Chief principal secretary to Punjab CM
Anguish, unrest and even violence as a result of the enactment of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act do not augur well for the country. The objects of such an amendment are largely ambiguous to the common man on the roads and streets, though some well-meaning people must have understood the import of these changes that enable the illegal migrants from certain minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship.
The CAA provides for citizenship to the people from minority communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — after six years of stay in India even if they do not possess any proper document. The earlier requirement was 12 years of stay. The new Act also provides for the cancellation of the registration of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders if they violate any law.
It is felt that the CAA violates the basic tenets of the Constitution as it distinguishes illegal immigrants on religious basis. It is perceived to be a demographic threat to indigenous communities. It is being seen as an infringement of the ‘secular’ outlook and fabric of our country and is expected to cause religion-based discrimination in granting citizenship.
According to the CAA, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and Parsi migrants who have entered India illegally — that is, without a visa — on or before December 31, 2014 from the Muslim-majority countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and have stayed in the country for five years, are eligible to apply for Indian citizenship. Apparently, the Muslim migrants have been excluded from the new provisions to grant citizenship. Though the omission is observed to be deliberate, it is widely known that our Constitution does not allow exclusion on the basis of religion.
In India, a secular socialist republic, we do not allow or recognise any distinction, preference or reservation on the basis of religion. This is said to be one obvious cause of unrest. Also, there are enough laws in the country to punish OCI cardholders for their illegal acts, but then why deny registration, if they are Indians? We do have citizens who indulge in criminal activities. They need to be reformed or punished, not denied entry into the country to which they belong.
It cannot be anybody’s case that the country should not have a record of citizenship, that is, the National Citizenship Register (NCR). However, the record should not only be fair but should also be prepared in a proper non-discriminatory manner.
The National Population Register (NPR) is merely a record of persons —a head count, living in the country on a given date, it is not necessarily a proof of the number of citizens in the country. It helps the nation in resource planning, and demand and supply management of goods and services for the people living in the country. Anyone living in the country should not be excluded from the NPR, particularly when it is not a record of citizenship.
India is an unimpeachable secular democratic country, where a majority of the people are tolerant and progressive. But it is also a fact that we are a country in which the varna system prevailed for a long time and it continues to occupy quite a substantial social space even now. Untouchability was widespread and it had to be abolished through a constitutional proclamation. However, social subalterns, especially amongst the poor and downtrodden, including those belonging to the Scheduled Castes, still suffer untouchability of varying kinds in many parts of our country.
The recent amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1955, accentuate the debate on the threat to our secular social fabric and, perhaps, make some, if not all, believe that we are becoming a more intolerant than a progressive forward-looking society aiming at quicker inclusive growth. The past is surely a mirror that shows us our image, but it can and should be improved in the age of the 21st century Photoshop, without contorting it in any way.
True it is that the minorities should feel secure and be entitled to their rights and liberties in an equal measure and no less. We, as a nation and individual responsible citizens, need to introspect. The misdemeanours of our neighbours who abhor peace and encourage violence cannot be condoned by any of us, irrespective of our ideology. As citizens, we cannot celebrate those who kill our brothers and sisters. No one can be a true Indian with an extremist way of living, contrary to the mainstream peace and amity in the open, tolerant and absorbing society — that we are and shall continue to be so.
The constitutional values of India must be respected by all, even in their respective quests for right-based action. All citizens should assimilate the core humanitarian values and actively participate in mainstream education, trade, commerce and politics in an all-India endeavour for a better, developed, harmonious and humane society.
The CAA should, of course, appreciate these underlying objects, ensuring that those with nefarious designs and extremist ideology are not allowed to damage India’s basic structure and value system as enshrined in the Constitution. No one should be isolated, segregated or excluded by design, and those at the fringes must be given all the opportunities for reform and joining the mainstream.
These rational distinctions and actions, based on laws that do not discriminate against any religious group, community or country, will perhaps help to achieve the long-term social reconciliation in the country, avoiding the uneasy unrest that is being seen in many parts of the country with a new signboard: Shaheen Bagh.
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