The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom(USCIRF) recently released a new ‘fact sheet’ on India’s Citizenship Amendment Act(CAA). Amid internal challenges and international criticism, the fact sheet provided a brief overview of the controversial law explaining the ‘problems’ related to religious freedom in India.
“The CAA provides a fast track for non-Muslim immigrants from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to apply for and gain Indian citizenship. The law essentially grants individuals of selected, non-Muslim communities in these countries refugee status within India and reserves the category of ‘illegal migrant’ for Muslims alone,” a release issued by the USCIRF read.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who introduced the bill in the parliament, argued that the CAA has nothing to do with India’s own religious minorities and is aimed at protecting those who have suffered from religious persecution in neighbouring states.
The USCIRF Pointed Out Four Provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Act
- Although the Citizenship Act of 1955 bars illegal migrants from obtaining Indian citizenship, any Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian migrant from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan who arrived in India on or prior to December 31, 2014, will not be treated as an “illegal migrant” under the CAA, allowing them to apply for and gain Indian citizenship.
- The CAA grants the aforementioned migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan immunity from any legal cases against them concerning their immigration status.
- For migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, the CAA reduces their qualifying length of residency in India before being eligible for Indian citizenship from “not less than eleven years” to “not less than five years”.
- The CAA contains a provision allowing the government to withdraw individuals’ Overseas Citizens of India cards—an immigration status allowing foreigners of Indian origin to live and work in India without restrictions—if they violate any laws for major or minor offences.
The CAA and religious freedom in India
The fact sheet observed that the CAA serves as a protective measure for non-Muslims in case of exclusion from a nationwide National Register of Citizens(NRC)—a proposed list of all Indian citizens.
“After the release of the finalized list, BJP political leaders advocated for the CAA as a means of protecting Hindus excluded from the NRC in Assam. The provisions of the CAA would protect any non-Muslims excluded from the NRC from detention and provide them with a path to Indian citizenship, reserving the label of illegal migrant for Muslims alone,” The release said.
It also said that the CAA and NRC have been made in the context of the growing prominence of the “BJP’s Hindutva ideology” which views India as a Hindu state considering Islam as a foreign and invading religion.
“The NRC process in Assam and the challenges plaguing it demonstrate that Indian citizens could be stripped of their citizenship in a nationwide NRC.” It said.
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