For the past week, India has been facing fierce opposition from Muslims on its new Citizenship Amendment Act. The CAA has provoked a lot of fury, which is a clear sign of total confusion about the act.
The controversial act is said to provide that “any person belonging to [the] Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December 2014 will be treated as [a] citizen of India.” This seems fine, as nothing is better than to give citizenship to the persecuted minorities of the three mentioned Islamic states.
But there is a catch. The quoted text is missing the word “Muslim.” This omission has agitated Indian Muslims about their citizenship rights, and brought them out on the streets in protest. Moreover, many Muslim leaders have claimed that the CAA has put them in jeopardy and is against the spirit of the constitution. As a result, they are protesting, creating mayhem and sabotaging public properties to pressure the government. But for its part, the government claims that the CAA has nothing to do with Indian Muslims or their religion.
So what is the reality? Is this act something that could ruin the secularism and brotherhood of this nation, or is everything just fine?
To find an unbiased answer, first we have to know the background behind this controversial act. To do so, we have to use this fact as a tool, that it is an open secret that minorities living in these three countries are facing endless oppression based on religion. Furthermore, especially in Pakistan and Bangladesh, the persecution rate is very high. Their governments often abuse these minorities by introducing discriminatory laws against them.
At the time of the outbreak of the 1965 Indo-Pakistani war, Pakistan passed the Defense of Pakistan Ordinance and later the Enemy Property (Custody and Registration) Order II, under which Hindus were labeled as the enemy and as a result their property was expropriated by the state. Add to that a mass exodus in 1971 that forced minorities to flee from these states. Regular harassment that include forced conversions, blasphemy rules, and rapes of Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Persians and Chakma minorities by the Muslims of these Muslim-majority states, had triggered a large-scale exodus.
Now let’s move to the present, and the strongest criticism of the CAA, that it is discriminatory against Muslims, and many of the protesters assert that the act is a violation of Article 14 of the constitution. Yet we are all familiar with the fact that the constitution is for Indian citizens and not for foreign nationals. Foreign nationals cannot demand equality under the Indian constitution. It is prerogative to the government of India to accord citizenship to foreign nationals based on its national policy. Meanwhile the CAA addresses only three countries and notes the fact that Pakistan and Bangladesh were separated from India based on religion. So it is not rocket science to anticipate that Muslims under an Islamic constitution enjoy more liberty and rights than the minorities living in those nations.
Also, Muslims from all three listed nations still have the right to apply for asylum and citizenship under the basic law. Second, in many judgments, the Supreme Court has held that the principle of equality doesn’t mean that every law must have universal application for all persons who are not by nature, attainment or circumstances in the same position, as the varying needs of different classes of persons often require separate treatments.
So it is now clear that this act is not discriminatory against Muslims. If anyone still has doubts, then certainly he wants to include Muslims from those Muslim-majority states in India.
In addition to the above concerns, it is also being suggested that the CAA will trigger fresh migration of Hindus from Bangladesh. As it was clear in the act that the cutoff date for citizenship is December 31, 2014, it can only be applicable to Hindus who came to India before that date. So this question has no foundation. Also, most of the Hindus who were in Bangladesh have already left.
Nevertheless, people are also saying that the migration will put more burden on Assam. While the CAA applies to the whole country, it is not very likely that immigrants would only be settled in Assam, as many have already moved to other states to grab better economic opportunities. Therefore, persons facing religious persecution are not only settled in Assam but are staying in other parts of the country as well.
In spite of this, illegal immigration of Bangladeshi Muslims to Assam has ominous portents. These migrants have come for economic reasons and are a burden on the local resources. As a result, the demography of Assam has changed drastically; with 34% of its population Muslim, Assam is second only to Jammu and Kashmir in terms of Muslim population. Not only are these Muslims from Bangladesh affecting the political, cultural and linguistic aspects of Assam, but they are also sowing the seeds of radical Islam and terrorism in the state. According to reports of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, more than 182 cadres of two radical Islamist groups – the Muslim United Liberation Tigers Front of Asom (MULTA) and the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen – are operating fiercely against the Indian state in Assam.
So the citizenship amendment bill has nothing to do with the violation of the rights of the Indian Muslims but is surely discriminatory against Assamese Islamic radical groups.