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In solidarity with the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019

“India cannot cease to be one nation, because people belonging to different religions live in it. … In no part of the world are one nationality and one religion synonymous terms; nor has it ever been so in India.”

  • Mahatma Gandhi in Hind Swaraj (1908);
    Quoted in S.R. Bommai v. Union of India,
    Supreme Court of India (11 March 1994).

We are a group of Indians, mostly part of academia, who are deeply disturbed at the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (‘CAA’). The Act primarily allows illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to apply for citizenship if they are Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians or Parsis. In doing so, it explicitly excludes Muslims.

Article 14 of the Constitution of India, 1950 enshrines “equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”. Admittedly, Article 14 empowers the State to classify persons for the purposes of legislation provided it is based on intelligible differentia (which distinguishes those that are grouped together from others) and bears a rational nexus with the purpose of the Act.

Unfortunately, the CAA fails on both grounds. Firstly, it selects illegal migrants who are entitled to citizenship benefits on the basis of religion, which is in itself impermissible. Secondly, the Act claims to protect minorities belonging to the listed countries from persecution on grounds of religion. However, this justification does not fully address why the Act excludes groups such as Ahmadiyyas and Shias who are at the receiving end of majoritarian violence in Pakistan or atheists who are persecuted in Bangladesh. The Act almost assumes that Muslims can never be persecuted in Muslim-majority countries. Similarly, it does not address why these countries were chosen over other neighboring nations like Myanmar or Sri Lanka which are known to house persecuted groups like the Rohingyas and Tamils.

The unconstitutionality of the CAA goes beyond its incompatibility with equality. The Constitution of India is grounded in secularism, which has been recognised as part of its “basic structure”. Adopted after the particularly troubling decade marred by global conflicts waged on racial and communal grounds, the Constitution is emblematic of the diversity and unity that helped us secure our independence in 1947. Accordingly, no legislation, including the Citizenship Act, 1955, can derogate from the principle of secularism. However, by barring Muslim migrants, the CAA directly assaults the secular foundations of our nation.

Contrary to the statements of the Union government, the CAA’s impact is not limited to non-Indian Muslims alone. The Act is closely linked to the National Register of Citizens (‘NRC’). Initiated in 2014, the NRC requires every person in the state of Assam who claims Indian citizenship, to submit proof of their ancestry (or birth) in the country pre-dating 1971. Earlier this year, the final version of the NRC for Assam was published, which excluded over nineteen lakh residents across religions. This has a direct and significant bearing on the citizenship of the Muslims in Assam, especially those who migrated during the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. The exercise is now being contemplated for nationwide implementation. When seen in conjunction with the CAA, this exercise has the capacity to divest citizenship of lakhs of Muslims in a country that boasts of the second-highest Muslim population in the world.

It is no surprise that on 13 December 2019, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (‘OHCHR’) called out the CAA for being “fundamentally discriminatory”. In the same press release, the OHCHR also reminded India of its international law commitments towards equality, secularism, and the protection of persecuted groups.

As Indians, we have continually taken pride in the diversity of our motherland. Every day, we discover new things from fellow Indians ranging from culinary history, music, language to even stereotypes. We marvel at how our coexistence has allowed us to better appreciate our similarities and differences. For us, the CAA represents a horrifying prospect. It represents a country that allows differences to erase commonalities. A country that identifies people based on the religion they subscribe to. A country that is vastly different from the country we take pride in. Therefore, we denounce the CAA and all the divisive narratives that accompany it.

For the past week, many peaceful protests have been staged across the country by public-spirited citizens from all walks of life. These protests embody the right to dissent, which is the fulcrum of all democracies, including ours. However, instead of encouraging such public discourse, the Union government has chosen to unleash violence on peaceful protesters.

In particular, on 15 December 2019, the Delhi police stormed into the university campus of Jamia Millia Islamia without notice. The police locked the premises, detained and physically assaulted students and staff members. As members of the academic community, we understand the value of freedom of expression. Therefore, we reject such attempts to stifle dissent. As advocates of democracy, we condemn using violence as a proxy for law enforcement and support the call for accountability of those responsible.


Indians Against CAA – The Hague

Photos : Amirthraj Stephen


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