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Even as protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR), the rules for the CAA being drafted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) say that applicants, besides proving they came to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh, will now also have to submit a proof of their religious beliefs. An official was reported to have said that Aadhar can be used as proof of religion. Firstly, if the person is a refugee, how can he legally possess any government document? is the government admitting loopholes in its system and accepting that Aadhar can be procured by an illegal immigrant? Or is this an indication that Indians of the “politically acceptable” religious denomination will be or could be granted citizenship even if they do not have adequate documents under the controversial, to be launched NPR-NRC process? Secondly, how does Aadhar become proof of religious belief when its enrolment form does not seek this information in the first place
According to an official of the Home Ministry, the applicant can produce any document by the Indian government acquired before December 31, 2014 in which the applicant has declared their religion as Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Christian, Parsi or Buddhist.
The Indian Express quote the official saying, “For example, if someone has enrolled his / her children in a government school, he / she would have declared their religion. If someone has acquired Aadhaar before December 31, 2014 and has declared his/ her religion as being from among the six mentioned in the Act, it would be acceptable… Any form of government document declaring religion will be accepted.”
The Hindustan Times reported an MHA official saying, “Requirement of proof of their religious beliefs and their entry date will be included in the rules. This will useful so that random persons do not apply for Indian citizenship.”
Another official told HT, “The law allows for faster citizenship in two cases religious persecution or fear of religious persecution, therefore a check back on whether there was religious persecution isn’t critical.” This, however remains to be factually incorrect as, nowhere does the law mention that citizenship will be provided in cases of religious persecution or fear of religious persecution. The proof of religious beliefs is clearly being asked to ensure that no Muslim immigrant is granted citizenship.
The government, that is set to grant citizenship to people belonging to these six faiths on the basis of having faced religious persecution in the countries mentioned, is unlikely to ask proof of the same presuming that they were in India because they were persecuted against on the basis of their religion or feared being persecuted. Many Opposition parties and even the general public have questioned the how the government will prove who has come to India due to or fearing religious persecution.
According to other reports, the Central government will incorporate some Assam-specific provisions in the rules for the implementation of the CAA. It is likely to give a smaller window of only three months to those who want to apply for Indian citizenship in Assam under the CAA fearing that a longer period could increase apprehensions over CAA in the state where massive protests against the Act are still taking place with the people fearing that it will prove a threat to their indigenous identity.
At present, four states – Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal have passed resolutions against the CAA saying that would not implement the CAA in their states. However, the CAA does not fall under the purview of the state governments and hence the state CMs are likely to have little luck with the same. With regards to the same, an MHA official told HT, “The only hiccup will come during the verification stage when the role of the local police comes into play but even that can be conducted by central agencies.”
The CAA was passed by the Parliament on December 11, 2019 and the MHA notified that the provisions would come into force from January 10, 2020. However, the rules under the Act are yet to be formulated.
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