The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019: A Primer

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As tension peaks all over the nation in response to the supremely controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, and the country wears shattered glasses, tear gases and crackdowns, indifference tags along more perils than inaction. In a country renowned for diversity and inclusivity, the Act has brought along tremors throughout. Here’s a lay down of what it is and what people have said so far:

What is the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019?

The Rajya Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill on 11th December, 2019. The Bill has now been recognised as a law, after the President’s assent on 12th December. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 brings about changes to The Citizenship Act, 1955:

  • It allows certain immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan to be recognised as citizens of India if they’ve lived in before 31st December, 2014.
  • The Act confers citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community members from these countries, if they’ve lived for at least 5 years, as opposed to the previous requirement of 11 years.
  • Proceedings on issues of citizenship will be relaxed, provided the applicant fulfills the citizenship eligibility criteria.
  • The Act doesn’t apply to tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura (mentioned in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution), and the areas under Inner Line Permit.

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The governments stance

According to the Centre, the legislation is aimed at protecting people facing minority religious persecution in the three neighbouring countries. Generalising Muslims, the government says that they can seek shelter in the three countries which have recognised Islam as their official religion. However, sectarian persecutions and other neighbouring countries have been discounted by this rationale. For instance, Shias in Pakistan, the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have not been considered.

The government, in response to the ongoing protests across the country, has assured that the cultural identity of the regions covered will not be threatened. In addition, not all persecuted people will be granted citizenship; only those fulfilling the criteria will be eligible.

Asking people to steer away from the “vested interests”, the government has also asked people to give the Act a chance. Home Minister Amit Shah has hinted at the plausibility of changes in his rally.

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Controversies

Stirring major controversies, the Act is said to be wrong and treacherous for a chain of reasons:

Threat to the North-Eastern region:

The people of North-East have expressed dissent highlighting that the Act will pose a threat to their cultural identity and economic resources. They fear that the influx of Bengali Hindus into non-tribal parts of Assam would be problematic for an Assamese-speaking population. Since the people identify strongly with culture, their belongingness to the nation is strongly interweaved with protecting indigenous sentiments. They believe a sense of panic will prevail, because if a Bidexi (foreigner), or an illegal immigrant comes in, employment will become more challenging.

With the passing of the Bill, the government imposed a curfew in parts of Assam on 11th December (now uplifted). However, it has entailed major repercussions in the affected regions.

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Prapti Handique, an Assamese student living in Mumbai registers the tormentous state propelled by the Act back at home. She says, “Many of my friends got arrested, and their voices have gone (sic) after shouting in the protests. Also, last week in the protest, many tyres were burnt, and now people are having cough and dust allergies. Papa has this dust allergy.”

She adds, “There’s no money with the people since ATMs are closed, no fuel to run the vehicles. Cab drivers are charging Rs 5000 from the people to go from one place to another. The prices of vegetables have become too high.”

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The curfew in most areas has now been relaxed, but the agitation hasn’t died. Assamese filmmaker Shyam Bora reveals from Guwahati, “The student unions are on a three-day satyagraha (No CAB or just arrest us is their motto). Peaceful protests continue throughout the state and may continue till Assam is exempted from CAA.” He articulates the sentiment of the locals adding, “No more foreigners regardless of religion for us.” He further informs that the Internet shutdown has been extended till Friday.

Nullifies the NRC

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) that was prepared last year sought to identify illegal immigrants who came to India after 25th March, 1971. About 40 lakh people were found to be invalid citizens of India, but they got another opportunity to claim citizenship later in the year. The protests in North-East India revolve around the ambiguity of the NRC with the introduction of CAA.

The element of religious biasness seeps in only when the NRC is coupled with the CAA. Now, non-Muslims who can’t present the required documents and have entered the country before 31st December, 2014 can stay. So while the NRC was intended to expel all illegal immigrants, the CAA lets all the non-Muslim immigrants to stay (if they fulfill the required criteria).

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Discrimination against Muslims

Another contentious subject is the exclusion of Muslims from the provisions in the Act. Some people have dismissed this aspect, opining that the Act isn’t a religious issue. However, sectarian violence has been reported among Shias and Ahmadis in Pakistan and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Most of the protests in mainland India revolve around the exclusion of repressed Muslims.

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Contradicts the Constitution’s ethos

Critics say that the Constitution has been abused several times by the government, often violating the intentions of the provisions it offers. The Act is another such tactic by the government, where it governs the Constitution, instead of respecting its supremacy.

-The Act seems to defy the concept of secularism enshrined in the Constitution’s Preamble, by excluding Muslims to file application for citizenship under the Act. Critics claim that the integrity and secular fabric of the nation is thus being torn to shreds.

-The spirit of the Assam Accord of 1985 has been butchered as well. The treaty between the Union and the leaders of the Assam Movement sought to detect and deport illegal immigrants coming after 01.01.1966. The promise made to protect the cultural identity of Assam seems to now have been compromised.

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Those favouring the Act…

The government, through Press Information Bureau (PIB) has posted a series of Tweets in an attempt to dissolve the misconceptions surrounding the CAA. According to the government, the CAA will only take in genuine immigrants, and not intruders. The Act will also be applicable throughout the country (Areas falling under the Sixth schedule of the Constitution, and the Inner Line Permit have been exempted.) With regards to the unexpected influx of people in Assam, the government has stated that the persecuted are settled in other parts of the country as well.

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Supporters of the Act believe that it’s a humanitarian effort to protect the lives of minorities that are being wiped out in the three neighbouring countries. With these countries turning a blind eye to their woes, their condition is extremely miserable. Others have stressed that people from North-East are also settling in the mainland, so eligible citizens won’t be a burden.

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Where do the voices die?

The protests at the Jamia Milia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University on discrimination against Muslims garnered widespread attention. But they were silenced by brutal police crackdowns at the institutions, and the right of the citizens to protest peacefully was snatched away. When protesters appealed to the Supreme Court earlier today, it asked them to approach the High Courts where incidents of crackdowns have occurred. Investigations into these cases are likely to be conducted by former judges of the SC.

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Manav Chauhan, a media student in Aizawl points out that with the voices being unheard, he would be hurt to see his country “torn apart like this if it was worth saving. To all the young educated Indians including me, what’s the point of these posts, protests, reports when you couldn’t convince your own family not to vote against this?”

A note to our readers…

Controversial times are often home to fabricated news, video and propaganda. Cross-checking facts and verifying the credibility of what is being consumed become extremely imperative then. One is advised to refer to websites like Alt News, Facthunt, and Vishvas News before forming an informed opinion without getting waylaid by the rampant misinformation out there.

Do you have opinions or stories to share on the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019? Tell us in the comments below!

 

 

 

(Updates to follow)

(Opinions expressed here are solely of the author and may not reflect the opinion(s) of the Company)

All images in this article belong to their respective owners. The graphics in this article are courtesy of Illustrious Creates and Kruttika Susarla. Additional Photo Attribution: Ron Bezbaruah, Anjum Alam.

© 2018 Gut & Flow Media Pvt. Ltd., All Rights Reserved.

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