The Modi government recently came up with the Citizenship Amendment Bill that was passed by both houses of parliament and became The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 after receiving the President’s assent. The act invoked criticism and protests throughout the country and people are coming out on streets to oppose the passing of this act.
In this context, there’s an interesting story… In a mohalla somewhere in a town in India, there were two brothers and their wives staying together in one household in that mohalla. One of the couples had two daughters and decided to give one in adoption to the other couple. The condition for adoption was that the daughter should be raised well and get all the opportunities that her sister would get. Both couples started living separately with their respective daughters. The daughter given in adoption started facing harassment and torture by her adoptive parents, they starved her, did not send her to school and kept on taunting and beating her. Her natural parents came to know about her condition and decided that they would take her back with them. As soon as they decided to bring her back, people from their mohalla started asking why are they not allowing tortured children from other families to live with them. People started protesting and shouting that this is injustice and that taking their daughter back with them was injustice towards all tortured children in the mohalla.
You must be thinking, how absurd this demand is. The protesters coming out on streets to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act have a similar absurd argument against the act. The Act amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to allow Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan to obtain Indian citizenship easily. There are different ways prescribed under the Act of 1955, for becoming an Indian citizen. One of which is citizenship by naturalisation.
A person can be eligible to apply for citizenship by naturalisation if he fulfils all the necessary qualifications provided in schedule 3 of the Act. The most important qualification is that he must have stayed in India for an aggregate minimum period of 11 years. The amendment act relaxes this criterion for the people belonging to above-mentioned 6 religions coming from the above listed 3 countries and brings it down to 5 years minimum aggregate stay in India. The Amendment Act also excludes these people from the definition of ‘illegal migrant’ for the purposes of this act. The cut-off date prescribed for these persons to have entered in India is 31st of December 2014.
To put it simply, any person staying in India for minimum 11 years and fulfilling other necessary qualifications can apply for citizenship by naturalisation. The Amendment Act only makes it a little easier for minorities from these 3 neighbouring countries to become Indian citizens. So, the Amendment Act does not take away any person’s right to apply for Indian citizenship, whatsoever may be his religion, race, caste, gender or place of birth. It merely makes a special provision for some people. And while doing so it does not in any way violate the mandate of Article 14 of the constitution.
Article 14 guarantees all persons’ right to equality before the law and equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. This guarantee does not envision or intends absolute mathematical equality. It allows the state to make reasonable classifications. The state can make special laws for a specified group of people. The only requirement is that this classification and the object behind it has to have reasonable Nexus. The CAA intends to protect the people who were persecuted on religious grounds in our 3 neighbouring countries.
It is a historic fact that this sub-continent was once one nation and Hinduism and the religions born out of Hinduism originated and grew in this sub-continent. Partition on religious grounds was a historic undeniable fact too. It was the hope that both countries will treat all their people equally and ensure their dignity. While in India the population of religious minorities is on a continuous rise, the population of minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh witnessed a drastic fall since 1947.
The population of a specific group of people in a country does not fall such drastically without any reason and the reason, in this case, is the systematic persecution of these minorities by these Islamic states. These persecuted, tortured people in order to survive, kept fleeing to India. When persecuted people flee, they don’t cross seven oceans, they find the nearest safe place. And India is not just the nearest safe place for these minorities but also the place where their roots are. The promises made at the time of partition oblige us to open our doors for these people and give them equal rights as other Indian citizens.
A defined territory and a defined population are prerequisites of a sovereign nation. And a democratically elected government of the sovereign nation has all the right to decide within the constitutional framework, upon citizenship of the nation. The CAA perfectly fits into our constitutional philosophy and framework. We are not in any way denying any person belonging to any religion or nation, the opportunity to get Indian citizenship. We are simply offering added protection to a class of people. Why not provide the same to Rohingyas from Myanmar and to Shias from Pakistan is as absurd an argument as the one asking the couple to bring home all tortured children from their mohalla. Law strikes where the need is the greatest and it was high time that our lawmakers realised the need for bringing in this law.