With the President giving his assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) on December 12, India for the first time has adopted an openly selective citerion for granting citizenship to migrants from three neighbouring Islamic countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Widespread protests erupted across Karnataka, as elsewhere in India. People stood up against a law, which they said besides “ring fencing” the Muslims, raised concerns about the impending National Register of Citizens (NRC) in India.
“Laws which seem to segregate one religious community from others often run the risk of feeding communal polarisation ... and this is just what has happened,” said a CAA-supporter on condition of anonymity. People — old and young — including students in large numbers, stepped forward in defiance of prohibitory orders and confronted a battle-ready armed police.
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“The classification on grounds of religion is an invidious form of discrimination going against the principle of equality in Article 14. Classifying persons on grounds of religion for the purposes of citizenship also hits at the foundational values of the Republic,” said lawyer and member of the Alternative Law Forum, Arvind Narrain.
From the Northeast —where people, to protect their identity, culture and language, demanded that “CAA must go” — the CAA virus within no time spread across
India, claiming several lives, injuring hundreds others, destroying public property and maiming the soul of India. The brutal police action in campuses of Jamia Millia Islamia, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Aligarh Muslim University last week left the world horrified.
In West Bengal, CM and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee led the CAA protests and even demanded a “United Nations-monitored referendum on the Citizenship Act.” The next day, she made a U-turn, and said “she only wanted an opinion poll by impartial experts.”In Delhi, the civil society and students challenged CAA. Internet services were temporarily disrupted in several parts of India.
Anti-CAA agitation soon crossed the Vindhyas and reached Karnataka. On December 19, historian Ramchandra Guha — along with hundreds of other protesters — was detained in Bengaluru for defying prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC. “This is the mark of a paranoid, fearful and insecure regime,” Guha, talking about the police crackdown near the Town Hall, said. “Shutting Internet in Delhi? What signal will it send to the world? Is this a self-confident India?” he questioned.
In a highly-polarised Mangaluru, two people lost their lives in police firing on December 19. To silence public outrage against their dastardly action, the police clamped curfew for 48 hours.
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Social activist Srinivas Kakkilaya from Mangaluru called CAA and NRC as “fraud” and argued that anybody who is “persecuted is not an illegal migrant.” “He is a refugee who is seeking asylum in the country. He need not be given citizenship like the Tibetans,” he said.“This government last year in Rajya Sabha had stated that it had no data on the number of persecuted people. There are Hindus, who had stayed back in Pakistan, after the partition. Are we now going to invite them at the cost of our own people? Security experts have warned the government against CAA. Muslims, who stayed in this country after the partition rejected the idea of Pakistan despite the sops offered by Jinnah,” he added.
DYFI state president Muneer Katipalla termed CAA as a violation of the Constitution. “The intention of the Centre is to polarise the country on the basis of religion,” he adds.
Mysuru too contributed its share of protests against CAA-NRC. Multiple protests defying police clamp orders were taken out in the past few days in the city with well-known activists like Devanur Mahadeva, Pa Mallesh as well as those from Raitha Sangha sitting on protests.
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The apprehension among the students in the city also became evident with protest rallies being taken out in one of the oldest universities in the state — University of Mysore. “As a law student, equal treatment irrespective of religion or caste has been the pillar of every law that I learn ... yet CAA negates that and gives space to target minorities of the country in the name of minorities from other nations,” a law student said.
CAA has also worried those working closely with tribals in neighbouring Chamarajanagar district. “Among the tribal communities, it is difficult to procure documents ... let alone trace ancestral documents. There are many who do not have Aadhar cards. With all this, CAA and NRC will not be a cakewalk for the community,” said Rajendra H, who works with tribals through an NGO.
There were some consenting voices in Mysuru too.
“Many are saying minorities from our country will face deportations. Such a move is impossible ... CAA is not about Indian citizens, it is about refugees, and those crying social justice should be appreciating the move since a country like India is giving space for the persecuted. I do not see any point in the arguments against it,” said Vandana Shastri, an engineering student from Mysuru.
In Kalaburagi, almost 25,000 protesters and activists from various organisations took out protests despite prohibitory orders. “CAA is yet another attack on the Muslims. The BJP first banned Triple Talaq. They later scrapped Article 370 and then the Supreme Court cleared the way for construction of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. This is a systematic plan to isolate the minority community,” said the former president of Kalaburagi Urban Development Authority Mohammed Ajgar Chulbul, who is also a member of the Peoples’ Forum. He called the CAA protests as jwalamukhi (volcano).
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“These are outbursts of the Muslim community in particular, and secular forces in general,” he added.
CAA is a “black spot on democracy,” said social activist S R Hiremath. “The Centre should understand the reasons behind the protest and should not consider the protesters as the country’s enemies,” he said.
In Shivamogga, writer D S Nagabhushan said CAA was a “communal Act in the form of Hindu appeasement. This is more dangerous than Muslim appeasement by the Congress. The appeasement of majority is more dangerous always. It’s a step towards Hindu Rashtra. It may lead to disturbance of peace in the future,” he said.
Litterateur Na D’Souza said that the Centre should clarify the provisions of the Act as there is a lot of confusion, which is leading to chaos. “The matter is in the court. Let us wait for the court directive,” he said.
In Hubballi, some progressive thinkers said that the government should have held widespread consultations and discussions with the public, particularly Constitutional experts before enacting CAA.
“If the real interest of the government was for India to open its doors to persecuted persons, then the path to citizenship should not have been on the grounds of religion, but rather on the basis of persecution,” added Narrain.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was brought in to amend The Citizenship Act, 1955.
On Dec 9, 2019, the Lok Sabha passed the CAB with 311 members voting in favour and 80 voting against it.
The Rajya Sabha passed CAB on Dec 11, 2019, with 125 votes favouring the motion.
The Bill, after receiving the President’s assent, has become the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
An earlier version of the CAB was introduced in 2016. It was passed by Lok Sabha on January 8, 2019. However, it lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.
Know the Act
The CAA aims to grant citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who have migrated to India after facing persecution on the ground of religion in their respective countries and who arrived in India before December 31, 2014
Under The Citizenship Act, 1955, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, as well as for 11 of the previous 14 years.
The amendment relaxes the second requirement from 11 years to 6 years.
CAA also makes amendments to provisions related to Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders.
CAA doesn’t apply to tribal areas of Tripura, Mizoram, Assam and Meghalaya as they are included
in the 6th Schedule of the Constitution.
Areas that fall under Inner Line Permit notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, will also be outside CAA’s purview.
This keeps almost entire Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland out of the ambit of the Act. Manipur has also been brought under the ILP.
Why the protests?
The basic criticism in the North-East is that the CAB, if implemented, will result in immigrants rushing to the region altering the demography and linguistic identity.
In other parts of the country, the protest is mainly against the exclusion of Muslim — the protesters allege that CAB violates Article 14 of the Constitution (Right to Equality).
With CAB turning into CAA, there is an apprehension that an NRC, similar to what was implemented in Assam, could be implemented in the entire country. This is adding to the protests.
SC notice to Centre
Supreme Court on Dec 18 declined to stay the CAA. It will hear dozens of pleas dealing with CAA on Jan 22. SC also issued notice to the Centre and sought its response by Jan-second week on a batch of pleas challenging the CAA.
(With inputs from Vincent D’Souza @ Mangaluru; K Shiva Kumar @ Mysuru; Pramodkumar Vaidya @ Hubballi; Ramkrishna Badseshi @ Kalaburagi and Marx Tejaswi @ Shivamogga)