Into the fold . . .
It has been a year since the Government of India passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on December 11, 2019, amending the original Citizenship Act of 1955. While full implementation has yet to begin, the 2019 Act accommodates a fast-track process to confer Indian citizenship on refugees of six religious minority communities (Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian) from the Muslim majority countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Qualifying individuals will have to live and work in India for six years before they are considered eligible for citizenship by naturalization. The Act’s exclusionary nature led to days of violence and unrest. In New Delhi, a riot broke out in February 2020, resulting in 53 deaths and left hundreds injured, ahead of the nationwide COVID-19 shutdown in March.
Inclusion by way of exclusion, how NRC impacts CAA . . .
In 2019, around the same time the CAA was passed in parliament, the Indian government also proposed implementing the National Register of Citizens (NRC) nationwide. The NRC, a process to document India’s legal citizens, was first implemented in the state of Assam in 1951 in response to concerns raised around illegal migration from Bangladesh. In August 2019, the Assamese state government updated the final NRC list. While the NRC is yet to be rolled out beyond Assam, together with the CAA, these legal instruments have been criticized for their ability to target Muslim immigrants. Meanwhile, despite scores of petitions filed with India’s Supreme Court challenging the CAA’s legal validity, and protests from the West Bengal state government, the Indian government plans to implement the CAA in West Bengal, which has the second-highest Muslim population in the country, by the end of January.
Impacts of CAA on the Indian diaspora . . .
A lesser-known feature of the CAA is its impact on foreign citizens of Indian origin who have Overseas Citizens of India Cardholder (OCI) status. The OCI card allows people to live and work in India indefinitely but does not give them certain rights, such as voting or agricultural property ownership. The CAA stipulates that violation of Indian laws or provisions under the Citizenship Act can lead to the cancellation of one’s OCI status. However, the legislative guidelines are unclear on what laws the Indian government will apply to the OCI cardholders. These guidelines' arbitrary nature leaves gaping holes in the interpretation of the law and its implications for OCI cardholders.