Why Are There Protests Around the Citizenship Amendment Bill?

Sakina Burhan
December 17, 2019 |

Amid the huge debate, the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was cleared last week in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha with thumping majority. The Home Minister introduced the Bill on Dec 9, 2019, to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955, providing citizenship rights to certain religious communities prosecuted in neighbouring countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

CAB, now Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) since its clearance, has drawn the nation into protests and those supporting it. Here is a look at what it is and why it is being opposed:

What Does the Bill Propose?

In keeping with the poll promise of the NDA government, the Citizenship Amendment Bill was introduced to accord citizenship rights to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian migrants from neighbouring countries, and relaxes the provisions of Citizenship Act 1955.

This implies that immigrants from these religions do not have to prove residency in India for 11+ years and can grant citizenship in just five years. This makes it easy for migrants and refugees to gain access to the rights enshrined to every Indian citizen and will also cover illegal migrants (those who cannot provide proper documents about their entry or residence in India).

Who will be affected by the CAA?

While the Bill will greatly benefit the migrants and refugees from neighbouring countries who fled prosecution, the migrants from religions omitted in the Bill have a tough road ahead. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act grants citizenship to migrants of the six religions mentioned in the Bill, from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, who had arrived in India before Dec 31 2014. Anyone belonging to these religions will gain citizenship even without the requisite documents, and cannot be deported. However, those opposing the Bill feel it violates the right to equality enshrined in the constitution as it discriminates against the Muslim immigrants.

The government, in reaction, says the legislation will apply to those “forced or compelled to seek shelter in India due to persecution on the ground of religion”. Since the minority groups escaping persecution come from Muslim-majority nations, the government and those supporting it justify it. However, the bill leaves out prosecuted Ahmadiyya Muslim sect and Shias in Pakistan, Rohingya Muslims, Rohingya Hindus in Burma, and Hindu & Tamil Christians in Sri Lanka.

What are the demands of those opposing the CAA?

There are majorly two protests for the Citizenship Amendment Act, one in the North-east states while the other in the rest of India. The reasons for protests are different in both cases.

In the North-east, the opposition to the CAA stems due to the bill providing citizenship to a large immigrant population which may alter the linguistic and demographic uniqueness of the region. This also conflicts with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), for it identified illegal immigrants to be relocated from Assam and other states. However, since the protests, the CAA will not apply in the tribal areas of Tripura, Mizoram, Assam and Meghalaya because of being included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Also, the CAA will not apply to areas that fall under the Inner Limit notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.

The protests all over India, especially in Delhi, Kerala and West Bengal, however, allege the bill is being used to evict the Muslim population from India which is against the ethos of the Constitution. Many see it as a tool to create a political and religious divide in the country and has got huge pushback with heated protests in parts of the country.

What is the road ahead for CAA?

Although the CAA has been passed in both houses and signed by President Ramnath Kovind, there are petitions signed by various groups opposing the Bill over different reasons. The Bill is yet to be made effective, and it is up to the government on a date of choosing. The Bill has received mixed reactions, with celebrations by refugees in many parts of the country while there are strong oppositions and protests that have escalated into a law and order situation in some cases.

Whatever the scenario, a peaceful and amicable discussion is necessary to ensure the bill provides the rights to prosecuted immigrants without being discriminatory in any form.