In December 12, 2019 the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), a day after the Rajya Sabha also passed the Bill, became the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Since then India has seen widespread protests against an Act and a Law which is seen to be religiously discriminative and potentially harmful to the future of minorities and the marginalised in the country. This has pushed the BJP into overdrive, trying to defend its decision in implementing the CAA and portraying it as a “saving grace” for non-Muslim minorities who have been persecuted in “Islamic countries”.
The ruling party, the BJP is now circulating a 32-page booklet that it is using in its door-to-door campaigns! The aim is to garner the people’s confidence and support the CAA even amidst rising tension and agitation against the contentious law.
The booklet is available on the official website of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in Hindi. Titled Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 –An Introduction, this 32-page booklet is what the regime is using in its “door to door mass campaign.” They have made it a part of their fortnightly magazine which is a mouth piece of BJP called “Kamal Sandesh”.
Liberally quoting from Home Minister Amit Shah, it has its own share of half – truths. Printed by Dr.Mookerji Smruti Nyas, this booklet does not just have questions and answers intended to clear the queries and doubts about CAA and citizenship laws in India, it also contains quotes of many prominent political leaders of the past who have made statements on minorities from Pakistan before, in order to justify their stance.
The primary stance taken by the ruling government to justify the CAA has been that minorities in Islamic countries, especially Hindus and Sikhs face religious persecution and have been facing the same since decades and hence it is India’s moral responsibility to give them refuge and citizenship rights. This statement not only seeks to demonise neighbouring “Islamic countries” but also sets forth the narrative that it is only the non-Muslim minorities in these countries that face persecution and hence need to be rescued.
To strengthen this newly created rhetoric that is being used by all BJP supporters to justify the discriminative law, the booklet includes quotes of personalities like Jawaharlal Nehru, Shayama Prasad Mookerji, Indira Gandhi and a few others.
I feel that the Centre’s relief fund that is supposed to be put in use for Emergency relief, may now be used for granting relief and rehabilitation of the refugees who have come from Pakistan to India and the same would be desirable.
Fact: This is not a statement that discriminates on the basis of any religion.
Shyama Prasad Mookerji
I would like to say that the Bengal issue is not a regional one. It is one that raises an issue of the whole of India and India’s economic and political stability and prosperity will depend on its resolution.
On May 15 and 16 I did a tour through Assam, Tripura and West Bengal in order to share the sufferings/pain of the refugees who came from Bangladesh, to show them that this house (loksabha) supports them and empathises with them, and to supervise the arrangements made for them
Fact: This is not a statement that discriminates on the basis of any religion.
SabrangIndia’s Breakdown. Point by Point, of BJP’s booklet (in Question-Answer form) on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019
The briefly worded Introduction section, states that the CAA provides legal means to give Indian citizenship to Hindus Parsis, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists who have suffered religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The problem with this statement is that the law does not mention the word or any interpretation of the term “religious persecution”. The newly amended Act provides that all illegal migrants belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian communities hailing from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014, will not be considered as illegal migrants.
The booklet makes special mention of Mahatma Gandhi’s statement made at a prayer meeting on September 26, 1947 to seek validation of the discriminatory CAA 2019. On September 26, 1947 Gandhi said, “In any circumstance, Hindus and Sikhs residing in Pakistan can come to India if they do not wish to stay there. In this scenario, it the Indian Government’s first order of business to ensure that they are given employment and a normal life.”
Moreover, why has this other, below-mentioned statement of Mahatma Gandhi failed to find mention in the BJP’s booklet?
On December 19, 1947, 48 days before he was assassinated, Gandhi, addressing a large crowd of Mewati (Meo) Muslims at Ghasera village in Mewat district had hailed them as “Iss desh ke reed ke haddi” or the backbone of India and assured them full and fair protection under a secular, democratic India urging them not to leave the land of their forefathers for Pakistan. Meos, who live in Haryana, Rajasthan and UP celebrate that day as Mewat Diwas. Barely 48 days later, Gandhi was assassinated and Mewatis believe that Godse and the forces who planned the killing were infuriated with Gandhi’s unfailing commitment to a composite nationhood and a secular India.
