It has been firmly engraved in the people’s mind by the propaganda of the parliamentary parties like the Congress party, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and many progressive intellectuals and activists that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA), the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) are anti-Muslim conspiracies and legislations to transform India into an official Hindu Rashtra. This propaganda has made the issue of CAA-NPR-NRC a Muslim-only issue and brought mostly the Muslims out on the streets against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Since the time the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (CAB), was passed by both houses of the parliament, a section of the non-Muslim people have been celebrating; they are thinking that this Act will provide security to the non-Muslim refugees or that it will safeguard the non-Muslims from the threat of disenfranchisement through the NRC. All over India, people have burst into protests after the new CAA was passed. Although these protests are held due to a myriad of causes, often contradictory.
The northeastern people, especially in Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, are thinking that a large number of non-Muslim people will be encouraged to permanently settle in their states. The protesters in Assam are thinking that the non-Muslims, mostly Bengali Hindus, who have been excluded from the NRC list, will regain their citizenship through the CAA. The Muslims throughout the country are protesting against the CAA-NPR-NRC package out of the fear of losing their citizenship. A section of the Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and other non-Muslims, outside the northeastern states, have participated in the anti-CAA-NPR-NRC movements to express solidarity with the Muslims and to save the Constitution’s official secular character. Here, we’ll try to figure it out, on the basis of government documents, what exactly is the threat and how it must be combatted.
CAA, 2003, the actual culprit
The present crisis has its roots in 2003 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP’s governm;ent introduced a Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the parliament. This Bill of the BJP was passed unanimously in both houses with the support of all parties, including the BJP’s then ally TMC, along with the main opposition parties like the Congress party and the CPI(M).
In this CAA, 2003, the BJP introduced the NRC concept outside Assam under Section 14A.
What does this Section 14A of the CAA 2003 say?
Section 14A of the CAA, 2003, empowers the Central Government to compulsorily register all Indian citizens (1) and create an authority to maintain a National Register of Indian Citizens (2).
These two points lay down the foundation for a nationwide NRC, which, unlike the Assam NRC, will be done on different parameters, irrespective of the party in power.
Rules to implement NPR and NRC?
Now if we read the Rules, made by the Union home ministry, (Ministry of Home Affairs, Notification, New Delhi, 10 December 2003) under G.S.R.937(E) we will see how the NPR is designed as a first step towards the creation of a nationwide NRC, different in model vis-a-vis the Assam NRC, which took place according to the Assam Accord, 1985, signed between late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Assam movement representatives.
So, how would the NPR and the NRC exercises work and exclude “illegal immigrants” from genuine citizens? Such details are given in the Notification from point no 3 onwards. It clearly shows how the “Registrar General of Citizen Registration shall establish and maintain the National Register of Indian Citizens” and there will be state-level registers and district/Taluka-level registers. These rules, particularly 3(3) (details to be collected), 4(1) (NPR as the first step towards NRC), 4(3) (NRC scrutiny), 4(4) (‘doubtful voters’ list), etc, chart the entire course of the draconian exercise.
When Prime Minister Modi, contradicting the NRC rhetoric of his heir-apparent Union Home Minister Amit Shah, claimed that his government didn’t moot the idea for a pan-India level NRC, then he’s not merely peddling a sheer lie, he is actually denying the existence of a law that’s in force since the last 16 years. The NPR process, being the first step of the NRC, will start soon, and the data it will collect, masquerading as a census exercise, will be used for the NRC.
The hypocrisy of parliamentary parties on CAA, 2003!
All the parliamentary parties, including the Congress, TMC, CPI(M), etc, that have joined the chorus demanding the annulment of the CAA, NPR and NRC, didn’t demand the repeal of Section 14A of CAA, 2003. No one demanded the repeal of the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Notification of 10 December 2003.
So, when these political parties say NO NRC, they actually mean DELAY NRC. If they manage to come to power, they’ll also conduct the NRC. The Congress party’s regime is the one that started the NPR process in 2010, which is the first step towards the NRC. We need to understand the fact that even if the CAA was not passed in 2019, NRC could still be carried out throughout the country.
