NEW DELHI: Protests over the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) spread across the country on Monday with students, some sections of the civil society and opposition political parties holding demonstrations at several places urging the Centre to revoke the Act. Here is all you need to now:
What is the Citizenship (Amendment) Act?
The bill that is now an Act makes it easier for the non-Muslim immigrants from India’s neighbours – Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – to become citizens of India. Though the Bill doesn’t spell it out clearly, but the fact that it entitles Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians facing religious persecution in the three nations, to seek Indian citizenship, highlights the exclusion of Muslims.
The Act says the refugees of the six communities will be given Indian citizenship after residing in India for five years, instead of 11 years earlier.
Protests across the country
Thousands of protesters, including students took to the streets across the country on Monday against the Citizenship Amendment Act with demonstrations at campuses of Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University, Delhi University and others amid heavy police deployment.
Braving the freezing cold, hundreds of students, including a group of shirtless young men, poured into the streets outside the Jamia Millia University to protest the police action against their colleagues a day earlier.
Protests snowballed into a major flashpoint in West Bengal also with highways and railway lines blocked and incidents of arson and loot reported from many places, as chief minister Mamata Banerjee declared CAA and NRC can be enforced in the state only on her “dead body”.
Ruling CPI(M)-led LDF and opposition Congress headed UDF in Kerala held a joint protest against the amended Citizenship act with chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan slamming the move as an attempt to “curb freedom”.
Who will benefit from the law?
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act grants citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhist, Jains and Parsis – from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who had arrived in India before December 31, 2014. The legislation applies to those who were “forced or compelled to seek shelter in India due to persecution on the ground of religion”. It aims to protect such people from proceedings of illegal migration from the neighbouring countries.
The requirement to stay in India for those belonging to any of these 6 religion for at least 11 years before applying for Indian citizenship has been reduced to five years.
Indian citizenship, under present law, is given either to those born in India or if they have resided in the country for a minimum of 11 years.
Why the protests?
There are two distinct rallying points of protests against the Act. In the northeast, the protest is against the Act’s implementation in their areas. Most of them fear that if implemented, the Act will cause a rush of immigrants that may alter their demographic and linguistic and cultural uniqueness.
In the rest of India, like in Kerala, West Bengal and in Delhi, people are protesting against the exclusion of Muslims, alleging it to be against the ethos of the Constitution.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act does not apply to tribal areas of Tripura, Mizoram, Assam and Meghalaya because of being included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Also areas that fall under the Inner Limit notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, will also be outside the Act’s purview. This keeps almost entire Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland out of the ambit of the Act.
NRC link to the controversial Act
The NRC, which identified illegal immigrants from Assam, had been a longstanding demand in Assam. But ever since its implementation, there has been a growing demand for its nationwide implementation.
After the updated final NRC in Assam was released on August 31 this year, it excluded the names of over 19 lakh applicants, including Hindus. Now, the CAA will ensure they are not harmed.
NRC, which may be extended to the rest of the country, is not based on religion, unlike CAB.
Opposition’s argument against the Act
The Opposition has claimed that the Act was against the basic principles of the Constitution as it “discriminates” on the basis of religion and would alienate Muslims, the largest minority community in the country. The opposition also objected to keeping countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar out of the list.
The bill was violative of the provisions of Articles 14, 15, 21, 25 and 26 of the Constitution, it was alleged.
Government’s stand on CAA
The Centre has rejected the suggestions that the bill is anti-Muslim. Home minister Amit Shah has said the measure has the endorsement of 130 crore citizens of the country as it was the part of the BJP manifesto in 2014 as well as 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The Act does not discriminate against anyone and does not snatch anyone’s rights, Shah said. The home minister said under the Act, citizenship will be granted to refugees coming from the three countries after facing religious persecution there even without documents, including ration cards.
This bill is not even .001 per cent against Muslims. It is against infiltrators, the home minister has reiterated.
Bill passes Lok Sabha test
On December 9, the Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill after a seven-hour-long debate with 334-106 votes.
Bill Passed in Rajya Sabha
On December 11, the Rajya Sabha approved the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, thus completing the legislative procedure for giving Indian citizenship to non-Muslims migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The Bill was passed with 125-105 votes.
Bill gets President’s assent
On December 12, President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the Bill, turning into an Act.
(With agency inputs)
In Video:All about the Citizenship Amendment Act: Why Assam is up in arms