The Indian Citizenship Amendment Act Explained

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The Indian Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed by the Indian parliament in December 2019 and has since sparked debate and protests throughout the country. The Citizenship Act of 1955 is amended by the Act, which provides a road to citizenship for non-Muslim migrants who entered India illegally from Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan before December 2014. The CAA has been chastised for rejecting Muslim immigration and for breaking the Indian Constitution’s secular ideals.

Supporters of the Act claim that it is a humanitarian measure that provides asylum to persecuted minorities from surrounding countries. Opponents, on the other hand, claim that the Act is discriminatory, unlawful, and divisive. The CAA has also been linked to the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), which intends to detect illegal immigrants in India and has sparked worries about potential discrimination against Indian Muslims.

Overview of the Indian Citizenship Amendment Act

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a contentious law that establishes eligibility for Indian citizenship for persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, was passed by the Indian Parliament in December 2019. In general, this Act expedites the process of awarding Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants who claim to have fled religious persecution in those three countries.

The CAA’s silence on Muslim migrants is what makes it so divisive. It departs from India’s long tradition of prioritizing secularism over religion, which has been bolstered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, by implying that certain religious backgrounds are eligible for special treatment. The Act is also arguably unlawful because it discriminates based on religion, which is specifically forbidden under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

Changes to India’s Citizenship Laws

  1. Introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA): The CAA, which changes the Citizenship Act of 1955, was passed by the Indian Parliament in December 2019. The CAA offers non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who entered India before December 31, 2014, a road to citizenship.
  2. National Register of Citizens (NRC): The NRC is a proposed record that would include the names of all Indian nationals who live in the country. The Indian government intends to implement this record in Assam, a northeastern Indian state, with intentions to expand it nationwide. The NRC demands people provide documentary proof of their citizenship and those who do not may be considered illegal immigrants.
  3. Citizenship by Naturalization: An modification to the Citizenship Act in 2015 decreased the duration of residency required for citizenship by naturalization from 11 years to 5 years. Persons of Indian heritage who are married to Indian nationals or who have resided in India for more than seven years can also petition for citizenship through naturalization.
  4. Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI): The OCI card was introduced in 2005 as a form of permanent residency for Indian-origin foreign citizens. OCI cardholders enjoy various rights and benefits, including the ability to work in India and travel to and from the country without a visa.
  5. Person of Indian Origin (PIO) Card: The PIO card, launched in 2002, had some of the same benefits as the OCI card. The PIO card, however, was phased out in 2017, and all PIO cardholders were compelled to convert their cards to OCI cards.

These revisions to India’s citizenship legislation have stirred debate and protests across the country. Critics claim the CAA is discriminatory and breaches the Indian constitution, while advocates claim it provides a humanitarian road to citizenship for persecuted minorities from neighboring nations. The NRC’s implementation has also been controversial, with detractors suggesting that it will be used to target and disenfranchise Indian Muslims.

How Does the Indian Citizenship Amendment Act Work?

The Indian Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) proposes to grant Indian citizenship to persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians. Other religions, such as Islam, are not mentioned.

The Act establishes a special pathway for non-Muslim immigration from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. It specifies that such people will be granted Indian citizenship provided they can demonstrate that they were in India on or before December 31, 2014. This is a substantially shorter period of proof than the typical 11-year residency requirement for other Indian citizenship applicants.

Furthermore, the CAA excludes illegal migrants from consideration for citizenship in India; these are those who entered India without legitimate documentation or who stayed past the expiration date of their visa.

The Controversy Surrounding the CAA

Since its adoption in 2019, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has been a hotly debated topic in India. The CAA modifies India’s Citizenship Act of 1955 by granting undocumented immigrants from three adjacent countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian a road to citizenship. However, the Act excludes Muslims from this road to citizenship, raising concerns about religious discrimination.