The illegal immigrant and the CAA
The CAA, 2003, states that if one of the parents of an individual is an illegal immigrant, then that individual will not get Indian citizenship. It means, if either of the parents is a foreign national, there is no problem for an individual. But if one of the parents is an illegal immigrant, then an individual will lose citizenship. Now, the big question is who is an “illegal immigrant”?
According to the CAA, 2003, all those who arrived in India without a visa or whose visa tenure is over can be termed as “illegal immigrants” [2 (b) (i) & (ii)]. An “illegal immigrant” or the offspring of such “illegal immigrant” can’t demand citizenship. This also implies that the CAA, 2003, has no religious discrimination embedded within. This means the BJP-led Vajpayee government addressed the term “illegal immigrant” regardless of any religion in the Citizenship Act, 1955, through the 2003 Amendment. But surprisingly a large section of protesters against CAA, 2019, and the NRC aren’t demanding the abolition of the CAA, 2003, which deprives people of their citizenship rights by making the provision of stamping anyone, irrespective of their religion, as an “illegal immigrant”.
Actually, it’s majorly the Hindus and Sikhs who migrated to India from Bangladesh and Pakistan. Due to this, particularly non-Muslims suffered police harassment as a result of the CAA, 2003. The Namasudra (Bengali Dalits) and the Matua community, who came from Bangladesh as refugees, became victims of police harassment. Although both Hindus and Muslims have come to India in search of work from Bangladesh, the majority of Hindus permanently settled in India, as due to partition most of their relatives have migrated and settled in India. Muslims return back to their homeland after earning a livelihood and many continue to do seasonal migration in search of work but never settled in India.
The Islamophobic illegal immigration propaganda
That India is burdened with an exponential Muslim immigrant is a myth spread by the saffron camp. The Assam NRC has shown us that 1.9m people are excluded out of a population of 33.3m. Out of this 1.9m, 1.5m people are non-Muslims, and in this 1.5m, 1.2m people are Bengali Hindus.
According to the census, the population of Assam increased by 82.15% up to the year of 1971, compared to 1951. During this period the population of India increased by 34.12%. It indicates that the population of Assam grew 48.03 percentage points more than the whole of India during this time period. According to the census records from 1971 to 2011, the population of Assam increased by 113.36%, while during the same period, India’s population increased by 120.89%, which implies that the growth rate of India’s population was 7.53 percentage points higher than Assam.
This makes it very clear that immigration from Bangladesh dropped considerably after 1971 in Assam. So according to the Assam Accord, if anyone came to Assam before 24 March 1971, he would be considered as a citizen, then no one was supposed to be excluded from the NRC. Still, 1.9m people haven’t found their place in the NRC, they have been excluded because of the problems with their documents.
Documents and paperwork for the CAA-NPR-NRC
Let us assume that the forthcoming NPR and the NRC process will be transparent and non-discriminatory and that everybody has a birth certificate, or legacy documents of their ancestors that prove they were living in the present territory of India before 1948, or that the names of their ancestors were in the voter list of 1951, then a large number of Muslims will not be excluded. It’s because the Muslims are indigenous people. Just like the tribal people, the Odiya, Telugu, Tamil or other non-Bengali or non-Punjabi non-Muslim people.
Only the non-Muslim native Hindus, especially Bengali Hindus, Namasudras, Matuas, Dalits, Punjabi Hindus, Sindhi Hindus and Sikhs, who or whose ancestors migrated from the neighbouring countries will be the most affected due to the NRC. Moreover, irrespective of their religion and caste, the poor people, even the indigenous people and tribes, will suffer as they won’t be able to present all required papers.
The BJP has been saying that the CAA, 2003, which ironically Vajpayee brought, is anti-Hindu immigrant legislation. So at first, they brought up a Gazette notification in 2015 and then the Citizenship (Amendment Bill) in 2016. The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha but was stuck in the Rajya Sabha. After this, in the winter session of 2019, the Modi regime passed the CAA, 2019. In the new Act, some new provisions, like repealing old cases of illegal immigration if lodged against the citizenship candidates since the day of them entering India, not implementing the Act in Sixth Schedule Areas of the northeastern states, etc, amendments have been added. So the NRC has nothing to do with the CAA, 2019.
