India's New Citizenship Law

On December 11, 2019, India’s New Citizenship Law (CAA) was passed by the Parliament of India. This amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955 introduced a significant change by offering an expedited pathway to Indian citizenship for persecuted religious minorities from neighbouring countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, provided they arrived in India by 2014. The eligible minority groups under this act were defined as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, or Christians. This marked the first time that religion had been explicitly utilised as a criterion for citizenship under Indian law, sparking widespread global criticism.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which holds power in the Indian government, had pledged in previous election manifestos to extend Indian citizenship to members of persecuted religious minorities who had migrated from neighboring countries. Under the 2019 amendment, migrants who had entered India by December 31, 2014, and could demonstrate they had experienced “religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” in their country of origin, were made eligible for accelerated citizenship. This amendment also reduced the residency requirement for naturalization from twelve years to six. According to records from the Intelligence Bureau, just over 30,000 individuals were estimated to be immediate beneficiaries of this act.

However, the amendment faced severe criticism for being discriminatory on the basis of religion, particularly for excluding Muslims. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) denounced it as “fundamentally discriminatory,” stressing that while the goal of protecting persecuted groups was commendable, it should be achieved through a non-discriminatory national asylum system. Critics expressed concerns that in conjunction with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the CAA could potentially render many Muslim citizens stateless, as they might struggle to meet stringent birth or identity proof requirements.

The legislation triggered widespread protests across India. In northeastern states like Assam, violent demonstrations erupted over fears that granting Indian citizenship to refugees and immigrants would result in the loss of political, cultural, and land rights, and could potentially motivate further migration from Bangladesh. In other parts of the country, protesters contended that the bill unfairly discriminated against Muslims, demanding that Indian citizenship be extended to Muslim refugees and immigrants as well.

Major protests were staged at various universities, with students at institutions like Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia alleging harsh suppression by the police. These protests led to casualties among protesters, injuries to both protesters and law enforcement officers, damage to public and private property, the detention of hundreds of individuals, and the suspension of local internet and mobile phone connectivity in certain areas.

Several states declared their intention not to implement the Act, prompting a response from the Union Home Ministry, which asserted that states lacked the legal authority to block its implementation.

On March 11, 2024, the Ministry of Home Affairs officially announced the rules for the Citizenship Amendment Act, in line with Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s commitment to implement them before the 2024 national elections.

Citizenship law

The Indian Constitution, implemented in 1950, initially guaranteed citizenship to all residents without religious distinction. The Citizenship Act of 1955 granted citizenship to those born in India, with provisions for foreigners to acquire citizenship through residency or naturalization. Political events, notably the Assam movement in the 1980s, led to amendments in 1985, granting citizenship to Bangladeshi migrants before 1971 and outlining measures for those arriving later. Further amendments occurred in 1992, 2003, 2005, and 2015.

In December 2003, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003, introduced the concept of “illegal immigrants,” barring them from citizenship and authorising deportation or imprisonment. It mandated the creation of a National Register of Citizens. The amendment was supported by various political parties, including the Indian National Congress and Left parties. Opposition leader Manmohan Singh advocated for a compassionate approach to granting citizenship, especially for minority communities facing persecution.

Immigrants and refugees

The Indian Constitution, implemented in 1950, initially guaranteed citizenship to all residents without religious distinction. The Citizenship Act of 1955 granted citizenship to those born in India, with provisions for foreigners to acquire citizenship through residency or naturalization. Political events, notably the Assam movement in the 1980s, led to amendments in 1985, granting citizenship to Bangladeshi migrants before 1971 and outlining measures for those arriving later. Further amendments occurred in 1992, 2003, 2005, and 2015.

In December 2003, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003, introduced the concept of “illegal immigrants,” barring them from citizenship and authorising deportation or imprisonment. It mandated the creation of a National Register of Citizens. The amendment was supported by various political parties, including the Indian National Congress and Left parties. Opposition leader Manmohan Singh advocated for a compassionate approach to granting citizenship, especially for minority communities facing persecution.

The Amendments

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019 amended the Citizenship Act, 1955, to provide an accelerated pathway to Indian citizenship for certain religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Individuals belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian communities from these countries who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, and were exempted by the Central Government from certain provisions, are not considered illegal migrants.

A new section 6B was introduced, allowing the Central Government or specified authorities to grant certificates of registration or naturalization to eligible individuals. The Foreigners (Amendment) Order, 2015, had previously defined exempted classes, including minority communities compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution. The exemptions also extended to northeastern regions of India.

Overall, the Act aimed to address the concerns of persecuted religious minorities from neighboring countries while excluding certain areas from its application.

Implementation

The Government of India published the implementation details and rules of the Citizenship Amendment Act in the Gazette of India on March 11, 2024. An online portal was launched to facilitate eligible refugees in applying for citizenship. The timing of the release, just before the 2024 Indian general election, was seen as politically significant, with the BJP expected to gain electoral advantage. Opposition parties criticized the delay in implementation, accusing the BJP of using it as a political tool for the upcoming election.

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