The CAA, according to critics, is illegal and contradicts India’s secular ideals since it discriminates against Muslims and violates the principles of equal treatment and non-discrimination. Protests and rallies against the CAA have erupted around the country, with some turning violent. The government has defended the Act, claiming that it is meant to protect religious minorities who have endured persecution in their native countries and that it does not deprive any Indian person of citizenship. The CAA has been challenged in the Supreme Court of India, and the case is still ongoing there.

Who is Covered Under the CAA?

  1. Non-Muslim migrants: The CAA applies to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who entered India before December 31, 2014, and have been living in the country for at least five years. It allows them to apply for Indian citizenship.
  2. Six religious groups: The CAA covers six religious groups – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians – who face persecution in the three countries mentioned above. However, it specifically excludes Muslims, who form the majority of the population in these countries.
  3. Illegal immigrants: The CAA does not apply to illegal immigrants, regardless of their religion. It only covers migrants who entered India legally and have been living in the country for at least five years.
  4. Overseas citizens: Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) are not covered under the CAA. They are already considered to be Indian citizens and are not affected by the new law. 
  5. Criticism: The CAA has been criticized by many, who argue that it violates the secular principles of the Indian Constitution, discriminates against Muslims, and is part of the ruling government’s agenda to marginalize the community. Protests against the law have erupted across the country, with many calling for its repeal.

The Citizenship Amendment Act has been a hotly debated topic in India. Some feel that it is vital to defend the rights of persecuted minorities, while others see it as discriminatory targeting Muslim communities. Individuals must educate themselves on the many sections of the legislation and comprehend who is protected by it. Citizens must also be kept up to date on any new developments concerning the CAA and its impact on the country’s socio-political situation.

Steps Taken by States to Protest Against the CAA

People in India have been protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) since its passage in December 2019. According to reports, since the BJP came to power in 2014, this has been one of India’s largest and longest-running public demonstrations. In reaction, state governments and political parties filed petitions opposing the measure, passed resolutions opposing it in their legislatures, and launched boycotts of Union government initiatives.

The CAA’s opponents scored a major victory in January 2020, when 11 states and union territories issued resolutions against it:

  • Andhra Pradesh
  • Punjab
  • Meghalaya
  • Mizoram
  • Telangana
  • Manipur
  • Kerala
  • Rajasthan
  • Chhattisgarh
  • Delhi
  • Puducherry

Furthermore, several other state governments, including Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Assam, have filed legal challenges to the CAA. Despite brutal crackdowns ordered by the Union Government, the protests have continued, demonstrating how vital this issue is to people across India.

The Supreme Court’s Ruling on the CAA

Since its passage in December 2019, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has been challenged in court. In response to the legal challenges, the Supreme Court of India commenced monitoring procedures and stayed the execution of the law until further notice. The CAA’s constitutionality was decided by the Supreme Court in January 2021.

The Supreme Court found that “the CAA was constitutionally valid,” but voiced reservations about its potential to discriminate against specific religions. The justices noted that “the law does not provide any opportunity for naturalization for illegal migrants of other religions,” and that, while the law does not directly specify any religion, it is “facially discriminatory” against specific faiths.

However, petitioners opposing the CAA were unable to demonstrate that this discrimination will result in any “real-life disadvantages” due to a lack of evidence. As a result, they decided that there was no need to repeal or amend current laws. The court also ordered data on citizenship laws and regulations to monitor the CAA’s on-the-ground implementation and assure compliance with constitutional norms.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) of 2019 has added to India’s already complex citizenship system. The Act intends to expedite the naturalization process for persecuted non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh while excluding Muslim minorities from the same three countries. This has sparked outrage both domestically and abroad, as it is perceived as contradicting the secular norms contained in the Indian Constitution.

The administration has claimed that the law is intended to help persecuted minorities and does not violate the fundamental principle of equality before the law. Whatever the interpretation, the CAA has sparked debates in India concerning religious discrimination and the overall direction of India’s citizenship policy.