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Opinion | A Move in The Right Direction: CAA Is against Persecutors, Not Muslims – News18

The Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 was given wings by the Government of India by notifying the Citizenship (Amendment) Rules 2024, on 12 March 2024. This has enabled the minority communities of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Buddhists, and Christians of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, who have been living in India as stateless people without any rights, to be entitled to citizenship in this country.

A large number of minority people, who had over the period entered India due to disturbances/religious persecutions in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, had been living in this country for the past many years devoid of basic rights. The new Act will help these persecuted people get a life of dignity.

The government since 2022 has allowed 31 district magistrates and home secretaries of nine states (Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Maharashtra) to grant citizenship to the displaced persons/migrants/refugees of the Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian communities who have come from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan under the Citizenship Act, 2019.

The main objective of bringing this amendment was to protect the rights of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians who have faced religious persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan on humanitarian grounds and in order to protect their religious beliefs. It also provides a clear and shorter road to citizenship for these religious minorities who had entered India illegally or overstayed their visa fearing atrocities in their home countries.

That new amendment gives citizenship rights to these people who had been living in India for many years illegally due to the expiry of their passport or forced by circumstance and religious persecution, to be eligible for citizenship of India, provided they had entered/migrated to India before 31 December 2014. In order to fast-track the citizenship of these migrants, the government intends to start a portal that will not insist upon any documentation; they will only need to show their stay in India prior to 2015.

The provisions of the Citizenship Act 1955 barred illegal migrants in India. Such persons who entered India without valid travel documents or entered with valid travel documents but stayed beyond the permitted period were defined as foreigners and were to be deported. These persons were debarred from obtaining Indian Citizenship. The government has brought out CAA as an enabling provision for persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

The amendment also grants such migrants immunity from any legal proceedings for illegally entering India and or exceeding their stay in India. However, before the amendment displaced persons/refugees from these countries had to live in India for at least 11 years to be eligible for the citizenship of India. The amendment has reduced the period from 11 years to five years for minorities to be eligible for citizenship of India.

The government has tried to dispel the apprehensions among the Muslim community that it is not aimed to disenfranchise and deport Muslims from India lacking valid citizenship papers or citizenship of any Indian irrespective of their religion. This Act is only for those persons who have suffered persecution for years and have no other shelter in the world except India.

The amendment will also facilitate the removal of legal barriers to rehabilitation and grant citizenship to eligible refugees from the three neighbouring countries and give them a chance to lead a dignified life after decades of suffering. It will provide citizenship rights, will protect their cultural, linguistic and social identity. This will also give them economic rights, including the right to purchase property, and employment as well as enable them free movement.

The provisions of the amended CAA Rules will apply to the areas covered by the Constitution’s Sixth Schedule. These are the autonomous areas i.e., tribal-dominated regions in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram. The migrants belonging to identified communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan based on religion can’t be given Indian citizenship if they are the residents of these areas.

The CAA does not apply to the states which impose an Inner-Line Permit (ILP) regime, which is basically applied in the areas of the northeast of India. ILP is a special permit required for the nonresident to enter and stay in these states for a limited period. The ILP system is only operational in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, Lakshadweep, and Himachal Pradesh.

The amendment to the Act marks a turning point in the history of India, sending out a clear message that this nation will protect the vulnerable minorities of the neighbourhood. The move has been well appreciated, as a step in the right direction. It will help the persecuted minorities in India’s neighbourhood. At the same time, it must be reiterated that this is not against Muslims.

The writer is Advocate on Record, Supreme Court of India. Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect News18’s views.

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