By singling out just one quote of Mahatma Gandhi which was given at a time when thousands of Hindus and Sikhs had migrated, even died at the time of partition-driven violence, the BJP displays its own selective politics and mind-set. Of course, Gandhi believed that Hindus and Sikhs need to be protected and given asylum. He has however never implied the reverse, that Muslims should not be given either asylum or equal rights and non-discriminatory status in newly born, secular, democratic India. The selective quote of Mahatma Gandhi is being misused to justify the BJP’s own discriminatory acts.
The first few pages of the booklet also includes a quote of Amit Shah in which he talks about BJP’s “पंथनिरपेक्षता” which translates as “non-sectarianism”. What they were probably implying that BJP follows धर्मनिरपेक्षता which translates as “secularism”. His quote reads, “Bringing (under our refuge) those who are oppressed and persecuted is reflective of our non-sectarianism (पंथनिरपेक्षता) and your (opposition) non-sectarianism is limited to only one religion.
Through this quote, the BJP has somehow termed Muslims to be a sect rather a religion by terming the opposition’s non-sectarian protecting one religion.
Amit Shah’s submission(s) in Parliament
“This law will provide dignity and opportunity to live to crores of people”
In his submissions in Parliament, Amit Shah seems to have gotten even his geography wrong. As per the booklet, he has said that Pakistan Afghanistan and Bangladesh are three countries who share their borders with India.
Even though this is true, these are not the only countries that share their borders with India where minorities face persecution. In fact, Rohingyas from Myanmar, which also shares its borders with India has the most persecuted and even stateless minority and they find no mention in the CAA; Rohingyas belong to Muslim community.
He has also said that Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Jains who have come from these countries to India at any point of time will be granted citizenship while the law he introduced mentions the cut-off date as December 31, 2014.
The booklet also makes vague mention of something that is not a part of the law. The BJP’s booklet states that any refugee who has started or opened his own small business while being a migrant which may otherwise be illegal –after CAA 2019—is protected in as much as such refugees who during their stay in India conduct any work or business will be regularised. While there is no such provision in CAA 2019 that mentions that any proceeding against such person in respect of illegal migration or citizenship stands abated, RBI notifications (a year before the enactment of CAA 2019) do provide financial assistance to these categories. Did therefore RBI help set the stage for CAA? In 2018, the nation’s apex monetary institution gave property buying rights to non-Muslim minorities from countries mentioned in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
FEMA provisions allow non-Muslim minorities from three countries mentioned under CAA to open NRO accounts, but how would they determine religion? There have also been media reports to the effect that soon banks might add a new column in their Know Your Customer (KYC) forms for depositors and clients to mention their religion. The report says that the requirement could be on account of changes to FEMA regulations that extend the benefits of opening NRO accounts to non-Muslim minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. According to the RBI’s website “A Citizen of Bangladesh/Pakistan belonging to minority communities in those countries i.e. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians residing in India and who has been granted LTV or whose application for LTV is under consideration, can open only one NRO account with an AD bank subject to the conditions mentioned in Notification No. FEMA 5(R)/2016-RB dated April 01, 2016, as updated from time to time.” The entire notification may be read here.
Interestingly, this provision, and in fact the entire notification does not mention refugees from Afghanistan.
The BJP’s Booklet also claims that if the refugee has gotten married or has had children during his illegal stay, the same will be regularised under the bill. Factually and technically speaking, none of this is mentioned in the bill. It only facilitates grant of citizenship to illegal migrants belonging to non-Muslim communities after they have followed certain procedure.
The section also fails to mention that only the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram as mentioned in Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution are exempt from the application of CAA. This is as a divisive move by many north-eastern groups which seeks to divide the region and the people in the region.
The Citizenship and CAA Q & A (in the BJP Booklet)
Q. How are citizens defined in India and what is the political, constitutional and legal background of the citizenship criteria?
A. The answer to this question mentions the constitutional provisions under Article 11 which empowers Parliament to make laws on citizenship while making citizenship provisions in Articles 5 to 10 which were applicable at the time of the adoption of the Constitution. The BJP’s booklet uses this provision to justify the amendment i.e. CAA 2019, stating that the Constitution itself has empowered Parliament to change the provisions for citizenship as it has been empowered by the Constitution to do so. Hence there is nothing illegal or unconstitutional about CAA.
