In December 2019, the Indian government enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The CAA fast-tracks nationality for non-Muslim minorities from neighboring countries. In effect undocumented people from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh who escaped persecution and arrived in India before 2014 can be fast-tracked to citizenship – but it only applies to those who are Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhists, Parsi or Christian, NOT Muslim.
Changes in citizenship policy are being framed by the government as a way to target “illegal migrants” or “infiltrators”. But a common explanation for the changes is that they have been driven by Hindu nationalism of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the organization that molded Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, as well as Nathuram Godse, the man who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. This ideology promotes the idea of a Hindu Rashtra, which aims to formally entrench Hinduism in Indian politics while continuing an anti-Muslim agenda. Muslims, India’s largest minority, have been targeted by Modi’s BJP government.
The Indian constitution is a secular one that enshrines equality for all its people, irrespective of religion. The CAA violates the right to equality enshrined in India’s constitution. Many international legal experts, including the United Nations special rapporteur on minorities, say India’s new citizenship law is discriminatory and there is the danger that millions of minority groups such as Muslims will be denied citizenship.
Accompanying this is the adoption of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), an attempt to draw up a register of Indian citizens. Nearly two million people have been excluded from a citizenship list in the state of Assam where the NRC exercise was concluded last year. The BJP turned the registry into a predominantly anti-Muslim exercise and ultimately, the majority of the 2 million residents of Assam who were stripped of citizenship were Muslim. There are now 6 detention centers holding mostly Bengali people.
There are remarkable similarities in the way citizenship laws are being used to leave swathes of people stateless and without citizenship rights – stripped of the right to vote, the right to own property, and the right to any kind of social security. The combination of the CAA and NPR is paving the path to disenfranchising the Muslim minority community in India. Experts warn that the CAA, coupled with the proposed NRC, violates international law, specifically the prohibition on rendering people stateless.