The Huddle

The Huddle 2020 | CAA is creating two pathways of citizenship based on religion, says Yamini Aiyar

Yamini Aiyar, president Centre for Policy Research, during a conversation on Citizen Bane: The CAA — its constitutionality, its need, its purpose, during the fourth edition of The Huddle 2020, The Hindu's annual thought conclave, in Bengaluru on February 22, 2020.

Yamini Aiyar, president Centre for Policy Research, during a conversation on Citizen Bane: The CAA — its constitutionality, its need, its purpose, during the fourth edition of The Huddle 2020, The Hindu's annual thought conclave, in Bengaluru on February 22, 2020.   | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

Act is reopening a debate long settled by the Constitution, says expert

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act fundamentally upends the Indian Constitution by creating two very distinct pathways of citizenship on the basis of religion, according to President of the Centre for Policy Research Yamini Aiyar.

The Act fast-tracks citizenship for illegal migrants of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who have come to India until December 31, 2014.

By “introducing a religion test into our definition of citizenship and what it means to be an Indian”, the Act is now “reopening in a fundamental way” a debate that was long settled by the Constitution, said Ms. Aiyar on Saturday, speaking at a session on the CAA at The Huddle, the annual thought conclave of The Hindu.

Mirroring the on-going, heated national debate about the CAA, the session brought into sharp relief differing views not only about the Act, but about fundamental constitutional principles. Ms. Aiyar, Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Rajeev Chandrasekhar, and Congress Member of Parliament and national spokesperson Manish Tewari were in conversation with Mukund Padmanabhan, curator of The Huddle and former Editor, The Hindu.

Congress MP Manish Tewari during a conversation on Citizen Bane: The CAA — its constitutionality, its need, its purpose, during the fourth edition of The Huddle 2020, The Hindu's annual thought conclave, in Bengaluru on February 22, 2020.

Congress MP Manish Tewari during a conversation on Citizen Bane: The CAA — its constitutionality, its need, its purpose, during the fourth edition of The Huddle 2020, The Hindu's annual thought conclave, in Bengaluru on February 22, 2020.   | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

 

Mr. Chandrasekhar said while the Act would fast-track citizenship for a group of people who have been refugees in India for several years post-Partition, it was incorrect to suggest that the Act “prohibits any other class of foreigner to apply for and get citizenship”.

The BJP and Congress MPs sparred over who was to blame for the current national divide over the issue. Mr. Tewari said the government’s intent was to blame, and pointed out that there was no need in the first place to pass a new Act, as the existing architecture already allowed it to give citizenship to any persecuted minority. The Act not only violated Article 14 of the Constitution that provides for equality before the law, but also went against several of India’s international obligations on non-refoulement.

Mr. Chandrasekhar countered that the CAA was itself “non-controversial” and only because it had been hyphenated with the National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) that concerns arose. “The narrative that it is discriminatory to a group of people or that somehow we have shut the door on them for citizenship is plain and simply factually wrong. Nothing in the Act prevents refugees from Bangladesh or elsewhere from applying for citizenship.”

He acknowledged there were legitimate concerns over how the NRC had been implemented in Assam, but added it was wrong to suggest the government wanted to implement a similar process elsewhere. “When you have 19 lakh people left out of 3.3 crore in Assam, it is problematic. No government will go into an NRC process that is so heavily exclusionary,” he said, adding that lessons needed to be learnt from a “failed and disruptive” process in Assam that, he noted, was a court-monitored and court-mandated exercise.

Ms. Aiyar said the problem arose precisely because the CAA created a different channel for citizenship on the basis of religion, particularly against the backdrop of the NPR-NRC.

“When the CAA gets twinned with other administrative processes, it essentially creates paths of statehood for one religion and paths of statelessness for others. Decoupling CAA, NPR and NRC is problematic because the two are quite linked. The CAA creates the legislative framework using which what emerges out of the NPR-NRC process will potentially create protections for some communities, and question the citizenship of others.”

Political sparring aside, Ms. Aiyar told her fellow speakers that one heartening outcome they both should agree on was the large-scale political awakening of university students.

“They are making the Constitution a live document and using it as a starting point to engage in public consciousness,” she said of the on-going movement. “No matter what your party or position, that infuses hope for the future of India.”

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 3:44:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/the-huddle/the-huddle-2020-caa-is-creating-two-pathways-of-citizenship-based-on-religion-says-yamini-aiyar/article30890382.ece

Next Story