The booklet fails to even touch upon leave alone lay emphasis to the fundamentals of the Indian Constitution, Indian Nationhood and Indian Citizenship. Through the rigorous Constituent Assembly Debates, the Constitution itself, India rejected religion based nationhood nor discriminatory citizenship.
Equality, parity and non-discrimination are not just our Fundamental Rights but constitute the basic structure of the Constitution which the Supreme Court has stated on more than one occasion cannot be tampered with by the Executive.
The Preamble to the Constitution with its emphasis on Equality of Opportunity, Justice (Social, Economic and Political), Fraternity clearly outlines the fundamentals of this that are further then outlined in the Part II Fundamental Rights Section (Articles 14, 15, 16, 19, 25-30),
In a nutshell, though the Constitution empowers Parliament to enact a law on Citizenship, such a law or any amendments thereof cannot hit the basic fundamentals of the Constitution. By singling out Muslims for exclusion, CAA is hit by Articles 14, 21, 15, 16 and other Fundamental Rights that form the basic structure of the Indian Constitution.
Q. Why is CAA necessary?
The answer in the BJP booklet states among other things that India was partitioned on basis of religion and as per Nehru-Liaqat pact it is India’s responsibility to safeguard the interests of minorities in Pakistan (East and West Pakistan). In the next sentence it says, “Hence CAA was necessary to protect the human rights of the minorities of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh..”
The government’s booklet is using the Nehru-Liaqat pact out of context. to justify safeguarding interest of some minorities in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Besides it has drawn in Afghanistan which was never a part of the (Liaqat-Nehru). Besides the communities outlined in CAA 2019, Ahmadiyas, Shia Muslims, Agnostics, Atheists and Non-Believers are arguably, similarly discriminated in these three countries. Clearly the sectarian and exclusivist agenda of the party in power does not see the issue of either religion or minority out of a rigid and dominating gaze.
Besides, what about our other neighbouring countries that have been left out? Nepal, Burma, Myanmar and Sri Lanka? The CAA 2019 discriminates against the peoples of these countries too who may have sought asylum here. There are close to 2,00,000 Sri Lankan Tamils living on Indian soil, having suffered political and religious persecution in their country. Why should they not benefit?
Q. What is the condition of minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh and is it India’s responsibility even after 70 years of partition to grant them citizenship?
A. The answer to this question in the booklet should ideally have been factual, explaining the current condition of minorities in both these countries. Instead the answer talks about how the Law Minister of Pakistan was a Dalit and he had resigned at that time and came back to India as a refugee and hence it is India’s responsibility to give citizenship to minorities from Pakistan.
The truth is Pakistan has not released religion wise data of its latest 2017 census; one has to refer to its last released data of 1998. No census has taken place in Pakistan between 1998 and 2017. Hence there is no reliable and latest data on the minorities in Pakistan. Hence one cannot even determine whether the number of minorities has in fact diminished as being claimed by the government.
While some amount of persecution in Pakistan cannot be denied, figures touted on the decline in minorities are not based on fact. The Bangladesh situation finds no elaboration in the booklet neither does Afghanistan.
Q. What are the constitutional challenges for this law?
A. The answer to this question in the booklet stresses that the law passes the reasonable classification test under Article 14 and how it does not violate Article 14.
Article 14 states clearly that the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the law within the territory of India. CAA 2019 clearly discriminates against one section, Muslims who may be illegal migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan.
On reasonable classification, the comment section in the Indian Constitution says, “What article 14 prohibits is class legislation and not reasonable classification for the purpose of legislation.” It also states that the reasonability of the classification can be determined from the objects of the legislation and what it really seeks to achieve.
Moreover, in Pathumma v. State of Kerala (AIR 1978 SC 771) the apex court stated that Article 14 prohibits hostile discrimination.
In the case of CAA, whether the classification is reasonable or not will be something that the courts will attempt to decide. However what is clear even from the Objects of CAA 2019 is the fact that this is aimed at exclusion of one section of human beings, something that hits at the fundamental and basic structure of the Indian Constitution and Articles 14, 15, 16, 19, 21, 25 and 30 particularly.
