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Understanding the CAA Implementation in India

Amit Pandey

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) has been a topic of intense debate and controversy in India. Passed by Parliament in December 2019, the CAA aims to provide a path to Indian citizenship for specific religious minorities from neighboring countries. However, its implementation has faced legal challenges and widespread protests.

The implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Bill has received significant support from the people of Bengal, a region sharing borders with Bangladesh and China. Surprisingly, the Chief Minister of Bengal has voiced strong opposition to the Bill, claiming that it aims to deprive certain individuals of their legal rights. However, this claim is not supported by the actual draft of the Bill.

According to the draft, the Bill aims to provide an accelerated pathway to Indian citizenship for religious minorities who have faced persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan and had arrived in India by 2014. It is important to note that this provision does not exclude any specific community or target individuals based on religion. Despite this, the opposition has chosen to use the Bill as a catalyst for their campaign against it.

Contrary to popular belief, the Bill was not introduced by the saffron government but has been in existence since 1955, predating the country’s partition. Following the partition, many individuals who had initially chosen Pakistan as their new homeland began to regret their decision. Understanding their plight, Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, suggested that Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan who did not wish to remain there should be allowed to come to India. He emphasized that it was the responsibility of the Indian government to ensure a normal life for these individuals.

The draft of the Bill was initially formulated during the Congress regime to address the concerns of those who had returned from Pakistan and needed to be accommodated with their civil rights in the country. The Bill has remained largely unchanged since 1955 when the Citizenship Act was established, providing a framework for Indian citizenship post-Constitution. This Act outlined various methods of acquiring citizenship, including through birth, descent, registration, and naturalization. In 2003, the Act was amended to introduce the concept of an ‘illegal migrant’ and made provisions for Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) as a response to evolving historical, social, and political contexts.

It is important to consider these facts and the historical context surrounding the Bill when evaluating its potential impact. The Bill does not seek to target any specific community or deny anyone their legal rights. Instead, it aims to provide a streamlined process for granting citizenship to persecuted religious minorities who have sought refuge in India.

The Matua community, primarily located in West Bengal, India, has its origins among the Namasudra (a Scheduled Caste group) people of East Bengal, now Bangladesh. The community was founded on the religious teachings of Harichand Thakur in the 19th century, emphasizing devotion and social reform.

Historically marginalized, the Matuas have long sought recognition and security in India, especially since many migrated during the Partition of Bengal and after the formation of Bangladesh. Their demands for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) stem from a desire for Indian citizenship for Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, which they believe would validate their presence and rights in India.

The Matua community’s population is significant, with leaders estimating it to be around 3 crore (30 million), mainly concentrated in the North and South 24 Parganas districts of West Bengal. Their substantial numbers make them an influential voting bloc, particularly in regions where they form a large part of the electorate.

The implementation of the CAA has been a pivotal issue for the Matuas, affecting election dynamics in West Bengal. The community’s support has been courted by various political parties, and their backing was instrumental in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The recent announcement of the CAA’s implementation could significantly influence the community’s support in upcoming elections, potentially swaying results in constituencies with a significant Matua population.

India has a long history of providing refuge to various groups. As of 2021, there were 58,843 Sri Lankan refugees in 108 camps in Tamil Nadu and Odisha, and 72,312 Tibetan refugees. More than 46,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from Myanmar and Afghanistan are registered with UNHCR, living mainly in urban settings. Refugee camps are spread across several states, including Tamil Nadu, which hosts the largest number of Sri Lankan refugees, and places like Jammu, Hyderabad, Nuh, and New Delhi for Rohingya refugees. 

The demands of refugees in India often include legal recognition, access to basic services, and protection from refoulement. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) aims to provide Indian citizenship to persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who entered India before December 31, 2014.This act could significantly impact refugee communities like the Matuas from Bangladesh, who have long sought legal status in India. The CAA is expected to remove legal barriers to rehabilitation and citizenship, offering a dignified life to refugees who have suffered for decades. However, it has also raised concerns about statelessness for some groups.

The CAA grants citizenship to migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian communities who entered India before December 31, 2014, from Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Bangladesh.The amendment relaxed the eligibility criteria for certain classes of migrants based on religious lines.Tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura, along with areas protected by the ‘Inner Line’ system, were exempted from the purview of the CAA.

The CAA has been challenged before the Supreme Court on the grounds that it violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law. Using religion as a qualifier is at the heart of this challenge.The fate of Section 6A of The Citizenship Act, 1955, which deals with citizenship in Assam, is also under scrutiny.

The CAA was notified on January 10, 2020, amidst protests across the country.On May 28, 2021, the central government empowered district collectors in 13 districts with high migrant populations to accept citizenship applications from groups identified in the 2019 amendment.

The Ministry of Home Affairs announced the rules for implementing the CAA on March 11, 2024.

The CAA remains a contentious issue, with legal battles ongoing. While proponents argue that it provides relief to persecuted minorities, critics raise concerns about its impact on secularism and equality. As India grapples with the complexities of citizenship, the CAA continues to shape the nation’s socio-political landscape.

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