From being a passive and reactive country, India has begun to transform into a truly modern nation that is conscious of its growing abilities and opportunities. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is the latest in a series of epochal measures that reflect the ability, wisdom, vision and determination that are characteristic of not just good leadership, but of statesmanship. And of the prime minister and his advisers it can be said, “Cometh the hour, cometh the man”. The CAA is the combination of India’s age-old spirit, and tremendous grit. It is an Act that helps define who we really are as a nation and a people.
The CAA is designed to give shelter to a people who have been neglected and oppressed for centuries. Our nation has welcomed diverse peoples throughout her glorious history. She has embraced the Greeks, and their knowledge, in the wake of Alexander; sheltered the Jews and the Parsis; and has been home for the first mosque built anywhere outside the birth place of Islam. Through the CAA, we have reaffirmed the tradition of embracing people of different races and religions, customs and climes. In doing so, we have followed the golden mean of balancing the head with the heart. The CAA protects the interests of everyone involved in the most optimal way possible — from our people and culture in the Northeast to the destitute, persecuted people who fled their countries for their lives and beliefs. It is a fact that India is doing today what the countries of origin of these people ought to have done, which is, to protect these minorities, and preserve their way of life.
It is well known that all civilised nations offer asylum in cases of political persecution or matters of conscience. In the case of the economic migrant Muslims, such a threat is clearly absent in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In fact, a high-level adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh has recently agreed to the repatriation of the Muslims who migrated from their country. For, illegal migration is a crime, and ought to be treated as one.
The Act is a carefully considered measure. It was presented to the public as early as 2016. It was examined by an all-party 30-member committee. In fact, genuine migrants were already granted different kinds of permits and visas for an extended stay, and this will be further legalised. Meanwhile, the Citizenship Act under the Third Schedule is in place. Only in the case of minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the eligibility has been lowered from 11 years to five years.
To begin with, the Act protects the people in parts of the Northeast through the inviolable Inner Line, reserving the land for them exclusively. The core of the Assamese culture has been carefully conserved. The original people of the land, irrespective of their faith, will remain undisturbed, equal and safe in every way, ensuring their full growth. Interestingly, the constitutional guarantee given to the people of the Northeastern states is based on the British Inner Line System under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation of 1873, which was designed to protect interests of the ruling classes of the British against others. The Government of India, through this Act, has protected the interests of the Assamese people with the same care as the British protected theirs.
The Act is pragmatic too. It recognises the limits that India can go to and stays within them. No country can afford to provide shelter, medical care, and livelihood to unlimited people. It is positively absurd that we should support people who have nations carved out explicitly and exclusively for them and their way of life when our own citizens are unemployed. It is a historical fact that Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan have had substantial minorities comprising of the very people who, if they are eligible, will be given Indian citizenship. The minorities in these countries have dwindled due to persecution and injustice simply because of their faiths. For us to abandon them would be to abandon our own culture, principles, and responsibilities.
It needs to be emphasised that the Act does not grant citizenship to the non-Muslim peoples of these nations simply because they are non-Muslims. Nor does it exclude those Muslims who may be persecuted for their views, political beliefs or any such. We have the example of a popular Muslim singer, whose father, a pilot in the Pakistani Air Force bombed Pathankot with devastating effect in 1965, who was given citizenship in India. This tradition continues. As per the government statistics, in six years, only about 2,830 Pakistani nationals were given citizenship, that is, about 470 per year — evidence of strict control.
It is needless to say, Indians following Islam will be completely untouched by the Act. They will not be asked to prove their nativity or any related matter. They face not even the slightest threat. The Act has a broader scope as well, as it plugs the loopholes in some other laws. For example, there were no provisions to revoke the OCI card of a holder committing unlawful activities. The Act seeks to close this gap, irrespective of faith or belief.
The great results of this Act are, in sum, the protection of the weak and the helpless of all faiths and the establishment of a more equitable society, sharing resources more justly. The repatriation of false economic migrants is happening in Western Europe to this day. In doing so, India is only following her own culture and laws. These laws have been endorsed by natural justice, international law and practice, reason, and compassion.
The writer is Vice-Chancellor of the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Shillong
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