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Four Years After Protests Against CAA Rocked India, Contested Law Set To Be Implemented Ahead Of Polls

The enactment of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act met with widespread nationwide protests in 2019 when the Opposition, student organisations, and the civil society forcefully resisted the law, which they termed as a discriminatory and exclusionary legislation.

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Demonstrators hold up flags and placards while gathering to protest against the Citizen (Amendment) Act (CAA) at Jantar Mantar, Delhi.
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Four years after the Narendra Modi government enacted the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and triggered nationwide protests, the law is set to be implemented ahead of the 2024 general elections. 

The CAA, along with the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), was criticised by the Opposition, student organisations, and civil society. The protests took place across the country and turned violent at times, with the state being accused of cracking down heavily on protesters. Campuses such as the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) —both minority institutions— were sites of police crackdowns that were widely condemned. 

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The monthslong protests in Delhi finally fizzled after the police crackdown following the Northeast Delhi Riots in February 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic soon began and the state quashed any further resistance in the garb of implementing Covid-19 lockdowns. Dozens died in the riots and several student leaders and activists were charged and jailed in subsequent crackdown. Many of them continue to face cases as the state turns the process into punishment. Omar Khalid, one of the prominent figures of the protests and a fierce critic of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its government, remains in jail for over three years. 

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The CAA has been seen as a discriminatory and exclusionary legislation targeting Muslims. The law facilitates the early grant of Indian citizenship to “Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014”. The three countries selected are all Muslim-majority countries in South Asia and Muslims are the only community excluded by the law. 

The Modi government has reasoned that the law addresses minority communities escaping the majoritarian religious persecution in these countries. The reasoning falls short of addressing the sectarian violence among the sub-continent’s Muslims in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Muslim minority sects of Shias, Hazaras, and Ahmedias have faced persecution. The law also does not address other persecuted minorities in the Indian neighbourhood, such as Tibetans from China-controlled Tibet, Rohingyas from Myanmar, and Tamils from Sri Lanka. 

It was in conjunction with the proposed nationwide NRC exercise that the CAA was most vehemently contested. In the NRC exercise, which has only been conducted in Assam in line with the Assam Accords, those excluded but belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian communities —those mentioned in the CAA— theoretically have a backdoor route to retain citizenship (or regain citizenship), but no such route exists for Muslims. The law was, therefore, seen as one fundamentally discriminatory and exclusive of the Muslims. 

Now, after being in limbo for four years, the law is set to be implemented ahead of the 2024 general elections as the Centre is set to notify the rules of the law, which have reportedly been framed and could be announced anytime. The Indian Express has reported that an online portal has also been readied for the purpose. 

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“We are going to issue the rules for the CAA in the coming days. Once the rules are issued, the law can be implemented and those eligible can be granted Indian citizenship...All things are in place and yes, they are likely to be implemented before the elections. The applicants will have to declare the year when they entered India without travel documents. No document will be sought from the applicants. Requests of the applicants, who had applied after 2014, will be converted as per the new rules,” sources told the paper.

Four years later, Outlook looks at how things stand regarding the CAA and the resistance the law met from various sections of the society.

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In her story, Anisha Reddy looks at the police crackdown on the student leaders and sociopolitical activists who were involved in protesting against the law. While Khalid remains in jail, several others like Sharjeel Imam, Qasim Usmani, Ishrat Jahan, Khalid Saifi, and Safoora Zargar continue to face the cases. 

Shahina KK writes about the court proceedings related to the Section 6 of Citizenship Act, 1955, and its implications for Assam. The challenge to Section 6 is effectively a challenge to NRC of Assam as this section paved the way for the NRC stemming from the Assam Accords, which was aimed at checking ‘illegal immigration’. “While hearing the petitions challenging the constitutional validity of section 6 A of the Citizenship Act, Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud observed that the humanitarian aspect of immigration cannot be undermined as India having a predominant role in liberating Bangladesh. He expressed the view that the inflow of refugees from the war-stricken East Pakistan was not solely considered as illegal immigration by the then Parliament and hence section 6 A was incorporated,” noted Shahina.

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Md Asghar Khan reports about the politicisation of the ‘illegal immigration’ and the raking of the issue of ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’ by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state continuously. “In the past year, BJP ministers and leaders have continuously raised the issue of ‘Bangladeshi infiltration’ and NRC in the state. In February 2023, during his visit to Jharkhand, Union Minister Amit Shah said at a meeting that due to large-scale infiltration in the state, the tribal population has reduced from 35 to 24 per cent. He also accused the Hemant Soren government of allowing this infiltration out of vote bank greed,” reports Khan. 

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