An address in India, minted at the post office

The government has entrusted officials from Census, postal department, railways and National Informatics Centre to scrutinise and verify documents after they are submitted online for citizenship under CAA

Updated - May 19, 2024 12:05 am IST

Published - May 18, 2024 08:33 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Pakistani Hindus who applied for citizenship under CAA wait for their turn to be interviewed by an empowered committee comprising postal department and railway officials, at a post office in New Delhi on May 18, 2024.

Pakistani Hindus who applied for citizenship under CAA wait for their turn to be interviewed by an empowered committee comprising postal department and railway officials, at a post office in New Delhi on May 18, 2024. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

On a hot Saturday morning, plastic chairs have been lined up in the corner of a big hall at the Indraprastha post office in central Delhi. Around a dozen Pakistani Hindus, all related to each other, soon occupy the chairs and await their turn for an interview with government officials in the office of the Senior Postmaster. An official emerges from the room, matches the names on a bunch of files in his possession and calls them inside one by one.

They have applied for citizenship under the newly implemented Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019.

Kanwar Lal came to India on a pilgrimage visa with his wife and children in June 2014. After the CAA Rules were notified on March 11, paving the way for the implementation of the legislation passed by the Parliament in December 2019, Mr. Lal applied online for citizenship by naturalisation on April 27. Last week, he got an SMS to reach the Indraprastha Post Office on Saturday at 11 am.

“I had the file with all the documents. This includes an eligibility certificate issued by the priest of Shiv Mandir near our refugee colony. The officials interviewed me for around 40 minutes, asked me detailed questions but eventually turned down my application. They have asked me to apply again as an affidavit to be attested by a notary was missing,” said Mr. Lal.

Though the legislation was brought in for undocumented migrants, the Rules specify several documents that are to be uploaded on the portal including a document issued by a government authority in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. While applications are pouring in from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana and Delhi where Pakistani Hindus who entered India legally are concentrated, there is no confirmation about people applying for citizenship under CAA in West Bengal and Assam. Matuas and Namasudras who fled Bangladesh fearing religious persecution and settled in West Bengal, and Bengali Hindus, excluded from Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) in 2015, are the other intended beneficiaries.

At least 14 people from Mr. Lal’s neighbourhood at Majnu Ka Tila in North Delhi were conferred citizenship on May 15 by Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla.

Amar Nath Advani, 44, who sells mobile phone covers for a living near Majnu Ka Tila was at the post office with five other family members.

“The officials interviewed us for three hours. They asked me about my parents, I showed their death certificates. They also wanted to see the identity documents of my parents. They asked how we came here, what do I do and if we will ever go back to Pakistan. They asked several questions to each family member,” said Mr. Advani. He said he was grateful to the Narendra Modi government for having implemented the CAA as before this he had never applied for citizenship under the Citizenship Act, 1955.

“That process involved lot of paperwork. CAA makes it easy for us. People who applied under Citizenship Act, 1955, their files were pending for years. This time I am hopeful that after an enquiry is done by a security official, I will get citizenship soon,” he said.

Mr. Advani’s daughter, Arti, was eight years old when she came to India on a pilgrim visa. Today, she is married with three children, the youngest of them a six-month-old boy.

“I got married in India, my husband is also from Sindh, Pakistan. He came in 2014. I have applied for citizenship through my father. My husband will apply later and am sure he will get it,” said Arti adding that she never went to school in Pakistan but studied till Class VII after coming here.

In a first, the government has entrusted officials from Census, postal department, railways and National Informatics Centre to scrutinise and verify the documents after they are submitted online. An empowered committee under Directorate of Census is the final authority to grant citizenship. The Senior Superintendent or Superintendent of Post heads the district-level committee where an official not below the rank of Naib Tehsildar or equivalent from the office of District Collector representing the State government is only an invitee.

As CAA was opposed by many States including West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, in order to bypass the role of the State government in implementing the law, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) notified committees headed by Census and postal department officials leaving no scope for the involvement of State governments.

Citizenship is a subject under the Union List of the Constitution and the State’s role could have come in play in providing logistics such as office space and police verification of applicants. In the past, MHA has delegated powers to District Magistrates to confer citizenship in certain cases.

Meet the lawyers helping Mumbai Muslims with CAA paperwork

“Since post offices and railways have a presence even at the micro-level in the country, it was decided to use the infrastructure to implement CAA. Instead of police, the character and security verification of applicants is being done by the Intelligence Bureau,” said a senior government official.

All about Citizenship Amendment Rules, 2024

CAA facilitates citizenship to undocumented migrants belonging to six non-Muslim communities — Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, and reduces the period to qualify for citizenship from existing 11 years to five years. CAA says the minorities from the three neighbouring countries who entered India without any passport, visa through illegal means “shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act,” and will be exempted from the punishable sections under Section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act, 1946. Insertion of Section 6B paves the way for such migrants to get citizenship by registration and naturalisation.

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