I have never opened up The Gazette of India, whose existence has a mythical aura around it for everybody who grew up there. When I heard that the Citizenship Amendment Act (2019), or “CAA”, runs all of three pages, including all legalese, I decided to make it a go and opened up the publication “Registered NO DL – (N)04/0007/2003-19”, as “Published by Authority”, dated 12th December, 2019.
For all its foreboding, the language is clear and approachable – something that came as a pleasant surprise to me, as far from legal profession as one can be. On page 2, it specifies “any person belonging 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” in a manner not covered under Passport Act (1920) or Foreigners Act (1946), “shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act”. Page 3 reduces Residency requirement for the said cohort to five years from existing eleven years. In other words, if you are members of these six religions, your presence in India, otherwise unpermitted, would be treated in an explicitly more favorable fashion than if you are not.
Justice Markandey Katju, retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India, and Dhruti Kapadia, Advocate on Record of the Supreme Court have published a brief on the same topic, among other legal eagles of repute. As Katju and Kapadia observe, right to equality as enshrined in Article 14; right to life and liberty, per Article 21, was interpreted by the Highest Court to imply the right to live with dignity. Both are both available to all persons – citizens and non-citizens alike. Therefore, Katju and Kapadia conclude that CAA is “unconstitutional as it violates both Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution”.
Since passage of the Act, India is burning with rage. All newspapers of record in US, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, have highlighted protests all over the land and rather harsh response of the State against it. The New York Times wondered aloud if “India is moving closer to becoming a Hindu nation”.
Heavy-handed response of Indian bureaucracy and Central Government is an established modus operandi. Northeastern state of Assam has been put under Internet blockade since start of unrest, a pattern becoming too frequent. A recent Forbes Magazine study counted 154 Internet shutdowns in India between Jan 2016 to May 2018, nearest is Pakistan with 19; India alone accounted for three times as much as next seven combined, a track-record no country should be proud of. At numerous campuses the State has come down hard on university students who are worried about departure from Founding Principles of the country.
Supporters of the Act have suspended common sense. Oft-repeated refrain is that the Act affects no Indian. And that is only half truth, because “proving” you are an Indian is no longer easy nor straightforward. In connection with a related National Register of Citizens (NRC) effort in Assam, even people who lived for generations could not provide documents for any number of most innocuous and valid reasons -anybody who has directly dealt with official maze can only sympathize. No wonder over 1.9 million residents are facing ominous prospect of being stateless. Forget that the Government exists to benefit lives of the people, in India people subsist at whims of the State, the connected and the powerful.
Imagine a situation where NRC is applied throughout the country, and that is no longer as much a pipedream as it may sound. Ever the sloth one ordinarily, Indian Parliament now acts with lightning speed and vehemence, if selectively. As worrisome, legislative initiatives are enacted with little debate as a moribund Opposition offering nary an alternative. As we saw with NRC, it is ridiculously easy for an ever evolving set of requirements to confound people, especially those economically vulnerable or barely literate. If NRC is indeed attempted across all states, tens of millions – yes, tens of millions – of all religious affiliations will suddenly find themselves at the mercy of the State.
And when that happens, some of the same will be more privileged for reasons explicitly prohibited under Indian Constitution. CAA needs to be viewed in conjunction with the NRC, a combination that is clearly discriminatory and morally reprehensible.
During World War II, India welcomed persecuted populace from Europe by the thousands. As The Jewish Standard observed, not a single Jewish refugee was turned away from its shores, resulting in almost 5000 Jewish émigré’s either making India their abode or their way-station before Promised Land later on. This is remarkable because of the fact that the British were suspicious of Reich refugees for fear of Nazi spies, and that India was still a collection of Princely States outside of the British umbrella. A beautiful story of “The Little Poland of India” is often told where a thousand Polish children were given a home by “The Oscar Schindler of India” after feeling brutal Siberian exile.
If these children came via neighboring countries today, they will not find embrace of 1940’s – followers of Judaism are not the chosen people as The Gazette of India sees it. Nor would be my ex-landlord in New York City who fled Pakistan as he was an atheist. Nor would be scores of Bangladeshi women who suffer domestic violence and survive only by a thread before somehow escaping.
Accident of birth made them less of a person in The Citizenship (Amendment) Act – the same accident that The Constitution of India was designed to help provide succor for.
Even if, and when, The Supreme Court of India overturns the Act, India’s hours of Infamy have begun.
[Partha Chakraborty, Ph.D., CFA is an entrepreneur in Blockchain and Wealth Management in US and India. Dr. Chakraborty spent two decades in all parts of the Investment Management value chain globally; he lives in Southern California with his family. All opinions are of the Author alone, and do not necessarily represent that of any organization he may be part of. The author alone is responsible for any error or omission.]