A legislation that negates constitutional provisions
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed by the BJP government, has been challenged by various groups nationwide.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed by the BJP government, has been challenged by various groups nationwide. The questions raised by the masses are met with denial, deflection and deceptive statements.
The government defends the Act, citing there are no plans to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) nationwide and that the National Population Register (NPR) and CAA have nothing to do with NRC. However, a careful reading of the Citizenship Act and Citizenship Rules reveals the truth.
The government says that CAA is to help persecuted refugees. Current Indian nationality laws which regulate citizenship based on birth, descent, application (registration) and naturalisation are sufficient as they are, covering a broad spectrum of possibilities.
The argument for persecuted refugees can be dealt with by making provisions through appropriate amendments in the current laws for accommodating refugees, granting them legal status and fast-tracking their admission to Indian citizenship should they apply for it. A separate discriminatory law is not needed for it at all.
The NRC, in simple terms, refers to an official listing of all citizens of this country. The legal basis of NRC is Section 14A of the Citizenship Act, which was made a law in 2003, when the first BJP government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in power, and LK Advani was the Home Minister.
According to this section, the government can 'compulsorily register' all citizens and provide National Identity Cards to them after registration. In order to do this, the government may prepare a National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC). This is popularly known as the NRC or All India NRC.
The NPR is the National Population Register - a listing of all persons ordinarily resident in India, whether they are citizens or not. While the process of preparing NPR is being carried out by the same department which prepares the census, it has a completely different legal basis and purpose.
The government of India issued a notification on 31st July 2019 stating that the NPR preparation exercise will be done from April-September 2020 according to the Citizenship Rules 2003. According to the Rule 4 of the Citizenship Rules 2003, the first step of NRIC will be a house-to-house collection of information in every locality to prepare a Population Register.
All local registers will be combined to form a Sub-District, then District, then State and then National Population Register.
According to Rule 4(3) of the Citizenship Rules, the National Register of Indian Citizens will first be prepared at the local level by a local registrar.
For this purpose, the local registrar will scrutinise information of every individual and family in the local Population Register and create a category of 'Doubtful Citizens', who will then be asked to provide proof of their citizenship.
The rules do not specify on what basis the local registrar will mark people as 'Doubtful Citizens'. The rules also provide that the local registrar may be assisted by 'one or more persons' in this exercise but does not provide the qualification or criterion for selecting these persons.
The CAA goes against Articles 5, 10, 4 and 15 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees equality before law and protection against any discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
The CA Act does not provide any guidelines as to which document will prove citizenship. The government also has not framed any guidelines and is not clear as to which document will decisively prove citizenship.
While everyone will be in danger, the poor, and the illiterate will be even more disadvantaged as they will lack awareness, access and resources to both documentation process and also to judicial relief in case of them being declared foreigners.
In a country where awareness about documentation is still rare, majority of population is still illiterate, it is highly impossible to present any documentation, let alone a set of comprehensive documents to prove one's citizenship.
While NPR has been a part of census exercise since 1980s, but when it is viewed in the context of CAA-NRC, one can very clearly see that NPR exercise is a prelude to NRC process.
Since NPR will enumerate and compile the data of every single person residing in India, it will be easier for the government to undertake NRC process by utilising the NPR data and compile a list of doubtful citizens, who can then be served notice to prove their citizenship.
As we saw in Assam, 60-70 percent of NRC list excludes were non-Muslims. This shows that this exercise will be problematic not only to Muslims, but also to everyone in general because failure to produce documentation will result in exclusion from NRC list. Anyone from any community can be affected.
Another problematic aspect of CAA is that it only covers refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. People would have to prove that they are from one of these three countries, and belong to one of the six communities: Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Parsis.
When people will be declared doubtful, if they are not from these three countries, then they also will be declared illegal and their citizenship revoked.
For example: if any non-Muslim people from Maharashtra or Andhra or Tamil Nadu are declared doubtful because of lack of documentation, and even if CAA has provision to grant them citizenship, they cannot in any way prove they are from one of the three countries as there is no link of either Maharashtra or Andhra or Tamil Nadu to one of the three countries. Hence, they will be as much in trouble as Muslims and their citizenship will be withdrawn, properties confiscated, and rights rescinded.
The rules provide for two stages of appeals for those excluded from the Register of Citizens after the verification process; the first at the Sub-District or Taluk level and the second at the District level.
While the rules do not specify the process for those who will still be excluded from the final National Register of Indian Citizens, we must remember that this is just a bureaucratic exercise and no Indian's citizenship can be taken away without a legal process.
However, the entire exercise of NRIC will create tremendous hardship for all citizens, who will have to go through an entire process to ensure that their basic citizenship rights are protected. Those who will be excluded from this process will have to go through an even more painful legal process of cases and appeals.
As a citizen of secular India, everyone of us must reject any legislation that is framed on the basis of any division of religion, race, language, ethnicity, gender, etc, as it is against the spirit of secular, plural, inclusive India as envisioned in the Preamble of our Constitution, which clearly lays down the basic nature of Indian State.
Since CAA-NRC-NPR are very much against the Constitution and the very idea of secular and plural India, we must come together to work democratically, exercising our constitutional right of dissent, towards making the BJP government revoke CAA and cancel NPR and NRC. Our efforts must yield the following specific results.
(The writer is general secretary, SIO of India. Views expressed are personal)