Perverse intent: On the Citizenship (Amendment) Act

The CAA suffers from a narrow definition of persecution and arbitrariness

Offering citizenship to migrants who have fled their countries of origin because of persecution and have stayed a sufficient time in their adopted country, is a humane endeavour by any nation-state and should be generally welcomed. But by limiting this measure only to migrants from an arbitrary group of neighbouring nations and to narrow the definition only to “religious persecution”, and to further constrict this to not include Muslims, atheists, and agnostics among others, would suggest that the reasoning to provide this citizenship has less to do with humanitarianism and more to do with a warped and perverse understanding of Indian citizenship. By its very intent, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, whose rules were notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs last month, over four years since the Act was passed in Parliament, goes against the ethos of the Indian Constitution. It is a short-sighted piece of legislation in its understanding that only religious persecution merits a reason for providing asylum and citizenship. It is fairly evident that persecution can be due to other reasons as well, such as linguistic discrimination in the case of Sri Lanka in recent years, and erstwhile East Pakistan from which Bangladesh was born. Besides, as the case of the Rohingya from Myanmar shows, Muslims have also faced the severest form of discrimination in recent years, with thousands killed, more than a million of them rendered stateless and lakhs fleeing to other countries including India due to deliberate genocidal policies implemented by the ruling regime in the country. Even in Muslim-majority countries and those professing Islam as the state religion, such as Pakistan, minority Islamic sects such as the Ahmadiyyas have been subject to oppression and persecution.

The argument by petitioners against the CAA in the Supreme Court of India that the rules of the Act do not require foreign applicants to effectively renounce citizenship of their native countries, and that this allows for the possibility of dual citizenship which is directly violative of the Citizenship Act is also fair even if it is only a procedural one. While India is not party to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, they have provisions that require signatories to provide refugee status to those who are subjects of different forms of persecution beyond just due to their religion. Signatories must also apply these provisions “without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin” and it is clear that the CAA would run afoul of them if India were a signatory. The Court must declare the CAA as unconstitutional and revoke its implementation because of its arbitrary and selective norms for providing citizenship to migrants.