Everything you should know about CAA and NRC
It is perhaps a first in independent India's political history. The protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019 has spread to almost every corner of the country, yet the reasons for the protest vary with the geography. Some are protesting because the CAA allegedly violates the secular identity of the country while others fear that it will endanger their linguistic and cultural identity. Yet others believe that while the CAA itself is innocuous, combined with the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise that has run into controversy in Assam, it will become a tool to exclude the Muslim population of the country. That the Union government has been hit hard by this allegation is evident from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has publicly contradicted home minister Amit Shah's assertion that a nationwide NRC will be prepared by 2024.
So why has the country against the NRC, which has made even the Modi government do a volte face? How is it connected to the CAA? If implemented, what will be their implications for the aam aadmi, irrespective of religion or geography?
What is the CAA?
According to the CAA, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and Parsi migrants who have entered India illegally-that is, without a visa-on or before December 31, 2014 from the Muslim-majority countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and have stayed in the country for five years, are eligible to apply for Indian citizenship.
Why is the provision extended only to people of six religions, and not Muslims, and why does it apply only to people coming from these three countries?
The Union government claims that people of these six faiths have faced persecution in these three Islamic countries, Muslims haven't. It is, therefore, India's moral obligation to provide them shelter.
So, is the provision open only to those who have been persecuted in the three countries?
No, the CAA itself does not mention the word 'persecution' anywhere, contrary to the BJP's assertion that the act covers only persecuted people. And since persecution is not the criterion, it does discriminate against illegal Muslim immigrants from these three countries.
If the act is not only about people facing persecution, why are migrants from other countries -- such as Hindus from Sri Lanka -- not eligible to apply for citizenship under this act? Or Muslim (Rohingya) migrants from Myanmar?
The government says this is a time-bound provision to provide relief to immigrants who have suffered in Islamic countries because India got divided on religious lines. India has, from time to time, provided citizenship to immigrants of all religions from different countries. Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus, too, were given citizenship in the 1970s and 1980s. The Union government has openly said that the Rohingyas are a threat to national security. Even an Islamic country like Saudi Arabia has deported Rohingya migrants. The BJP's logic is that Hindu migrants have only India to fall back on while Muslim migrants have several Islamic countries to seek shelter in.
How is the CAA connected to the NRC?
The two have no connection. The NRC is a count of legitimate Indian citizens. Barring the state of Assam, this exercise has never been done anywhere in the country. Union home minister Amit Shah has said he will frame a nationwide NRC by 2024 to detect illegal migrants. On December 22, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government had never said anything about an NRC except in Assam.
What will be the basis of the proposed nationwide NRC?
The Union home ministry had framed the rules for a nationwide NRC in 2003, following an amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955. These rules categorically state that the central government shall, for the purpose of the NRC, carry out a house-to-house enumeration for collection of specified particulars relating to each family and individual residing in a local area, including the citizenship status. So, unlike what many are claiming, people will not be asked to submit documents related to their grandparents. Just like people present their identity cards or any other document for registering their names in the voter list or getting an Aadhaar card, similar documents will need to be provided for the NRC.
Any document related to date and place of birth will suffice as proof of citizenship. However, the decision on what documents will be acceptable is still pending. They are likely to include voter ID cards, passports, the Aadhaar card, driving licences, insurance papers, birth certificates, school-leaving certificates, documents relating to land or home or other government-issued documents. If a person is illiterate and does not have the relevant documents, the authorities will allow them to bring a witness. Other evidence and community verification will also be allowed.
Is the NRC an exercise to exclude Muslims?
No. Even in Assam, of the 1.9 million people excluded from the NRC, 1.3 million are Hindu and from indigenous tribes, as unofficial sources confirm. That also explains why the BJP has rejected the NRC in Assam. A scrutiny of the 2003 guidelines for a nationwide NRC reveals that there is no provision that can exclude a legal Muslim citizen from the NRC.
But the CAA does exclude Muslims.
The CAA excludes Muslim immigrants who have entered India illegally, not legal Indian Muslim citizens.
However, since the CAA will provide citizenship to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from three countries, only Muslim immigrants will be left out when the NRC is rolled out.
Is it not a clever way for the RSS-BJP to realise their dream of a Hindu Rashtra?
Partly true. The CAA will provide citizenship to illegal non-Muslim migrants from three countries and who have entered India before December 31, 2014. An honest NRC should exclude illegal migrants of all religions. That, however, will depend on the intent of the government and a framework that is flawless, a huge challenge for Amit Shah. There is nothing wrong per se with the exercise of detecting illegal migrants-irrespective of their religion-but to discriminate on the basis of religion is against India's secular ethos, especially when the CAA does not specify that it will cover people who have faced religious persecution.