18 Mar 2020
In 2019 the BJP Government introduced the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which sought to make changes to the citizenship laws in the country on the basis of religion, thereby threatening the secular fabric of the country that is enshrined in the Constitution. August 2019 also saw the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, which wreaked havoc in the state declaring the citizenship of many as ‘doubtful’. And, in 2019, the BJP Government declared its agenda to extend the NRC to the whole country, requiring everyone to prove their citizenship, and calling it the National Population Register (NPR). These changes not only threaten the secular fabric of our country but also have far reaching consequences for all indigenous and migrant communities across the country, including the coastal communities in Goa.
What is CAA- Citizenship Amendment Act 2019?
- CAA is an Amendment to the Indian Citizenship Act of 1955.
- Under CAA, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who entered India on or before 31 December 2014, will be granted citizenship.
- CAA has reduced the naturalisation time (to become a citizen) from 11 years to 5 years for these persons.
- CAA allows for cancelation of the Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) card for violation of any law in force.
What is NRC- National Register of Citizens and NPR- National Population Register?
- National Register of Citizens is a move in Assam to wean out alleged illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
- The NRC list released on 31 August 2019 excluded over 19 Lakh people who must file an appeal before the Foreigners Tribunals, the process for which remains unclear, putting lakhs in a precarious position.
- Detention Camps are set up to detain people declared foreigners or those against whom proceedings are still pending before the Foreigners Tribunal.
- Vide a Gazette Notification of 31 July 2019, and as clarified by Home Minister Amit Shah in Parliament, the essence of the NRC will eventually be extended to the whole of India to be known as the NPR.
What are the problems with these changes?
In the NRC process in Assam, one was required to furnish two kinds of proofs: Firstly, to prove that either of the persons parents or grandparents appeared in the NRC, 1951 or in any voter list prior to 24 March 1971, or the person themselves appeared in any of these lists. After this, one must prove a direct connect to this person (legacy document), through the provision of “List B” documents. The issue arises also because proving this is more difficult than one can anticipate. The spellings in these documents must tally completely. For eg., if my mother Sangeeta’s name is spelt as Sangeeta in her document, and Sangita in mine, I am disqualified from inclusion in NRC. Illiteracy, meagre finances and lack of access to legal aid further aggravates the situation for this group.
When the NPR will come in, these difficulties will be worsened tenfold as the Government will be looking at proofs of identity of approximately 138 crore people, many of whom are illiterate and do not have the financial means to fight their cases. We will have to furnish identities from our grandparents, and the process for the same is unclear and is often left to the discretion of the officer in charge, with barely any checks and balances in place. Imagine the hardships that will be faced by indigenous people from tribal communities in Goa, orphans, illiterate people who have not maintained records, migrant workers who barely have their own birth certificates, all will have to prove their citizenship. And if their claims fail, they could be detained in these detention camps.
Do these Amendments pass the test of reasonable classification and rational nexus as per Article 14 and 15 of our already vulnerable Constitution?
No, they do not, as they differentiate arbitrarily on the basis of religion and are meant to exclude certain communities and alter the secular fabric of the country. CAA protects “communities (who) have faced persecution on grounds of religion” yet excludes the Ahmadiya Muslims from Pakistan or Hazara Muslims from Afghanistan who are being bombed by the hundreds. If the rationale is that these three countries have state religions, why were Sri Lanka (state religion Buddhist) and Myanmar (predominantly Buddhist) excluded? Sri Lanka has persecuted Tamil’s and Myanmar has Rohingya Muslims who have been expelled violently. This Act clearly discriminates based on religion, particularly to exclude Muslims, which is unconstitutional under Article 14 and 15. Moreover, is this an appropriate use of taxpayers’ money? A budget of nearly 4000 crore Rupees has been approved for the NPR. In a country where unemployment is on an all-time high and the economy is crashing, is this how we want out money to be spent?
Another amendment that has been sneaked in CAA allows the cancelation of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) status when an OCI Cardholder violates any law in force, after being granted a hearing. Violation of ‘any law in force’ gives quite a wide ambit for Government officials to harass OCI cardholders, who could lose their OCI status for merely protesting the Government. Loosing your OCI status, especially for many Goan’s in the coastal belt who have acquired Portuguese citizenship, means losing all your ties to Goa. Ownership of land will also become a problem as you will cease to have any connection to India.
Coastal Communities have already faced many challenges and their land and livelihoods have been threatened over the years. Moreover, some changes to the law could further threaten their rights, as they may stand to lose their OCI status, or their citizenship, if they are unable to furnish the documents required to the satisfaction of the deciding authority. The large migrant worker population, including those working in the fishing industry, would also face great hardship, with many of them illiterate and not having any documentation. It is therefore imperative that we take a stand to protect our communities and to oppose such changes in the law, which do not protect or promote our interests, but are made merely for a particular political party’s political agenda.