The Indian government’s Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 seeks to amend the definition of illegal immigrants for Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from India’s neighbouring countries.

Since the announcement of this act, protests have broken out across India with many of them becoming violent and many protesters getting arrested. The Act, which was initially tabled as a Bill before being passed by both houses, has become one of the most controversial pieces of legislation due to it’s discriminatory nature.

Why is the CAA viewed as discriminatory?

The objective of the Act is to make it easier for non-Muslim immigrants from India’s three major Muslim-majoity neighbours (Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan) to become Indian citizens. Although the Act isn’t explicitly discriminatory, it provides protection to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis facing religious discrimination from these three nations thereby excluding Muslims.

This amendment is of the Citizenship Act, 1955 which requires the applicant to have resided in India for 11 of the previous 14 years. The amendment relaxes this requirement from 11 years to six years, for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from the three nations, again excluding Muslims.

What’s going on with the protests

There are two kinds of protests that are taking place across India right now, against the Act. In the northeast, the protest is against the Act’s implementation in their areas. Most of them fear that if implemented, the Act will cause a rush of immigrants that may alter their demographic and linguistic uniqueness.

In the rest of India, like in Kerala, West Bengal and in Delhi, people are protesting against the exclusion of Muslims, alleging it to be against the ethos of the Constitution.

Why is the Act being viewed as unconstitutional?

When India became independent in 1947, its founders sought to create a secular nation where all religions were welcome. This is in contrast with Pakistan, which was conceived as a home for the subcontinent’s Muslims. By giving preference to certain religions in citizenship law, the government is moving away from that ethos.

Moreover, the introduction of this law is deepening worries that Indian PM Modi, who is the leader of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, is pursuing policies that will effectively turn India’s Muslim minority into second-class citizens. These fears were intensified in August 2019 when the Indian government revoked the partial autonomy of Kashmir from the Indian constitution. Then, in November 2019, Modi allowed for the construction of a Hindu temple at the site of a 16th-century mosque illegally destroyed by Hindi extremists.

Why does the Indian government believe this law is necessary

The Modi government is under the belief that the law is a humanitarian measure aimed at helping persecuted religious minorities from three neighboring countries who have entered India. These communities have faced hardship and, at times, violence in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, all Muslim-majority nations, and the government says India has a moral responsibility to help them.

Opponents to the law however, state several problems with the government’s logic. The first flaw is the fact that the law only applies to migrants who entered India by 2014 and does not help religious minorities living in those countries. The second is that the government has restricted its concern to religious minorities, not members of other types of persecuted communities.

International reactions to the CAA

The International sphere has expressed serious issues with the law. International observers have expressed serious concerns about the measure. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said the legislation marked a “dangerous turn” and called upon Congress and President Trump to consider sanctions against Amit Shah, Modi’s powerful minister of home affairs. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the law was “fundamentally discriminatory” and appears “to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India’s constitution.”

Protests against the Act have exceeded beyond India, taking place in the United States and Britain. More than 10,000 academics issued a statement condemning police brutality against students and calling the citizenship law “discriminatory and unjust.”

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