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Published on: Nov. 30, 2020, 5:01 p.m.
Whither CAA
  • Much to the chagrin of the government, anti-CAA protests became very popular

By Rakesh Joshi. Executive Editor, Business India

It has been a year since the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed with much fanfare by Parliament. The passage of the legislation, however, had sparked off major protests throughout the country and even led to rioting in Delhi. Some 70 people were killed in protests that erupted across the country after the Act was passed.

Octogenarian Bilkis, one of the dadis of Shaheen Bagh was among several other elderly women who became the face of anti-CAA protests in the national capital. She recently even made it to BBC’s top 100 women of the year list. The government had all along defended the legislation. But for some strange reason, it is yet to frame the rules for implementing the CAA.

According to the government, the Act was meant to fast-track citizenship to persecuted Hindu and other minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The other minorities included Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists, Jains and Christians. Critics, however, raised objections on the ground that the law does not grant such eligibility to Muslims from those three countries all of which are Muslim-majority countries. Also, the Act was the first time that religion had been overtly used as a criterion for citizenship under Indian law.

A batch of Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan recently had to turn back after their hopes of getting citizenship in India under CAA were dashed. Reportedly, the refugees on long term visa (LTV) were hoping to benefit from the CAA. They ended up facing financial hardships and administrative apathy instead. 

Allegations galore

Media reports quoted Shreedhar, a 37-year-old refugee, who came to India from Umerkot district in Pakistan’s Sindh province and has been staying on a long-term visa, as saying: “For the past four years, I have been running to FRRO (Foreigners Regional Registration Office) Jodhpur and home ministry in New Delhi to get visas for my wife and children. I have given up now and want to go back.”

There were allegations that government officials were found to be indulging in harassment and corruption during field verification in some cases. This added to the woes of the refugees. “We came to India in search of better livelihood. For the past one year, we have been trying to get LTV but to no avail,” said Mithoon, who belongs to Hyderabad in Sindh. “My family is facing financial trouble due to lockdown and Covid-19. They have now decided to go back,” he added.

 

The refugees will now be returning to Pakistan as part of a group of Pakistani nationals, including those stranded in India because of Covid-19. The Union home ministry has given them permission to return to Pakistan via the Wagah border – granting them ‘no objection’ to their ‘exit’ and said that those who were staying in India on LTV or whose application for grant of LTV was under consideration with the authorities would be required to obtain an exit permit from the FRRO/FRO concerned.

Several reasons are being ascribed to the deliberate delay in implementing the CAA. Diplomatic sources said that the advent of a Democratic dispensation in the US has made the government circumspect. It may be recalled that, after the passage of the CAA Bill, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom had even called for sanctions against Home Minister Amit Shah and ‘other principal leadership’.

However, the ministry of external affairs issued a statement in response, stating that the statement made by the USCIRF was ‘neither accurate nor warranted’, and that neither the CAA nor the NRC sought to strip Indian citizens of citizenship. Leading Democrats had turned the heat on New Delhi, with the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs also questioning the intent of the bill and noting that “(a)ny religious test for citizenship undermines this most basic democratic tenet.

The Trump administration, however, chose to brush the matter under the carpet. On 19 December, however, the US Secretary of State said that the US respects Indian democracy since it has a ‘robust’ internal debate on the Citizenship Act. 

Another reason for the government going slow is the concern expressed in the highest quarters in Bangladesh over the CAA. Sheikh Hasina was among those who voiced her disapproval of the CAA and several ministers had cancelled their visits to India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Dhaka in March on the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence. Clearly, CAA should not cast its shadow over this visit, which is important in view of China’s overtures to India’s neighbours.

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