on the basis of religion.
  • People believed that the Act violates the Fundamental Rights of Equality, Life and Religion. Articles 14, 21 and 25 respectively. But these rights can be restricted by reasonable restrictions under the provisions of law. But was excluding Muslims within the scope?
  • Another right that the people in our country have is the right to protest peacefully. But does this mean that your right to protest peacefully can hamper the right to life and freedom of others? Every citizen has equal rights and each person has the right to enjoy it. But not at the cost of hammering others fundamental or even constitutional rights.
  • The protesters of the Act have a fight against the government and not against other citizens of the country. Then why do other people have to suffer because of the protesters.
  • The protesters have been blocking roads, burning down buses etc, due to which other citizens have to face a lot of difficulties. In Delhi alone, N numbers of roads were closed or were diverted because of the protesters, which caused a lot of inconvenience.
  • Peaceful protests can easily be taken place in various places were other citizens won't be affected. But what is the point to protest for your rights while hampering the rights of the other people.
  • The Protest had initially started because of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. But eventually it turned out that now people are protesting against the NRC. But where is NRC? The home Minister claimed that the NRC would be implemented, but after that the Prime Minister denied it. Then why are people protesting against something that actually does not exist.
  • NRC in the first place should not be implemented throughout the country. It can be implemented in the states which are on the boarders of the country to protect the indigenous people of that state.
  • Rather than violating the laws, people must have faith in the judiciary and must proceed with things in a lawful manner.

Conclusion
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 came out to be a very controversial one. On one hand where it is benefiting the religious minorities from the 3 Islamic countries, on the other it is violating the right to equality and is discriminating people on the basis of their religion.

The step taken by the government is no doubt a good one, but the implementation is questionable. As immigrants, irrespective of their religion, who come from Bangladesh into Assam will not only endanger the indigenous population of Assam and other north eastern states, but it will also be against the sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution and also against the Assam Accord. However the sixth schedule only protects some districts of the North east, but it is necessary to protect all the indigenous people in the north eastern state and not just a few.

NRC is a bigger threat for the peace of the country compared to the CAA, because protests in the rest of the country, except the north east, were mainly related to the implementation of NRC in the whole country. The combination of both CAA and NRC would eventually leave the Muslim population of India stateless.

Things might turn out to become even uglier after the Pandemic ends. The government must now try to work out strategies to handle further protests that might take place in the country. The strategies must be within the scope of law and should not violate human rights.

End-Notes:
  1. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019
  2. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019
  3. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019
  4. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019
  5. Article 14: The Constitution of India

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