Q. Does the CAA really discriminate against a particular community? Is it really anti-Muslim?
A. The answer in the booklet justifies CAA 2019 saying that any person belonging to any religion, even Muslims can still apply for citizenship as per the other (already existing) provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and CAA does not disturb these provisions. It further says that if we end up granting citizenship to all people of Pakistan and Bangladesh, Partition which was done on religious basis would be rendered meaningless and it would be pointless to give citizenship to people who chose Pakistan and Bangladesh as their Countries at the time of partition.
The fact is that the law excludes Muslims and that makes the law anti-Muslim. There is little to debate on this score.
Two, it is not as if all the population of either Muslims or non-Muslims are seeking asylum in large numbers, to India.
Three, besides the communities outlined in CAA 2019, Ahmadiyas, Shia Muslims, Bahai’s, Agnostics, Atheists and Non-Believers are arguably, similarly discriminated in these three countries. In fact, Ahmadiyas are not even considered as Muslims in Pakistan and face persecution on a regular basis. While it is not being denied that Hindus and Sikhs and other minorities face persecution like forced marriage and conversion in these countries, claiming that Muslims do not face persecution at all is erroneous.
Q. Is this the first time that such classification has been made towards refugees?
A. The answer to this question in the booklet is no. The booklet states that under the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950 during Nehru’s time, too, similar provisions or arrangements were made. At the time, if any person whose stay in Assam was seen to be detrimental to the interests of people of India or the Scheduled Tribes in Assam then they could have been directed to be removed (or themselves go) from India or Assam. The exception to this provision was any person who on account of civil disturbances or the fear of such disturbances in any area now forming part of Pakistan had been displaced from or has left his place of residence in such area.
The booklet also makes mention of the 2003 government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee which had declared that Hindu refugees from Pakistan and Bangladesh would be given citizenship.
The booklet implies that these people fleeing civil disturbances were all Hindus and Sikhs. This is just an assumption which has been made to suit a hegemonic, majoritarian mindset. Any class of people may, or can flee civil disturbances from a country and they cannot be classified on basis of religion alone.
Q. Is it necessary for these refugees to declares themselves as refugees and wait for 5 years to get citizenship under CAA?
A. The booklet mentions that the refugees do not have to wait for 5 years as the date of entry into India will be considered under CAA while granting them citizenship so any person belonging to Hindu, Parsi, Sikh, Jain Christian community from the 3 countries will be given citizenship from the date of his/her entry into India.
The answer also speaks about those people who have entered India after December 31, 2014 who have been provided for in section 2. The booklet states that these persons will be given citizenship basis section 6 as per citizenship through naturalization and they would have to stay in India for 5 years before applying for citizenship.
Q. How will it be determined that the migrant has entered India before December 31, 2014, as required under section 6 of CAA?
A. The booklet states that under section 6 B necessary documents presented can be certified and approved. This is as per the law’s third schedule.
The truth is the government has not figured out what documents the migrants will be required to provide to prove that they entered India before the stipulated date. The modalities have not been elaborated upon by the government and neither section 6 nor the third schedule provide for any such documents.
Q. Why has December 31,2014 been decided as a cut-off date?
A. The answer states that this requirement has been entered in line with the 5 years residence requirement enumerated under section 6 of the Act, so that migrants who have entered India 5 years before 2019 can be provided for under the CAA.
Q. How can one prove that they have been religiously persecuted in their home country?
A. The answers states that the migrant need not prove that he/she has been religiously persecuted in their country and only has to fulfil the conditions mentioned in schedule 3 of the Act.
The clear inference from this is that the law assumes that all minorities who have come to India from the 3 countries have only come because of religious persecution. The word religious persecution does not find a place in the law because the government wants to give citizenship to all the minorities who have come to India from these countries even if they may have come for purely economic or livelihood purposes. This again belies their stated claims.
Q. How can the migrants living in the areas of the north east which are exempt from the application of CAA get benefits of CAA?
A. The booklet states that such migrants who are eligible under CAA for grant of citizenship can get their citizenship rights in other states where CAA is applicable.
Q. The people who have cases pending against them in courts from entering India illegally, can they benefit from CAA?
A. If they are found to be eligible as per provisions of CAA, then they may not be termed as illegal migrants.
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