India is seeing widespread protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act that the Union government has brought in, and against the NRC – the National Register of Citizens – an exercise that is likely to be carried out across India to identify who is a citizen and who isn’t. So why does the government want to bring in CAA and NRC? And why are people protesting against them? Here’s an explainer.
Let’s talk about the CAA first. The Citizenship Amendment Act that has been passed by the Parliament, amends the Citizenship Act of 1955, and exempts some people from being called “illegal immigrants” in India. The people who have been exempt by this law need to fulfil three criteria:
Firstly, they must be from Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Afghanistan. Secondly, they must be either Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Parsi, Jain, or Buddhist. And thirdly, they must have entered India before December 31, 2014.
There has been a lot of criticism against this law: Firstly, why only these three countries? To this, the government has said that the minorities in these countries face persecution. Well if it’s a question of persecution, then why are Tamils from Sri Lanka not included?
The second question that critics have asked is, why only these six religions. Specifically, why not Muslims? Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar have fled facing persecution, Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan face persecution. To this, the government has not given any direct answers.
And therefore, people are calling the law discriminatory, and unconstitutional.
The other fear that people have is – what happens if there is a nationwide exercise for making a register of citizens – like the NRC in Assam. In Assam, there were more than 19 lakh people who were left out of the citizens list in Assam – and according to some reports, this includes at least 5 lakh Hindus.
Now, this may not be because they’re all illegal immigrants – in many cases, people simply could not get the documents to prove their citizenship. They will all face foreigners tribunals and may be thrown in detention camps.
Critics also say that if the government brings in a nationwide NRC, then there is a possibility that people who are Hindus or Christians or Sikhs or Parsi or Jain or Buddhist – basically everyone except for Muslims and Jews and Atheists – will be able to use CAA to somehow prove their citizenship. The fear is that Muslims will be left out.
The government, however, is insisting right now that the CAA has nothing to do with NRC. However, Home Minister Amit Shah himself has linked the CAA and NRC on many occasions.
On December 22, at Ramlila Maidan, the Prime Minister said that ever since his govt came to power in 2014, NRC has never been discussed anywhere. But Amit Shah has mentioned it in Parliament.
On November 20, Union Home Minister Amit Shah told the Parliament that NRC will be implemented nationwide. He had then added that nobody from any religion or community should have any apprehension.
There is a lot of fear, anger, and disappointment among the people following the passing of CAA. On the one hand, people in Assam say they do not want any illegal immigrants, no matter what their religion. On the other, people have questioned the discriminatory nature of India’s policies if NRC and CAA come together.
There have been lots of protests across the country against the law – but a tipping point came when visuals of police storming and lathi charging students of Jamia Milia University in Delhi came out. To protest police action on Jamia students, Aligarh Muslim University students decided to protest – and once again, India saw visuals of police targeting students.
Student anger then erupted across the country, and there have been protests in almost every city in the country. Many organisations, political parties and civilians gave joined these protesrs. And in some of these protests, people have died in police firing.
The Prime Minister's statement shows that the BJP is taking a step back. But those organising protests say they don't want NRC on the backburner, but they want it scrapped. And if the NRC cannot be scrapped, the CAA in its current form is completely unacceptable.