Call a Spade a Spade – Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), NRC and NPR
The controversy surrounding India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is not ready to quench just yet. With the passage of time, new interpretations and aspects of this law keep surfacing. The story took another turn when the Modi government decided to keep people in the dark about how they were going to be assessed as citizens of the country.
Link Between NPR (National Population Register), NRC (National Register of Citizens) and CAA
Although NPR and NRC have their origins in Rule 3 of the Citizenship Act 2003, it is unclear whether the government is going to apply both identification methods for the collection of data. To our knowledge, NRC was first introduced in the CAA 2003 by Atal Bihari Vajpayee for identifying ‘infiltrators’ in Assam and had been restricted to that area only because of the drastic effects it would have on a large population. As a result, 1.9 million people including Bengali Hindus, Christians and Muslims were put in detention centres (their cases are still pending before tribunals). They were called “doubtful citizens” for being associated with Bangladesh. According to the government, they had to be locked up in detention centres, notwithstanding the fact that they were born in India, or had spent their whole lives in India, or had served the country for three decades. The question arising in debates now is whether the Modi sarkar is going to repeat history by implementing NRC through the CAA or devise another scheme to assess people for their citizenship rights.
In a recent rally, the Indian Prime Minister shared that the government had not yet discussed the matter of NRC and contradicted an earlier statement made by Home Minister, Amit Shah who had stated that the government was going to enforce NRC all over India. People are still confused. If the government is not going to follow NRC, what will be the standard for being a citizen? Would the procedure to assess be selective? Giving ultimate power to the District Registrar under Rule (4)(3) of the Citizenship Act to select “doubtful citizens” without issuance of guidelines will make the procedure more arbitrary under which not only Muslims but also Hindus will become victims of such practices. A situation like Assam will be created (where 50-60% of the people were non-Muslims and were declared “infiltrators”). Despite legal remedies being available, they are still suffering in the detention centres of Assam because they have been unable to provide the documents to prove their citizenship. The government has again blindfolded people by asking them to provide general information for the preparation of NPR (National Population Register) and collecting information of both citizens and non-citizens. CAA will become applicable after the collection of this data. The government itself seems unclear as to what grounds for citizenship will be scratched, what documents will be required and how citizens will be assessed. So far we only know that people must prove their lineage, but how that lineage will be proved remains an unanswered question.
In order to distract from these matters, the Indian government has quite successfully managed to make the CAA a bone of contention between the Muslims and Hindus. A majority of the Hindu population is still unaware that this law not only goes against Muslims but against Hindus as well. This was made clear by the contentions raised by Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi Assembly where he asked the Central Government about the basis on which they were going to identify “doubtful citizens” and whether they were going to apply NRC or NPR data. The documents required for NPR, such as a birth certificate, etc. may not be available to a large chunk of the Indian population, which would result in the government putting half of the population on the “doubtful citizens” list. Kejriwal even asked fellow Assembly Members if they possessed the mandatory documents. 51 Members out of 60, including the Speaker, said that they did not. Therefore, under the new CAA, it is not only the status of Muslims which is at stake but that of regional Hindus as well.
Clouds of doubt have been floating over this issue for the past three months but the government does not consider itself accountable to address the opposition’s questions or the protesters’ demands for clarity. If this goes on, millions of people, just like in Assam, will lose their citizenship and have no official status in India as the country has not enforced refugee laws as well. People will rot in detention cells until they prove their lineage, which again will be impossible due to restricted movement. How will they prove their identity in detention when they could not have done so in freedom?
According to Section 14A of the Citizenship Act, the Registrar General of India shall act as the National Registration Authority as well as the Registrar General of Citizen Registration, which is how the government will be able to use the data of NPR or NRC whenever it wants, as has been clearly allowed by the provision. A dual role given to one body can function both ways.
CAA will not only take away the citizenship rights of Muslims residing India since 1971 but also the rights of those unable to prove their lineage through documents. Insecurity among Muslims is genuine because this amendment will affect the whole Muslim minority of India. The Hindutva stance taken by the government has also become much clearer after the recent Delhi riots where state institutions have themselves been involved in persecuting Muslims. How the police watched the whole incident insensitively and how the Home Minister’s blazing statements encouraged Hindu extremists to unleash violence on Muslims should be enough to make a community feel unsafe at the hands of the government.
The Citizenship Act can be executed as a weapon by the government against all those who criticize it, that is why most of the opposition parties have taken a firm stand against it by openly discussing their suspicions surrounding it. The CAA is going to result in benefits for the Modi regime in every possible manner; for instance, it will reduce the burden on the government to provide jobs to citizens. In a region like Assam, if 1.9 million can be taken out of the mainstream, then we can imagine what the charts will be like if a scheme like NRC gets executed all over the India, depriving citizenship to millions of people who will be too busy proving it than doing much else. They will not even have the right to question the government as long as their status remains doubtful.
These are all reasonable and genuine public fears and suspicions which will not be addressed by the government’s empty assurances, unless the government clarifies its plans regarding the procedure it will follow. Why are they hiding it? What are they afraid of? Why are other cabinet members interested in spilling the beans regarding NRC? Why is Prime Minister Modi indirectly denying that the government has not thought things through yet? When will the government think things through? Will it be when people are left with no options? Is NRC one of the options that the government is considering? People deserve to know what the consequences of CAA are going to be. This is not just a grave matter for the Muslim community but for humanity itself. People should think beyond the lines of religion and dharam.
The whole amendment is flawed as the consequences that will follow will be disastrous. There is still time to roll it back, otherwise it will be too late and there will be no use crying over spilled milk.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.