In 2016, the Lok Sabha first heard the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAA Bill), which modifies the Citizenship Act of 1955. A Joint Parliamentary Committee was given the measure, and it released its report on January 7th, 2019. The Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill on January 8, 2019, but it expired with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha. On December 9, 2019, Amit Shah, the minister of home affairs, introduced the bill in the 17th Lok Sabha, and on December 10, 2019, it was approved. The Rajya Sabha also approved the legislation on December 11. The CAA was passed to confer Indian citizenship to unauthorised immigrants who entered the country before December 31, 2014. The Act was passed to safeguard migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who practised six different religions, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians. A person shall be considered eligible under this Act if they have spent the last 12 months and 11 of the previous 14 years living in India. An illegal immigrant group’s maximum residence period has been lowered from 11 to 5 years. The statute’s purpose is to defend members of the minority populations who have endured discrimination because of their religious convictions in the three countries. The CAA was formally informed on January 10, 2020. Shortly after the CAA was passed, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) submitted a challenge under Article 32 of the Constitution, questioning its constitutionality. Other plaintiffs quickly followed. The IUML petition currently has more than 200 petitions attached to it. These petitions mostly charge the CAA with prejudice against religious people. They further assert that it violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution’s fundamental rights to equality and dignity for illegal immigrants.
Following the earlier rules of the Citizenship Act of 1955, an unauthorised immigrant is ineligible to file a petition for citizenship. They are unable to apply for citizenship or register as Indian citizens. According to Section 5(a) of the Citizenship Act of 1955, a person can only register as an Indian citizen if they had lived there for seven years before doing so. Before seeking citizenship, a minimum of 12 months of residence in India is also required. According to the Citizenship Act of 1955, one of the requirements for obtaining citizenship through naturalisation is that the candidate must have lived in India for 11 out of the previous 14 years, as well as the last 12 months.
Questioning the constitutionality of the Act
Firstly, the Act targets the Muslim community and violates not only the basic principles of secularism but also liberalism, equality and justice. It denies citizenship to Shia, Baloch, and Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan and Hazaras in Afghanistan, who are severely persecuted. It will also not cover oppressed people in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, where Rohingya Muslims and Tamils seek asylum in India. Many Muslims in India could lose their full citizenship if the CAA is merged with the planned all-India National Register of Citizens (NCR). The planned NRC will undoubtedly cause many Indians, both Muslims and non-Muslims, to lose their citizenship. Muslims will not be able to apply for citizenship through the CAA, while non-Muslims will be able to. As a result, the NRC and the CAA together may unfairly exclude Indian Muslims. Second, it goes against article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which addresses equality before the law. Bhutan and Sri Lanka are omitted if this statute intends to protect only minorities from neighbouring countries with a state religion. After all, Buddhism’s unique status is emphasised in the constitutions of each of these nations. The exclusion of Bhutan and Sri Lanka removes any connection between the law’s intended purpose and the classifications it makes, even if one assumes that the State has the right to grant special protection to migrants who are persecuted in neighbouring countries where a state religion is practised at the expense of all other migrants who are oppressed. Thirdly, it exacerbates the worries that the north-eastern states already have about the citizenship of many unauthorised Bangladeshi immigrants, including fears about demographic change, lost livelihood opportunities, and the erasure of indigenous culture.
Additionally, it goes against the Assam Accord, which Rajiv Gandhi and the All-Assam Student Union (ASU) agreed to in 1971. It set the 24th of March as the final day for foreign immigrants. This would also lead to economic issues because those who leave Bangladesh can legally access employment and other resources, limiting options for the citizens. Since migration has previously been a contentious topic in the State of Assam, political rights will also be restricted. Jews and atheists have also been overlooked. The inclusion of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan in the same group is also not entirely justified historically, as Myanmar, not Afghanistan, should have been involved in the Act. Even Nepal and Sri Lanka should have been included if they are considered neighbouring nations. If we follow this logic, even though Bhutan has a state religion, Buddhism and Non-Buddhist missionary activities are very limited, even celebrating their religious holidays. The reason for including only Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh is stated in the “Statement of Objective and Reason” of this Act. The Act has not mentioned the reason for the reduction of years from 11 to 5.
The measure, which provides citizenship to those who are less deserving and denies equal protection to those who come from unsettled lands as “illegal migrants,” breaches article 14 of the Indian Constitution of 1950. A Rohingya from Myanmar who had suffered in their homeland but a Hindu from Bangladesh who had recently fled from Bangladesh for economic reasons will be granted citizenship due to CAA. Also, even after meeting the standards for naturalisation, a Tamil from Zaffna who fled enormous atrocities in Sri Lanka will never be granted citizenship.
Author(s) Name: Anuja Barooah (NMMS School of law, Mumbai)
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