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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 6, New Delhi, January 25, 2020 - Republic Day Special

Citizenship Amendment Act 2019: India and Its Neighbours

Monday 27 January 2020

by Soumya Awasthi

We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign, socialist, SECULAR, democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; And to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation...

—Preamble of the Constitution of India, 1949

When the Constitution of India was written, it was imagined to be a secular and a free country giving Fundamental Rights from Article 14 to 31 to its citizens. But today there is a national debate on the relevance of the Constitution of India, and its people are asking numerous questions.

On December 9, 2019 in the Lok Sabha and on December 11, 2019 in the Rajya Sabha the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed. It introduces special provisions for Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, and Buddhists fleeing persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 proposes to have inclusivity, but within an exclusionary framework. The idea of citizenship has expanded to include persecuted migrants seeking asylum in India. But the criterion includes minorities only from Muslim majority countries, and persecuted Muslims have been kept out. But the measure consists of minorities only from Muslim majority countries, and persecuted Muslims have been kept out. By excluding Muslim refugees from the CAA and including everyone else, India has closed the doors of India’s most significant minority from both sides.

The CAA runs counter to India’s rich history of secular pluralism and the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law regardless of faith. India is losing its promise of inclusivity.

Amit Shah, during his introductory speech on the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, argued “that the CAB would not have been necessary if the Congress had not allowed partition of India based on religion.1” The logic of separation is itself illogical and unfortunate to justify a new law of segregation, and it is self-serving logic. There can be a whole debate over who all were stakeholders of the partition, and the legality of it will speak itself that the separation was not purely religious but had politics as a crucial part of it which created it.

Partition is not just a legal but a historical fact as well. Several citizens lost their lives during the world’s gravest mass movement between the two newly created nations, sacrificed themselves for the freedom and many others contributed towards the struggle.

Since December 9, 2019, the national debate, the media is reporting mostly from the government perspective, and no one is trying to understand the question, because it is always convenient to say what is happening and not get into the details of why it is happening. As it is these days, there is nevertheless a rush to report first and win the fastest news channel award. It is a time when the media is playing a significant role of lobbyists.

To understand the people’s movements against the bill, we need to make an effort at least as to what is the CAA.

Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019

As per the new Act, there are some little changes in the law. As per the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 section 2, Sub-section (1), in clause (b), the following proviso shall be inserted, namely:—2

Provided that any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community frdom Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for this Act;”3

3. After section 6A of the principal Act, the following section shall be inserted, namely:—

 ‘6B. (1) The Central Government or an authority specified by it in this behalf may, subject to such conditions, restrictions and manner as may be prescribed, on an application made in this behalf, grant a certificate of registration or certificate of naturalisation to a person referred to in the proviso to clause (b) of sub-section (1) of section 2.4

(2) Subject to fulfilment of the conditions specified in section 5 or the qualifications for naturalisation under the provisions of the Third Schedule, a person granted the certificate of registration or certificate of naturalisation under sub-section (1) shall be deemed to be a citizen of India from the date of his entry into India.5

(3) On and from the date of commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, any proceeding pending against a person under this section in respect of illegal migration or citizenship shall stand abated on conferment of citizenship to him:6

Provided that such person shall not be disqualified for making an application for citizenship under this section on the ground that the proceeding is pending against him and the Central Government or authority specified by it in this behalf shall not reject his application on that ground if he is otherwise found qualified for grant of citizenship under this section:

Provided further the person who makes application for citizenship under this section shall not be deprived of his rights and privileges to which he was entitled on the date of receipt of his appeal on the ground of making such application.

(4) Nothing in this section shall apply to the tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under “The Inner Line” notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.

Who are all exempted?

The Centre has exempted certain areas in the North East of India. It exempts whole of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram, almost entire Meghalaya, and parts of Assam and Tripura, but keeps all of Manipur under its ambit. The three exempted states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram or Tripura are part of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution (The Constitution of India makes special provisions for the administration of the tribal-dominated areas in four states viz. Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. As per article 244 and 6th Schedule, these areas are called as “Tribal Areas”, which are technically different from the Scheduled Areas under the Fifth Schedule) and the area under the Inner Line Permit (special permit required to entre these states) notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873.

