By Ahsaas Verma
CAB or the Citizenship Amendment Bill can be summarized easily by a metaphor wherein you are on a ship and you come across two people drowning into the ocean. On a closer observation, you realise, one of them follows religion ‘A’ and the other is a follower of religion ‘B’. One would argue that what does religion have to do with saving the individuals, but for the sake of metaphor, saving the follower of religion ‘A’ and discriminating against the person following religion ‘B’ while asking them to wait for some other boat rowed by a person following religion ‘B’ is what closely summarizes CAB, 2019.
Citizenship Amendment Bill, passed in the Lok Sabha, states that if a person belonging to Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi or Christian community or one who has migrated from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan (on or before 31st Dec, 2014) is no longer an illegal immigrant to the nation. Each of the categories mentioned above would receive an Indian Citizenship. Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) later became the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December, 2019.
The bill has been said to save the ‘persecuted minorities’ of these countries and religions, promising them a better future, security and perhaps, an escape. Although it seems, that the bill is somewhere biased and puts a blind eye towards other communities / minorities in these countries who have been facing discrimination in one way or the other. These minorities like – Ahmedi’s and Shia’s in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who are referred to as Muslims, but not in their respective nations, hence, making them face discrimination. People who identify themselves as ‘Atheists’ are also put under the sword of discrimination in a few Islamic nations. These ‘persecuted’ minorities are not included in the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The ‘blind-sighting’ or ‘selective selection’ of certain sects is one of the major drawbacks of the bill.
The counter-argument given against the above statement is that there are many other Islamic nations that can give shelter to those minorities as well. This is the logic that resembles the metaphor where the boatman saves the follower of ‘A’ but not ‘B’. The secularity of the state as well as the international reputation of India will be compromised when they start adopting this discriminatory practice. This will only lead to India becoming a Hindu Rashtra, and it is a fact that countries putting religion ahead of people have only failed as nations. Even the famous freedom fighters like Gandhi, Vallabh Bhai Patel, Ambedkar or Bhagat Singh were against the ‘two-nation’ theory, but the acceptance of this bill seems like a contradiction to the belief of our freedom fighters.
The North-Eastern states like Assam and Tripura protested heavily against the bill, saying that it supports ‘illegal immigrants’. Many communities demand citizenship on the premise of crossing the border. This act then led to an adverse effect on the resources of the country, especially the North-Eastern states which have been historically under a lot of strain. Especially during the Independence of Bangladesh, where millions of people migrated towards the North East and it was a hassle to accommodate people in such large numbers. This immigration will also lead to loss of jobs, increase in poverty, stress on the economy among other ill-effects.
National Security has come under threat, this was also exclaimed by RAW, the Intelligence Agency of India. Infiltrators and terrorists can easily intrude the borders by showing only an affidavit or by pretending to be Hindus. CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), the extended branch of CAB saw a lot of violent protests in the month of December, 2019. One of the famous ones being at Jamia Islamia, who were supported in solidarity by students from other universities like Patna University, AMU (Aligarh), IIT-Bombay, BHU (Banaras Hindu University), Chandigarh University, TISS, Jain University, Pondicherry University, IIT-Madras etc.
The government’s reaction to these protests was an immediate internet shutdown. The Forbes magazine stated that India has become the Internet shutdown capital of the world. This reaction led to lesser reporting from north-eastern states like Assam. Although the ill-effect of the decision was also hampering many internet dependent jobs (which are in millions in today’s times). The United Nations (UN) openly criticized the Modi government stating that CAA does discriminate among people. A lot of BJP leaders, especially in Assam, either left the party or claimed to do so in the future.
National Register of Citizens or NRC is another extension of CAB and CAA. NRC would mean each person, himself/herself, would have to produce documents that prove their citizenship to the state. Failure to do so leads to revoking their citizenship. The sad part is that when NRC was implemented in Assam in August 2019, 1.9 million (19 lakh) people were unable to prove their citizenship because of their inability to produce documents. Most of them belonged to poor households making them unable to produce documents proving the presence of their ancestors in India since 1971 and then to prove their blood relation with oneself. The government spent almost 46 Crore rupees to build a detention center in Assam to make space for 3,000 illegal immigrants. Extrapolating the numbers would mean almost 27,000 crore rupees to be spent only for building detention centers to keep people unable to prove their citizenship only in Assam. The numbers would be manifold if we keep the whole country under consideration.
The money spent on building detention centers can be utilized to build schools, hospitals and other public property necessary for the growth and development of the country. The chief opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is that it discriminates on the basis of religion by identifying only non-Muslims refugees as those who would be eligible for Indian citizenship. While any foreigner can still apply for Indian citizenship, he/she has to follow the normal process of naturalisation – which takes 11 or more years.
The CAB is seen by many people as a quick move to change the demographics and voters-profile in favour of the ruling party by selective admission of illegal migrants. As per the critics, Citizenship (Amendment) Bill violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution – the fundamental right which guarantees equality to all persons. This is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution and hence, cannot be reshaped by any Parliament laws. It is yet to be seen if the Supreme Court allows the selective fast-tracking for Indian Citizenship. The apex court has the power to declare the bill as unconstitutional.
The policy towards illegal migrants and refugees needs wider debates and deliberations. However, religion can never be the basis of Indian Citizenship.
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