Citizenship Amendment Act of India, explained in 500 words

This past week, the capital of India, Delhi, saw its worst-ever communal violence since partition. Even after the dust had settled, an eerie silence has engulfed the streets of Delhi. Some fear that the thread of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood which Delhi is often famous for might be torn permanently.

India has been seeing a surge in protests-counter protests and communal violence for quite some time now after the controversial CAA and NRC had been passed in the Indian parliament. Experts claim that the CAA is the root behind the deadly communal violence in Delhi and protests in other parts of India. As neighbours, Bangladesh should be concerned and aware of what is happening in India. So what exactly are the CAA and NRC? What is going on in India and what does it mean for us? We try to explain.

What is the CAA?

People shout slogans during a demonstration against India’s new citizenship law in New Delhi on December 19, 2019. – (Photo by Money SHARMA / AFP)

The CAA or the Citizen Amendment Act allows migrants of Hindu, Buddhist, Christians, Jain, Parsi and Sikh faiths from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who have entered illegally in India on or before December 31, 2014, apply for Indian citizenship.

This controversial bill excludes particularly Muslims because the Indian government claims that people of the other six faiths may have faced religious persecution in the Muslim majority countries but the Muslims have not. It is therefore not an obligation for India to shelter the Muslims.

Why is the CAA problematic?

The CAA is problematic for a number of reasons. For example, there are minority Muslims in Pakistan who face persecution on a regular basis; the Baha’i, The Ahmadiyya. They will not be granted Indian citizenship under the CAA because they are Muslims although they are facing persecution which the BJP has termed as a criterion for citizenship application.

The CAA is particularly problematic when viewed in context with the NRC. The NRC or the National Register of Citizens in India requires Indian citizens to prove their citizenships with valid documents. Theoretically, it goes like this: The primary NRC will at first, exclude a large number of Indians, the majority of them from the marginal society who’ll lack documents. The CAA then might help a large section of these people gain back their citizenships. But the Muslims will be left out under the CAA and so, a large section of Indian Muslims, mostly marginal, will be left stateless in the end.

Is everyone protesting against the CAA?

Yes, technically. The protests have become complex and convoluted. Majority of Indians are protesting against it. But for different reasons. In Assam, for example, people are protesting against it because they fear it will give more power to Bengali speaking Hindu settlers from Bangladesh who migrated there during 1951-1971. The Assamese fear it will take away their linguistic and cultural heritage completely and they are against all immigrants, both Hindu and Muslims.

In Bengal, protests have erupted against the NRC since the inception of this bill and in Delhi, most people protested against the CAA citing that it goes against the secular constitution of India.

But yes, all over India, the majority of the people are protesting AGAINST the CAA and NRC, not in support of it.

How does it affect Bangladesh?

Theoretically, it does not. But what happens in India does have a butterfly effect in Bangladesh. We must remain vigilant that the communal spark of Delhi doesn’t reach Bangladesh. Minorities in Bangladesh should not feel unsafe due to the situation in India.