Why is Assam in the North-East protesting?

There are various reasons for people of Assam to protest against the CAA, 2019,

Some oppose it for the communal divisive and unconstitutional character, the justification for calling it unconstitutional is that it challenges Article 14 of the Constitution of India. Article 14 states that “the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India...” this has both positive and negative aspects. The decisive point is that it provides equal protection of the law, but the negative point is that equality before the law, what follows is those in unequal positions not to be treated equally.

While others oppose it because it is going to make the NRC in Assam useless and nullify the Assam Accord, under Assam Accord of 1985, foreigners who had entered Assam before March 25th, 1971 were to be given citizenship. Religious persecution was not a consideration for any relaxation in accommodating illegal immigrants.7

However, in 2019 CAA is a violation of clause 5 of the Accord, Clause 5 of the Assam Accord says, “Foreigners who came to Assam after 1.1.1966 (inclusive) and up to March 24th, 1971 shall be identified as per the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order 1964.”

The protesters see this as a move by the Centre to go back on their promise made to protect their Assamese cultural identity. Clause 6 is another often quoted provision of the Assam Accord to challenge the new amendment in the Citizenship Act. Clause 6 of the Assam Accord says that constitutional, legislative and administrative steps will be taken by the Centre to “protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”.

Some others are opposing it because they fear that it will give legitimacy to the illegal Hindu immigrants. The catch here is that there are around 19 lakhs, illegal Hindu immigrants, as declared by NRC, which will get citizenship through CAA, which in return will bring Hindu vote bank for the ruling party.

Another reason for the protest is the apprehension of the indigenous Assamese people that it will open the floodgates for the Hindu Bengalis of Bangladesh, who may have entered into Assam in large numbers. It will jeopardise the already precarious existence of the indigenous Assamese people, who will outnumber.8

It is sure now that with CAA in place, any change in the political climate in Bangladesh, that is if the reigns of power are in the hands of the fundamentalists at any point of time, Hindus there could be tempted to escape religious persecution and cross over, secure in the knowledge that India will shelter them.

There is a feeling of humiliation, insult, neglect and a sense of betrayal that has stung the people. Without the consent of its indigenous people, the false promises made by the government to safeguard their culture, language, political and other rights like job opportunity, right to own a land etc. if the government was so concerned of protecting the interests of the indigenous people, then it should have done so beforehand when they had a previous term as well.

This fear is very much logical seeing the recent abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, wherein last five months people are living in panic and partial lockdown. Media reports cannot be relied on entirely. If as per the statement of the honourable Home Minister
Sh. Amit Shah “India’s secularism will not face any threat” is true then why did “Rohingya Muslims” who were facing persecution in Buddhist Myanmar, and they came to India for refuge. Still, it was denied any shelter and Rohingyas were suspected as probable troublemakers and jihadists. Or for that matter leave aside Muslims, what about the Sri Lankan Tamils who have been facing persecution in Sri Lanka? Why has India been selective in targeting only three countries and a particular religion? There are approximately 1,65, 500 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in about 109 camps alone in India for the last 30 years but have not been granted citizenship under the previous Act of 1955. And why have they not been mentioned in the present CAA 2019?

Why the rest of India is protesting?

There are numerous geo-economic reasons due to which there are unrest and gloominess in India, especially amongst the youth of this country.

Once the CAA is in force, the population of India is expected to rise, the people of India as per 2017 data is 133.92 crore. Although at the moment the refugees registered are close to 34000 only but it is just an official record thousands of illegal migrants have not registered themselves but the moment India begins gifting citizenship this number will rise soon and add up to the population of India and further it will multiply with kids.

