Government of India passes the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019

Sharanya R C

The Narendra Modi led Government of India recently passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019(CAA) on December 12, 2019.

There is wide speculation as to the effect it will have on the states where the CAA will be implemented. 

CAA is aimed at providing citizenship to immigrants belonging to the religions of Hindu, Christianity, Buddhist, Parsi and Sikh community from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan who have fled their respective countries and entered India fearing religious persecution. This act seeks to amend the definition of illegal immigrant for the above-mentioned communities and aims at granting fast-track citizenship in six years to the non-Muslim illegal immigrants who have stayed in the country without proper documentation. Till date the illegal immigrants from these countries have to stay in India for 12 years to be eligible to become a naturalized citizen of India. This act is applicable for illegal immigrants who have entered the country before Dec 31st, 2014. 

The Act does not mention illegal immigrants of the Muslim community. Further, Government of India has proposed implementation of National Register of Citizens (NRC). The NRC is an official record of those who are legal citizens of India.

Protests have erupted across the Indian subcontinent with claims that the CAA + NRC is aimed at discriminating against the illegal Muslim immigrants, as the state of their future is unknown, while shielding the non-Muslim illegal immigrants. States like Assam have raised concerns regarding granting citizenship to all non-Muslim illegal immigrants who have entered Assam prior to December 2014 as the state has already started the NRC exercise which was aimed at protecting the ethnic uniqueness of the state by filtering the illegal immigrants irrespective of their religion from their Citizen’s list. The new CAA, which would ratify the status of the non-Muslim illegal immigrants who were part of the filtered NRC list and would be granted citizenship, is opposed by the people of Assam.

Nationwide protests have been organized by the political parties opposing the ruling party’s decision and students across the country have come together for anti-CAA protests.

A variety of versions are circulating as to how the CAA coupled with NRC will affect the existing citizens and illegal immigrants from the above-mentioned countries. Also, in states like Assam where there are existing tensions regarding protecting the rights of the indigenous population, the new act has given rise to more questions than answers. 

The Government of India is yet to give a satisfactory explanation for the questions raised while consistently claiming that the Act is not discriminatory against any particular religion. 

Meanwhile the protests have turned violent in certain parts of the country. The Delhi police were criticized for thrashing the students on campuses of Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. Adding to it, the violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi where the students and student union members were attacked by masked members has caused a huge uproar among the people of India. 

Adding to the existing CAA and NRC the Government of India has also informed the state governments to update the National Population Register (NPR). A few states have blatantly refused to start the process and the southern State of Kerala has gone further and challenged the Government of India’s decision by lodging a case with Supreme Court of India against the implementation of CAA. 

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