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Bharat Championing

Bharat Championing Global Humanitarian Leadership

Citizenship Amendment Act unequivocally embodies Bharat’s commitment to provide sanctuary to persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan

Rahul Pawa

In a historic move that ignited a firestorm of debate both within and internationally, Bharat’s Parliament took a decisive step on December 11, 2019 by passing Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). This landmark legislation marked a momentous shift in the nation’s approach to citizenship, amending the Citizenship Act of 1955 to offer an expedited pathway to Bharat’s nationality for certain persecuted religious minorities originating from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who had arrived in Bharat by the end of 2014. The Act specifically extends olive branch to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians delineating a clear classification based on religious affiliation. 

In alignment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration’s pledge to enact CAA prior to 2024 national elections, Ministry of Home Affairs delivered a crucial update on March 11, 2024 by notifying related rules. This announcement, which detailed regulatory framework supporting CAA represents a significant move towards making the Act operative. It also echos the government’s commitment in sync the manifesto and reflect the mandate given by people of Bharat.

Critically, CAA represents first instance in current day Bharat’s legal history where religion has been explicitly utilised as a criterion for citizenship. This aspect of the law has spurred a plethora of opinions and interpretations sparking an intense discussion about its implications and underlying motivations. While critics argue it undermines Bharat’s constitution by excluding Muslims sparking accusations of discrimination, proponents view the CAA as a humanitarian gesture extended to protect and provide citizenship to persecuted religious minorities.

In the heart of this historic decision to enact CAA, lies a complex mosaic of historical events, demographic and ideological shifts that shaped its creation. The genesis of CAA can be traced to tumultuous Partition of imperialist British-occupied Bharat in 1947. An era was marked by fallacious stance of Muslim League led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah that propagated the notion that Hindus and Muslims could not coexist. This was put to rest as millions of Muslims chose to remain in what became Bharat despite formation of East and West Pakistan exclusively for Muslims. The violent emergence of Bangladesh from Pakistan obliterated Jinnah’s claim that a singular Muslim state was the panacea for communal harmony and coexistence.

Their path to a harmonious or rights respecting states has been fraught with challenges. The aspiration to uphold and foster Islamic tenets often translated into systemic and legislatively endorsed persecution of minorities—Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians—who found their historical roots in the erstwhile cultural landscape of Bharat.

These communities have faced and continue to confront relentless religious persecution and systematic violence. Their ordeals have been marked by forced conversions, marriages, massacres, extreme violence against women and desecration and destruction of sacred sites and educational institutions. Despite1950 Liaquat–Nehru Pact and Bangladesh Constitution of 1972 espousing minority rights and secularism, the reality remains fraught with contradictions, particularly as these nations declared Islam as their state religion.

This was also echoed in Afghanistan’s constitutional journey, from the 1931 endorsement of Hanafi Shariah to the 2004 Constitution that sought to balance Shia and Sunni Islam yet declared that no law could contradict Islamic tenets, laying the groundwork for state-endorsed discrimination against minorities. The Taliban years starkly exemplified this, as their strict interpretation of Sharia law further marginalised religious and ethnic minorities evidenced by the tragic destruction of the giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan, and extreme persecution leading to almost no Christians, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists or Skilhs in Afghanistan , underscoring a history of entrenched discrimination, intolerance and violence against minorities in Afghanistan.

These historical nuances highlight the backdrop against which Bharat’s CAA was conceived and implemented, setting the stage for a law aimed at providing refuge to persecuted minorities from these countries, whose cultural footprints emanate from Bharat, positioning it as a beacon of human rights and humanitarian leadership in the region and beyond. The CAA, thus, is not merely a legislative act but a response to a historical legacy of division, persecution, violence and discrimination, offering a new path towards inclusivity and protection for those fleeing persecution.

In the intricate mosaic of global legislation addressing the plight of persecuted minorities, Bharat’s CAA emerges with a distinct humanitarian ethos, paralleled yet contrasted by international counterparts. Notably, the United States’ Lautenberg Amendment, introduced in 1990, similarly targets religiously persecuted minorities, facilitating their resettlement from the Soviet Union and, following a 2004 extension, from Iran. Like the CAA, it identifies specific religious communities as historically persecuted, excluding Muslims from the Soviet Union and Iran, thereby hastening the path to citizenship for these selected groups.

In stark contrast, the United Kingdom’s Nationality and Borders Act of 2022 embodies a markedly different approach, empowering the government to revoke citizenship without notification under Clause 9—a provision that has sparked controversy for its potential to disproportionately affect British Muslims, highlighting ethnic and religious divides. The case of Shamima Begum, often cited in debates, underscores the law’s focus on revocation rather than protection, raising ethical and human rights concerns.

While the Lautenberg and Specter Amendments in the United States echo the CAA’s intent to shelter historically persecuted groups, the UK’s Nationality and Borders Act diverges, prioritising national security over humanitarian considerations. This juxtaposition illuminates the CAA’s unique position in the international legal landscape as a beacon of refuge, distinguishing Bharat’s legislative approach to addressing religious persecution without resorting to the revocation of citizenship

To conclude, the CAA unequivocally embodies Bharat’s commitment to providing sanctuary to persecuted minorities, standing out as a beacon of humanitarian leadership on the global stage. It is crucial to reiterate that the CAA is not an act designed to revoke citizenship nor is it anti-Muslim or discriminatory in nature. Instead, it represents a unique and targeted legislative effort aimed at extending a hand of protection to those with historical and cultural ties to Bharat who have and continue to suffer from injustices in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

By enacting this legislation, Bharat not only responds to a historical legacy of division and persecution but also challenges the international community to rethink its approach to citizenship and sanctuary. In a world grappling with increasing displacement and sectarian violence, the CAA emerges as a beacon of hope, underscoring Bharat’s commitment to inclusivity and the protection of the vulnerable.

United Kingdom’s Nationality and Borders Act of 2022, which has raised concerns over potential revocation of citizenship without notice or even the United States Lautenberg Amendment, which, while providing a pathway for persecuted minorities still delineates based on religious affiliation but CAA is a unique testament to Bharat’s commitment to universal values of dignity, safety, and human rights.

By drawing parallels with and contrasting against international counterparts, it becomes evident that Bharat’s CAA is a pioneering effort, underscoring a dedication to balancing national sovereignty with a profound sense of global humanitarian responsibility—ultimately enhancing Bharat’s stature on the world stage as a beacon of hope and sanctuary.

(Author is Research Director at Centre for Integrated and Holistic Studies, a non-partisan think tank based in New Delhi)  

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