This rise in population will lead to numerous challenges, given the fact that India has corruption and inefficiency despite several measures. Some of the predicted issues are depleting natural resources, India is going to face the most extensive water scarcity with 330 million people affected by 2020. Around 21 major cities are racing to reach zero ground-water levels, unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, poor health services, reservation politics will see an all-time high, economic challenges like inflation, black marketing and population imbalance. A small example of food inflation can be read from the latest official report of Commerce and Industry Ministry, which states that India is facing 11 per cent rise in inflation in November 2019 first time since 2013. Earlier data showed that food inflation had shot up to the double-digit in November after six years (BJP government). Onion inflation rose to 172.3 per cent in November 2019; it was 11 per cent in October. Vegetables and fruits annual rate rose to 45.3 per cent from 38.91 per cent in October 2109. Milk rates have gone up-to 3rs to 5rs a litter, the cost of fodder increasing for Maize, cottonseed oil cake, de-oiled rice bran and other feed ingredients. As a result, the farmers are reducing the herd sizes and under-investing in animal husbandry and under-nourished cows, although protection and well being of cows was another primary agenda for the present government.

The number of applications for a particular job will increase, and it will be a worrisome situation, especially for the general category candidates, who are already facing the brunt of reservation schemes. Another cause can be the shutting down of PSU’s and leaving many unemployed.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) a United Nations agency, unemployment is rising in India, and the unemployment rate in India is 3.6 per cent which is around 18.9 million people, in the year 2019.

Health and education sector is the worst hit by the inflation with 62.1 million of young children are deprived of primary education due to dropout rate, and the government has spent only 2.7 per cent of its GDP in 2018 which is down from 3.1 per cent, whereas India has spent only 3.89 per cent of its GDP on Health Sector.

No matter how good our foreign policies have been, we did two surgical strikes, the world has been with us on the issue of terrorism against Pakistan, we have been able to launch Chandrayan II, but simultaneously we can find enough data on the internet both primary and secondary to show how India is struggling domestically. The Human Development Index (HDI), still ranks us 129th position on 2019s HDI, announced on December 9, 2019, India is still home to 364 million poor people (28 per cent). Although there can be numerous reasons and factors for this ranking, the point to highlight here is that given such an economic status of India, when CAA executed as a law, there will be an extra burden on every citizen of this nation. There will be further Human Rights crises, and no matter how much the government gives assurance, the fear will be there in a common man for visible day to day struggle that each one does.

The GDP is not under control, nor is productivity getting better, as a result, one of the reasons that we could not sign the RCEP this year, due to inefficient manufacturing market, Make in India mission needs to do a lot more to make it a success. The condition of Women is still weak and has not improved, with horrific rape cases and the number of girls dropouts from early education.

The National Register of Citizens in Assam had cost close to Rs. 1300 crore, and imagine doing the same pan-India will be such a waste of money, energy and resources.9

Apart from this, several other questions that raise concern are why CAA is looking at only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, why not look at other neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka?

Why only minorities communities of Sikh, Hindu, Parsis, Jain, Christians and Buddhist? If India continues to be a secular nation, then why not welcome communities of Ahmadiyas, Rohingyas, Balochis and Jews who are facing the same persecution in the three countries?

Why Hindus from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh only and why not from any other countries as far as in Saudi Arabia, Gulf countries and as close as Tamil Hindus of Sri Lanka and Christians of Bhutan?

Some logistical questions are that assuming some existing non-Hindu citizens under NRC are not able to prove their citizenship, they will be sent to ghettoised camps until any country or countries agreed to accept them, so where will these camps be built, how much money will be spent on them? Will illegal immigrants continue to live in these camps for the rest of their lives? And what will be the future of there children? What about India’s reputation at the global forum? What about unrest and violence that these non-Hindu immigrants will create due to the anxiety caused by the new law? What if these non-Hindu immigrants spread hate and radical sentiments? Is the Indian government prepared for such consequences?

Politics of CAA

The NRC identified 41 Lakh people as illegal immigrants because they did not have sufficient proof to say they were citizens of India out of this 19 lakhs were Hindus. Now, these 19 lakhs Hindus will be registered as citizens of India. As a result, the vote bank for the current government.

Prime Minister and Home Minister of India assured the people of India that the Act would not give easy passage for the migrants or refuge. They will have to come through proper channel and wait for the approval. And only once they fulfil all the criteria for registration or naturalisation, they will be awarded the status of being a citizen.

Coming to the protest led violence in the capital it can be seen from another dimension as well which is a hypothesis to the upcoming State elections whereas per Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) report BJP is expected to lose. To set up a narrative against the opponent Aam Adami Party (AAP), BJP can be held equally responsible for unrest and being, so hell-bent on implementing the Act. In this way, a narrative can be set that AAP was no ability to handle the law and order situation, and hence it has failed and doesn’t deserve to win the elections.

