Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) is an act, passed by the Parliament of India, which amends the Citizenship Act of 1955 to grant a swifter path to Indian citizenship under the assumption of religious persecution to any individual belonging to the specific minorities of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who entered India on or before 31 December 2014. However, the Act does not mention Muslims and does not offer the same eligibility benefits to Muslim immigrants or immigrants belonging to other religions. The Act also does not mention any benefits for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who are living in India, having fled persecution during the Sri Lankan Civil War.
The Amendment only benefits Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Christian and Parsi refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who sought refuge in India before 2015, but leaves out Muslims and others from these countries, and refugees from other countries, who will remain illegal foreigners. Among the excluded refugees are Tamil Hindu refugees from Sri Lanka, Rohingya Muslim and Hindu refugees from Myanmar, and Buddhist refugees from Tibet.
The Act also seeks to relax the requirement of residence in India for citizenship by naturalization from 11 years to 5 years for migrants covered under the Act. According to the Intelligence Bureau, the immediate beneficiaries of the new law will be 25,447 Hindus, 5,807 Sikhs, 55 Christians, 2 Buddhists and 2 Parsis.
The passage of the Act sparked massive protests in India. Protesters in Assam and other northeastern states oppose the grant of Indian citizenship to any refugee or immigrant, regardless of their religion, because they fear it would alter the region's demographic balance. They have campaigned since the 1970s against all refugees, and they fear that the new law will cause a loss of their political rights, culture and land. They are also concerned that it will trigger more migration from Bangladesh as well as violate the Assam Accord, which was a prior agreement reached with the central government on migrants and refugees. After the act was passed, protests in the northeastern region turned violent. Authorities had arrested over 3000 protesters as of 17 December 2019, and some news outlets have described these protests as riots. Protesters say that the Act violates Clause 5 and Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord.
Critics have stated that the amendment Act is unconstitutional. The major opposition political parties state that it violates Constitution's Article 14, one that guarantees equality to all. They allege that the new law seeks to make Muslims second-class citizens of India, while preferentially treating non-Muslims in India.
Critics of the Act have stated that due to the National Register of Citizens (NRC), Muslims could be made stateless, while the Citizenship Amendment Act would be able to shield people with Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian identity as a means of providing them with Indian citizenship even if they failed to prove that they were citizens of India under the stringent requirements of the NRC. Some critics allege that it is a deliberate attempt at disenfranchising and segregating Muslims in line with the ethnonationalist Hindutva ideology of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The home minister Amit Shah had previously set a deadline for the implementation of a countrywide NRC by stating that the register would be rolled out before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The Act was criticized by various NGOs, students bodies and liberal, progressive, and socialist organizations across the country, with the Indian National Congress and other major political parties announcing their staunch opposition. Protests led by these groups are concerned that the new law discriminates against Muslims, and believe that Indian citizenship should also be granted to Muslim refugees and immigrants. The states of Rajasthan, West Bengal, Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh – all ruled by political parties that oppose the BJP – have announced that they will not implement either the National Register of Citizens (NRC) or the Citizenship Amendment Act. The states of Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha have however refused to only implement the NRC, while the state of Punjab and the union territories of Delhi and Puducherry have refused to implement the Act while only expressing disapproval of the NRC.
The states of West Bengal and Kerala have also put a hold on all activities relating to the preparation and update of the National Population Register which is necessary for the Census as well as the implementation of the National Register of Citizens. Although some of the states have opposed the Act, the Union Home Ministry clarified that states lack the legal power to stop the implementation of CAA. The Ministry stated, "The new legislation has been enacted under the Union List of the 7th Schedule of the Constitution. The states have no power to reject it." The Indian Union Muslim League and various other bodies have also petitioned the Supreme Court of India to strike down the Act as illegal and unconstitutional.
According to Yashwant Sinha, a former administrator, Minister of Finance and Minister of External Affairs under Prime Ministers Chandra Shekhar and Atal Bihari Vajpayee respectively, the unrest witnessed is also caused due to the economic crisis facing the country where the issue of CAA-NRC has acted as a trigger for it. The Indian economy has been witnessing a decreasing growth rate, increasing household debt, inflation, unemployment and economic inequality. Raghuram Rajan, an Indian economist and 23rd Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, attributed it to an "extreme centralization of power" under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The State Bank of India estimates a growth rate of 4.6% for the financial year 2020, which would be the lowest since the 2008 Global Recession where the growth rate had been 3.9%. The unemployment rate of India was reported to have reached a 45 year high of 6.1% in the financial year of 2017-2018. The Center for Monitoring Indian Economy stated the unemployment rate to be 8.45% with a rate of 37.48% for the 20-24 age group and 12.81% for the 25-29 age group in October 2019. According to the 2019 report of the Pew Research Center, 393.7 million jobs are in a vulnerable state.
The Oxfam India data states that the richest 1% of the population's control over the country's wealth increased from 58% to 73% between 2018-2019, while the wealth of the poorest 50% increased by 1%. According to Nisha Agarwal, CEO of Oxfam India, "the billionaire boom is not the sign of a thriving economy but the symptom of a failing economic system".
Protesters have agitated against the economic distress and expressed support for labour unions opposing the government's "anti-labour policies" Farmers and labour unions have been agitating against the economic policies of the government have also demanded for the withdrawal of the CAA and the associated NRC-NPR process. Various opposition parties supporting the protests have announced that they will bring up economic crisis as an issue of protest alongside CAA and NRC. Several opposition and protesting leaders have stated that the issue of CAA and NRC were brought about to divert the political discourse away from the economic condition of the country.