I was having coffee with three friends - Aziz, Vikas and Arash, on 3rd January. My first meeting in the new year with friends. Our discussion covered a wide range of topics. During the holidays of New Year, Aziz visited Spain, Vikas returned from India, Arash had local tours while I preferred to do some relaxation. No wonder the topic of protests in India against the newly enacted Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) came on the table.
Aziz seemed to be concerned but didn’t ask a direct question. He rather asked me about the legal provisions and repercussions of CAA for Muslims in India. It was not only an opportunity but also a duty towards my friends, to thwart the misinformation that has spread in and out of India recently. However, as Arash is an expert on Indian diaspora and immigration lawyer by profession, I felt he should answer this question. So I requested, ‘Why don’t you enlighten us on this topic Arash?’
Arash smiled and said that CAA was an act to give citizenship and not to take it away. He rather assured Aziz, ‘No citizen of India, irrespective of faith or religion, needs to fear losing citizenship under the CAA. CAA does not apply to any citizen of India at all. Therefore, any report to the contrary is part of a misinformation campaign. It only makes provisions for giving citizenship to six minority religious groups migrated from three neighbouring countries.’
Vikas enthusiastically counted on fingertips: Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi and Christians - coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan - correct? He asked.
Arash nodded affirmatively and added, ‘Any foreigner belonging to one of these six minorities who migrated for the reason of persecution from these three countries up to 31 December 2014 is eligible to get Indian citizenship under the CAA. CAA creates a legal right in these immigrants to get a faster route for Indian citizenship through naturalisation. While the minimum residency requirement, in the normal course, is 12 years for all foreigners to get Indian citizenship, these immigrants can get it in 6 years.’
Now Aziz asked, rather with concern, ‘Why not Muslims migrating from these countries?’
I had expected this question. And as a journalist, I had followed the topic in great detail. So I preferred to answer that question. And my response was clear: Muslims are not a minority in these three countries and do not face persecution. And it should be clear in our mind that CAA provides only for religious persecution. It does not cover any other form of persecution, not on the grounds of race, gender, membership of a political or social group, language, ethnicity, etc.’
‘Can Hindus from any other country get citizenship under CAA?’ Vikas asked curiously.
‘No, Vikas.’ Arash responded, ‘CAA does not provide for citizenship to any person, of whatever religion, coming from other countries.’
I thought it would be useful to inform Aziz that Muslims of any country can also get Indian citizenship, like any other person of any religion or country, through naturalisation or registration.
Again Vikas began counting on fingertips, ‘Indian citizenship can be acquired by: Birth, Descent, Registration, Naturalisation or Incorporation of Territory. Am I right?’
‘Yes, under the Citizenship Act of 1955, these are the five modes of acquiring Indian citizenship. They are applicable to a person of any religion from any country.’ Arash approved.
While Aziz and Vikas were listening attentively, I gave information about 14,864 Bangladeshi Citizens who were given Indian Citizenship when their enclaves were incorporated into Indian Territory after the settlement of Indo-Bangladesh boundary issue. I clarified that most of them were Muslims. Similarly, during the last six years, about 2830 Pakistani citizens, 912 Afghani and 172 Bangladeshi citizens were given Indian citizenship. Many of them too were Muslims.’
Even Arash found this information interesting. It also seemed to have cleared Aziz’s doubts to a certain extent. ‘But my worry is the deportation of Muslims under the CAA.’ Aziz expressed his concern.
I knew this question was due to misinformation being spread about the CAA. But again it is more of legal question, I looked at Arash who explained, ‘No Aziz, CAA has absolutely nothing to do with deportation of any foreigner from India. Deportation was always dealt with by the Foreigners Act, 1946 and/or the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920. As you can see, these two are very old enactments. They govern entry, stay, movement within India and exit from India. They apply to all foreigners, irrespective of their religion or country of origin. There is also a well-established judicial process to address any grievances and it continues to apply.’
‘I see.’ Vikas had a sip of coffee and asked, ‘Okay, but my curiosity is why the Government of India has enacted Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in so much hurry, without taking people into confidence?’
‘Vikas, CAA is not enacted in a hurry. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) had been in the public domain since 2016. Yes, since 2016. It was also cleared by a 30 member Parliamentary Committee consisting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members. So, it has followed the due parliamentary procedure and after getting Presidential assent, it became an Act.’ Aziz gave a detailed clarification to Vikas while Aziz and I heard him with interest.
‘In that case, everyone was aware of the provision of CAA well in advance.’ Vikas whispered to himself.
‘It means there is certainly no reason for any Indian citizen, including Muslims, to worry about losing their citizenship under the CAA. But, what about National Register of Citizens called NRC? I heard now there is something like NPR also.’ As Aziz asked, I could feel that he had been following social media messages and was genuinely concerned.
‘Aziz, NRC has nothing to do with any religion and no decision has been taken in that regard. National Population Register, called NPR is a process for collection of data for all persons resident in India, including declared foreign citizens, to create a comprehensive database of all residents. There is a motivated campaign to link the proposed NPR to NRC. They are two different issues. NPR was done in 2010 and now after ten years, it will be updated again.’ I was happy that Aziz was asking all his doubts and giving us an opportunity to explain. Arash’s presence was really useful as an expert on Indian legal and constitutional system.
‘What is the need for such duplicate exercise while more than 90% of Indian citizens have Aadhar card?’ Aziz asked, this time with a smirk on his face. Vikas nodded in agreement.
‘Aziz, your question is important. Aadhar collects individual data, while NPR collects family data. Therefore, they are different. Such data collected under NPR helps government plan its schemes such as Aayushyaman Bharat, Ujawala Yojana, Jan Dhan Yojana, etc for the benefit of economically vulnerable classes of society. Aadhar does not give such data to the government.’ I explained with examples and they both registered the difference and requirement of NPR positively. Arash knew this fact and he gave an admiring look while having the next sip of coffee.
‘I am happy that we discussed the issue of CAA, NRC and NPR today in such detail. It has removed many doubts from my mind. Perhaps I was misinformed and therefore was concerned on many counts. But now my doubts are clear. I will also inform my friends and relatives here and in India about the reality of these issues.’ Aziz expressed his satisfaction while finishing his coffee while Vikas asked the waiter for the bill. Arash seemed to have liked the coffee and offered to pay the bill.
I was happy that we could discuss the burning issue in great detail and their doubts were resolved.