With protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) raging across India, the Ministry of Home Affairs on Tuesday released a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the law. The five-page document answers 10 questions ranging from whether CAA affects any Indian citizens, if any Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh can ever get citizenship, and whether CAA will gradually exclude Indian Muslims from Indian citizenship, among others.
Stating that the Narendra Modi government doesn’t do injustice by anyone, Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday had said: "Oppose as much as you can but the Narendra Modi government is firm that CAA will be implemented and all these refugees will get Indian citizenship and live here with honour.”
On CAA and NRC
Continuing the government’s flip-flop on the relationship between the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the FAQs stated that the CAA has “nothing to do” with the NRC.
However, a clip of Home Minister Amit Shah in West Bengal from April 2019 — prior to the introduction of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill — now doing the rounds, has him clearly state: “The CAB will come, all refugees will be given citizenship, and after that a National Register of Citizens will be formed. Refugees do not have to worry. Infiltrators will surely have to worry. Understand the chronology: first CAB, then NRC, and NRC is not just for West Bengal but for the full country. Infiltration is a country-wide problem. It’s a more acute problem for Bengal as it is a border state.”
However, the FAQ continues to state that the legal provisions regarding the NRC have been part of The Citizenship Act, 1955 since December 2004, which the recent amendment has not altered.
On religious criteria
The FAQ reiterated the CAA is relevant only for Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi and Christian foreigners who have come to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan only on account of persecution based on their religion. It also states that it is for those who have arrived in India prior to December 31, 2014.
The FAQ stated that the CAA is a faster route for these specific refugees to get an Indian citizenship through naturalisation.
CAA has reduced the time that one is required to have resided in the country from 11 years to 5 years. It adds that CAA “does not apply to any other foreigners, including Muslims migrating to India from any country including these three countries.” The FAQs also clarify that the appropriate rules for getting citizenship under CAA are still being framed.
While the religious criteria is very clear in the CAA, the FAQs stated that any other form of persecution — such as on the basis of race, gender, membership of a political or social group, language, ethnicity — will not be covered. “The CAA is a very focused law which deals specifically with foreigners of six minority community groups hailing from three neighbouring countries which have their distinct state religion,” it stated.
On exclusion of Muslims
It addresses the criticism about the systematic exclusion of Muslims, but maintains that Muslims are not being excluded from Indian citizenship and that the Act will “not apply to any Indian citizen”. Saying that CAA will not deprive an existing Indian citizen of their citizenship, the FAQs say, “Rather it is a special law to enable certain foreigners facing a particular situation in three neighboring countries to get Indian citizenship.”
Another question the FAQs address is whether Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will ever get Indian citizenship. The MHA has clarified that the legal process for applying for Indian citizenship will still apply, and that the CAA does not alter these. Referring to past cases -- like 14,864 Bangladeshis who were given Indian citizenship after the settlement of the Indo-Bangladesh boundary issues in 2014 -- the FAQs state that if found eligible, Muslims from these three countries can also be granted citizenship. This however has led people to ask what was the need for CAA.
The FAQ stated that the process of deportation happens only after determination of such a person as a "foreigner" under The Foreigners Act, 1946 and that there is “nothing automatic, mechanical or discriminatory in this exercise”.
However, while the CAA itself does not affect Indian citizens and only excludes Muslim refugees from its ambit, the Opposition has raised it in the context of the NRC.
The Centre has promised to implement NRC across India by 2024. The NRC requires a person to establish that they are a citizen of this country. However, the criteria for who is eligible to be on the NRC is yet to be announced.
It has already been implemented in Assam where the contentious exercise excluded 19 lakh people from its final list of citizens. In Assam, persons had to produce documentary evidence of their citizenship and of their relationship to their ancestors, and that they or their ancestors were in the country prior to March 24, 1971.
Although the FAQs state that there is no relationship between the NRC and the CAA, there is fear that when the two are put together, it could alienate Muslims — like in Assam.
In Assam, those not on the NRC now have the option to appeal to a tribunal. If they can’t prove their citizenship, they will be declared a foreigner, will be stateless and will be held in detention centers, unless they can be deported.
The CAA guarantees a path to citizenship for Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Christians for people in these three countries. So if the country-wide NRC renders non-Muslims stateless (like it did in Assam for Bengali Hindus), they could get citizenship because of the CAA if they are from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan and entered the country before December 31, 2014.
However, Muslims could be discriminated against if their names do not make it to the NRC list as they would be considered illegal immigrants, and would not have CAA to rely on.
According to Scroll, Bengali Muslims were the ones most affected by the NRC in Assam as they had often been branded as being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The fears of the community were compounded with the introduction of the original inhabitants category in 2017. People classified under that particular category received 'less scrutiny' while at the same time few Muslim were alleged to have been deemed original inhabitants.
Constitutional lawyers have called both these legislations unconstitutional for it determines citizenship on the basis of faith. They have stated that it violates Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees equal protection of law to all persons, not just citizens.
With inputs from Manasa Rao.