The CAA also suits the election manifesto of the ruling party to create a Hindu Nationalistic Nation. We must understand that CAA is also distracting people of India from other significant issues and situations of national crises like situation.

How is it a Violation 

of Fundamental Rights?

With the ongoing anxiety amongst the youth and the thinking class of India, there will be no more chai pe charcha and nukud political discussions or the coffee house discussions. India is going to live under constant threat of being expelled and questioned for its existence.

The students or all those who dared to think and question are being attacked continuously by the state authorities. The peaceful protestors are being labelled as anti-nationals and traitors because they do not speak the mind of the state. Unfortunately, instead of taking criticism of politics as a health practice of Democracy, it is being viewed as a threat to Democracy. The universities, NGOs and common man are being lashed on the streets. Physical violence by the state authorities is a direct violation of the Fundamental Rights under the Constitution of India.

 Article 19 to 22 under the Right to Freedom. In all the cases of protests in last few months, it was always the state which made the first violent step, and then the other side retaliated to defend itself which comes under the Right to Constitutional Remedies, Article 32 to 35 which is for the enforcement of fundamental rights. The right to privacy is an intrinsic part of the Right to Freedom, Article 21 that protects the life and liberty of the citizens. However, neither life nor security of life is being protected by the criminals in uniform.

It is reiterating upon a point that the reason of the protest is not solely CAA or NRC, but it is the growing social and economic gap which has been frustrating many citizens to vent it out sometimes in aggression.

Impact of CAA on India’s relations with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan

India has always had a cordial relations with Bangladesh and Afghanistan, and politically so with Pakistan. But CAA entering the judiciary of India, it is going to affect India’s image at the global level. And for any such opportunity China is waiting on the edge to play a diplomacy card.

This has gotten the Afghanistan and Bangladesh government in on a wrong foot domestically, as they decided to keep mute on the mtterwith their political opponents criticizing them as Indian stooges. This will eventually cause pressure on the leadership damaging the relationships built over the years. Also both the countries are crucial regional assets for Indian security.

On the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen said Bangladesh and India were enjoying close friendly relations that was termed as “golden chapter” of bilateral ties and “so, naturally our people [Bangladeshis] expect that India won’t do anything that could create anxiety among them”.10

In another interview Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, Advisor the the PM Sheikh Haseena, said, ‘although it is a domestic matter of India and accept the assurance given by the Indian leadership.’ But on being asked over the persecution of the minorities of Bangladesh, Mr. Iqbal replied, ‘Communal harmony is one of the historic tradition of Bangladesh. Even when some regimes wanted to be communal, the people, even Muslim majority, resisted it. Non-communalism is a basic spirit of the Bengali people, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, or anyone.’11


To conclude it can be summarised that the government which is the representative of the people, by the people and for the people is equally accountable for its fundamental duties as per the Constitution of India which expects each citizen:

1. To uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;

2. To defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so;

3. To promote harmony and the spirit of universal brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;

4. To value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.

It is true that to succeed in politics, an ideology is necessary. But it is also correct parties that change doctrines with time to succeed in politics even lose their image quite quickly.


1. What is Citizenship Amendment Bill? All you need to know ....

2. The Citizen Amendment Act 2019 (CAA)—The facts -PGurus.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. The Citizen Amendment Act 2019 (CAA)—The facts -PGurus.

6. Ibid

7. What is Assam Accord of 1985 and how amended citizenship ....

8. A promise kept, a mandate betrayed | The Indian Express.

9. External Affairs Minister to visit Dhaka for talks ....

10. PTI, Dhaka, The Hindu, ‘Citizenship (Amendment) Bill: Bangladesh faults India’, December 11, 2019,

11. Mohan, Geeta, India Today, ‘Don’t club us with Pakistan, Afghanistan, says Bangladesh PM’s media adviser on CAB’, December 14, 2019

The author is a Ph.D scholar, Diplomacy and Disarmament Programme, Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament (CIOD), School of International Studies (SIS), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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