The CAA is not a barrier to NRC and there is no problem in implementing CAA even if NRC is not started. This relation has been explained by Shah himself. He said, “Understand the chronology, first comes CAA, then comes the NRC.” It’s nothing but a clever step to incite a communal riot throughout India.
Although some reforms have been made, the bills of 2016 and 2019 are actually the same. The CAA, 2019, has amended three amendments to the original Citizenship Act, 1955.
What’s new in CAA, 2019, and CAB, 2016?
Firstly, religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who fled their countries due to religious persecution and came to India without legal documents, or stayed in India even after their visa expired, won’t be treated as illegal immigrants. So they’ll not have to stay in detention camps but nowhere it is written that they will get citizenship.
Secondly, if an Overseas Citizen of India (a foreign citizen of Indian origin who also have citizenship of India) breaks any Indian law, eg, even traffic rules, their Overseas Citizenship will be cancelled. Needless to say, those who will be at the receiving end due to this amendment are mostly upper-caste Hindus. This amendment clearly shows the status to which a citizen has been diminished and what is the government’s plan for democracy!
Thirdly, religious minorities, except Islamic sects, coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will have the opportunity to apply for citizenship after a stay of six years in India (five years under the new Act) instead of the 11 years provision that was in force earlier.
The JPC on CAB, 2016, and its findings
A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was formed to discuss the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The JPC consisted of 30 MPs from the ruling BJP and the opposition (Rajya Sabha 10, Lok Sabha 20). The report of this JPC was submitted to the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on 7 January 2019. JPC asked the government that, will minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan be granted citizenship in India? Or why there is no mention of religious persecution in the Bill?
To the questions, the Modi regime informed that the Bill was related to the Gazette of India notification (7 September 2015). According to the Gazette notification, an applicant has to show three things:
- That the person arrived in India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan within the cut-off date of 31 December 2014.
- The proof of identity of their home country and the travel documents to show how they have arrived.
- That religious persecution forced them to flee their home country.
It’s indeed quite hard to prove the last two points. The committee asked, how will it be decided whether an applicant migrated because of religious persecution? The government responded by saying that only those who came to India and informed the authorities that they were forced to immigrate due to religious persecution are the ones who will be considered as migrants due to religious persecution.
The JPC report said:
2.14 As regards authentic verification of the claims of the applicants for Indian citizenship that they have been victims of religious persecution in their respective countries, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) submitted as under:
“The individuals claiming religious persecution and seeking Indian citizenship had entered India decades ago, mostly in the aftermath of partition of the country when a large scale migration between India and Pakistan took place. It is not possible to verify their claim now. However, for recent cases, if any, due verification would be made before their claim for Indian Citizenship is entertained.
As per the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) under preparation by MHA, for an applicant who applies with an affidavit mentioning that he/she was compelled to migrate to India due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution, along with other supporting documents, a detailed enquiry will be conducted by Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO)/Foreigners Registration Office (FRO) concerned to verify his/her claim. If the affidavit is not supported by documents, the case will be referred to Foreigners Tribunals to be constituted for this purpose under the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 for verification of the claim regarding religious persecution.” [Pg-38 (2.14)]
The JPC asked the government how many people will benefit due to the new legislation? The Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief, as a representative of the Home Ministry, said there are 31,313 people belonging to the minority communities (Hindus – 25447, Sikhs – 5807, Christians – 55, Buddhists – two and Parsis – two) because they informed the government that they have come to India because of religious persecution. Hence, these people will be immediate beneficiaries. [Pg-39 (2.17)]
The JPC asked, what will happen to those who came because of religious persecution but didn’t inform the government? The IB informed,
“they will have to prove that they came to India due to religious persecution. If they had not declared so at that time of their arrival in India, it would be difficult for them to make such a claim now. Any future claim will be enquired into, including through R&AW before a decision is taken.” [Pg-39,(2.18)]
