Why is the Citizenship Amendment Bill bad for an inclusive India?

Let me set the premise for any discussions on this post. I am not a legal expert, not even a novice for that matter. So the views expressed here does not include the technicalities of the legal aspects of the issue. The post is from the point of view of an ordinary citizen of India, who believes in the ethos and legacy the idea of India has embedded on us. Also, the fact stated in this post are to the best of my understanding, and anything wrongly put shall be corrected if I am notified of it.

Representational image. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons (https://images.app.goo.gl/dRqWpiHqgnYttAcZ8).

What is Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB)??

CAB, as I understand, is a provision through which certain peoples could be granted Indian citizenship. The criteria for these certain peoples are, they must be living in India at least since December 2014, they must have come from either Pakistan or Bangladesh or Afghanistan, and their religious identity must be either of a Hindu, a Jain, a Buddhist, a Christian, a Parsi etc1.

What are the inspirations for CAB?

The issue of immigrants has been a decade long issue in many parts of the country, particularly the north east India. In many states including Assam, BJP election manifesto promised an exercise named NRC (National Registry of Citizens)3, through which the immigrants would be identified and "thrown out". When finally NRC was carried out, a whooping 19 lakh people were excluded from the list, and incidentally a significant population was from the Hindu community2.

I believe, that this situation put BJP is a position of stalemate. If they do not carry out the promise, a re-election to power is impossible. But if they exclude a population with a significant Hindu community in it, it would affect their ties with RSS, the ideological mentor of BJP and would have nation-wide ramifications. This what I think has inspired the CAB which would allow BJP to "execute their promise" without affecting their vote banks.

I tend to dismiss the other stated motivations for CAB, like persecution of minorities in the respective countries. If religious persecution was the ground, the Shias, Sufis and Ahmadis of Pakistan could have been included, or at least the rohingyas of Myanmar should have been included.

Why are people protesting against it?

There are two types of protests against the CAB. One is that ratifying the citizenship of a large number of people would have direct economic and cultural consequences on the states where majority of them have settled, like Assam and West Bengal. This would mean that the original citizens in those states may suffer in terms of jobs, culture, language, resources etc, as all these would now be required to be legally shared with people who were so far "foreigners".

Another reason for protest is due to the fact that the only major religion left out of this bill is Islam. The people concerned about this aspect argue that it is not in the spirits of India that a particular community is left out in the name of the religion they believe in. Also there are further fears that this bill can catalyst persecution of Muslims in India.

Are the concerns sound?

I feel that both concerns are rightly put. First, as far as the settlement states are concerned, they are right in resisting an extra burden the people would have to bare. There are no known provisions, like economic incentives or burden sharing plans, that distributes the impact of the inclusion to the whole nation, rather than concentrating on certain specific states. Also, there are concerns of threatening the cultural and linquistic identities of the states by the changing demographics1.

People were relatively cold in general to the second aspect initially, until a video clip of Amit Shah mentioning a nation wide NRC after CAB surfaced5. An NRC, like that in Assam, could mean serious concerns to Muslims (or other excluded sections) in the backdrop of the CAB.

How is CAB + NRC lethal?

Lets assume that an NRC exercise is carried out at a national level. As we have seen in Assam, and can be subsumed from common sense, proving one's nationality is not as simple as it sounds. One has to prove that he/she was born in India, been living in India since a specific time and born to parents of which either is an Indian and the other is not an illegal immigrant (recursively again according to the same rules)6. This would require documents concerning self and parents, and in some cases even grandparents, and documents to connect the relationships.

Now, as one can expect in India, a lot of people would not be able to prove this due to lack of sufficient documents. Now comes the incentives for the "included communities". If they can simply prove that they have been staying in India since 2014 (which I feel is fairly simple to prove), they would automatically be considered for citizenship under CAB, provided if they could somehow prove that they are from any of the listed countries. People against the act believe that a majority of the future exclusions of NRC could possibly be included by this.

However, a person from the excluded community (mostly Muslims) would not be getting this incentive. They could technically be categorized as "immigrants", as has happened in Assam with the families of ex-servicemen and even a former Indian president.

Although proving that someone is actually from another country is very tricky, even for the included communities. But that presents some communities with an additional option. Also note that even for a legitimate "minority refugee", how to prove his origins is not ellaborated yet.

Is this CAB + NRC concern just a speculation?

Well, may be. However, even the slightest risk of something sinistral can be quite scary, right? Just imagine how many things we are scared of in day-today life, just because there is a rumour that it can cause cancer. So even as a wild possibility, the combo is concerning.

Also, Amit Shah's video clip do catalyze such concerns.

Conclusion

I feel that CAB is wrong to the ethos and principles of India. It is at the very best, discriminatory and not inclusive. Also, nation-wide NRC is definitely a nightmare. Do I think BJP will ever go for such a draconian step? I am not sure. But I feel that even having the capability is like possessing nuclear arms.

As I mentioned in the beginning, whatever I have expressed is based on my knowledge and there could be another side to it. So in case if I have missed something or misinterpreted something, please do let me know in the comments. I shall verify and correct wherever found flawed.

References

  1. Economic Times: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/et-explains/citizenship-amendment-bill-what-does-it-do-and-why-is-it-seen-as-a-problem/articleshow/72436995.cms?from=mdr
  2. India Today: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/assam-nrc-final-status-of-accepted-excluded-citizens-published-online-1599054-2019-09-14
  3. India Today: https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/assam-nrc-why-bjp-is-upset-and-protesting-over-its-own-agenda-1594560-2019-09-02
  4. ABPLive https://news.abplive.com/videos/trending-news/how-will-amit-shah-implement-nrc-in-the-entire-country-after-its-debacle-in-assam-abp-uncut-explainer-1122650
  5. Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--49S5Wx7n8
  6. Business Standard: https://www.business-standard.com/about/what-is-nrc