When the JPC asked whether only 31,313 persons would benefit under the new legislation? The IB chief, without ambiguity, said:
” Yes, because they have claimed; they have applied. There will be many others who might have come and they might have already taken citizenship by various means. They might have obtained passport, ration card. All other documents they might have obtained and they might have already registered themselves in the voters list. So, for all practical purposes, they are already citizens of this country. Tribunals are already there to identify if any of them has obtained it by fraudulent means. That is a different issue altogether. The Bill is for those who have applied and who have claimed that they have been persecuted in their respective country.” [Pg-39 (2.19)] (sic)
The CAA protects none but a small, select group
It appears that the CAA, 2019, did not say that it would revoke Muslim citizenship in a new way. This act is providing the right to apply for citizenship to the citizens of neighbouring countries who were bound to migrate in a hurry without a passport, visa, etc, because of religious persecution, whose right to apply for citizenship was withdrawn by the BJP’s own government in 2003, with support from the opposition parties, including the Congress party, TMC, etc. But it is giving citizenship only to 31,313 of all the refugees. This act is not applicable to others. A poor Hindu, an indigenous tribal, who or whose ancestors have never been to Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, can lose citizenship under the proposed NRC due to lack of proper documents. And those people, who have lost their citizenship due to the NRC process in Assam are not covered by this Act. In short, the NRC is taking away citizenship regardless of religion, but the CAA is not protecting any religious community with immunity.
In this act, BJP could have used words like ‘victims of religious persecution‘ in these three neighbouring countries instead of explicitly naming the six communities. But the BJP has used the name of these six religions to discombobulate a disarrayed opposition to join its own game.
On 6 December 2019, Prabhash K Dutta wrote in India Today, “over 10 percent of Bangladesh’s population is Hindu or roughly around 1.75 crore people. What if they enter India for better economic opportunities and claim they were being persecuted for being Hindus?” (sic)
Such apprehensions are unfounded and unrealistic. The CAA is only for those who have come to India on or before 31 December 2014. The deadline to benefit under this act has expired five years ago. If a Hindu or any non-Muslim is forced to come to India after 31 December 2014 midnight due to religious persecution without visa and passport, then they will be treated as an illegal immigrant. Therefore, the fear of more Hindus coming from neighbouring countries has no basis.
No proper information is available right now about the fact whether any Shia or Ahmaddiya Muslims were forced to flee to India on or before 31 December 2014. It’s irrelevant to ponder over what will happen if any persecuted Shia or Ahmaddiya flees from these three countries in the future. The CAA is only for those who have come to India within a certain date and appealed to the government for citizenship upon their arrival. None else can claim for benefit.
The CAA, NPR and NRC conspiracies must be unveiled to convince the poor?
So, the people who are protesting against CAA because it is providing citizenship depending on the basis of religion, they are actually strengthening the BJP by pushing a large number of Hindus towards it. This CAA is not giving security to the Hindus or making the Muslims vulnerable. This fuss over the CAA triggered by the BJP and the Modi regime is nothing but a trick to keep the large section of poor and lower-middle-class Hindus and other non-Muslims aloof from the anti-CAA-NPR–NRC movements. Needless to say, our progressive friends are relying more on the campaigning of the Congress party or other parliamentary opposition forces than doing a proper investigation on their own.
Already, due to the depiction of the CAA-NRC as anti-Muslim, a large number of Hindus and other non-Muslims have started thinking that the NRC has nothing to do with them. As a result, they will participate in the process of NPR from 1 April 2020. They are 86% of the country’s population; the majority of who are poor and toiling.
It’s imperative to bring them, especially the poor, the Dalits, the tribal people, the working class and the peasantry in the anti-CAA-NPR-NRC movement, to thwart the Modi regime’s conspiracy to disenfranchise them. It’s the struggle of the poor people, who are at the receiving end and not a communal or sectarian battle, as the proselytisers of identity politics or the opposition parliamentary parties would portray it. This is a battle of the poor, who are vulnerable to losing their citizenship rights due to the brutal apathy of the Indian state, to reclaim India, which belongs to them and not to the Hindutva fascist empire.
Soumo Mondol started his journey as a student activist in West Bengal. He is a radical Marxist thinker, a left-wing activist who fights for the cause of the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed people.