by Nilofar Suhrawardy 21 December 2019
The present Indian government was probably not prepared for the storm that it is facing from citizens across the nation demanding withdrawal of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). This is probably just a mild indicator of the democratic storm that can be raised by citizens of this country against what they view as against the ethics and norms prescribed by this country’s Constitution.
Paradoxically, quite a few points in the CAA passed by both Houses of Parliament suggest that it was drafted in a hurry without giving adequate importance to certain issues. Section 5 of the Act states that it applies to “illegal migrants who have entered into India up to the cut of date of 31.12.2014.” There is no clarity and/or specific reference as to why has this date been selected. The same section also states, “Since many of them have entered into India long back, they may be given the citizenship of India from the date of their entry in India if they fulfill conditions for Indian citizenship specified in section 5 or the qualifications for the naturalization under the provisions of the Third Schedule to the Act.” Here, there is no clarity on what do the words “long back” mean. Also, how would “date of their entry” be decided? Simply on basis of what illegal migrants say. Or on basis of some documents and if so, which documents?
Here, it may be pointed out that “long back,” around a few decades ago and earlier, computer services and Internet facilities were not available. Also, not much importance was given either to getting birth certificates or death certificates. Yes, some importance was given to getting degrees and certificates framed but that was it. So, whatever be meaning of words “long back,” a little importance needs to be given to how can those certificates and similar means to prove one’s national identity and date of entering India be retrieved when they never existed? Also, if some did exist, down the decades, prospects of their being reduced to yellowed paper, hardly eligible, cannot be ignored. If there did prevail technology to preserve them then, it would have been a different case. Besides, even to this day, in rural areas, birth takes place with help of local midwife (dais) and not in hospitals. How is anybody expected to know of which dai was responsible, where for his/her birth? And there is no guarantee that she may be still around. Even if she is, the question of her keeping record of the number of births she has assisted with does not prevail. Even she did, it isn’t clear as it whether her “record” or word would be considered a proof by the government.
Equally significant is confusion regarding words, “of Indian origin.” Section 7 states, “Many persons of Indian origin including persons belonging to the said minority communities from the aforesaid countries have been applying for citizenship…” Now, what does the government mean by stating, “of Indian origin” and how can it be defined? Also, there is no specific record of how “many persons” of Indian origin have really been applying for citizenship, over a certain period of time. Some figures, record of their applications, should have been included to testify this stand in favor of CAA. These points are just a mild indicator of probably the haste in which CAA was drafted.
With respect to NRC, if it is implemented throughout the country, with 1971 as the cut-off date, as per the Assam accord, for registering citizens, it seems fairly flawed. All those born prior to 1971 will soon cross their fifties and perhaps in a few decades’ time will not be around. It really does not make sense to ask for proof of their Indian identity. It would be wiser of the government to spend the same money in planning for the future by building hospitals, universities, creating employment opportunities and other constructive measures. The country cannot afford to waste money on measures pushing the country and its economy down the hill. Rather than digging up the past, the country needs to move forward, towards the future.
Besides, democratically speaking, the present government has been elected by the Indians, for the interest of Indians of all classes, sects and religions, etc. Unfortunately, as present circumstances indicate, the government is giving greater importance to citizens of other countries. Why? This is not their job. This is not their responsibility and/or duty? Their prime concern should be addressing demands and needs of Indian citizens, which they seem to not only turning a blind eye to but are also paying greater attention to harassing Indian citizens to silence them. This is not what the government has been elected for. First the government should set its own house in order. Also, with the economy in a bad shape, it doesn’t make sense to take care of non-Indians before ensuring progress of Indian community. The Indians want their money to be first directed towards Indians’ welfare. Once poverty has been removed, all are ensured education, health-care, jobs, etc, the government can then consider the issue from a humanitarian angle of non-Indians suffering in other countries. The first priority of the government should be welfare of Indians and development of India, not of non-Indians. The government runs on the money paid by Indians through taxes and other means.
The duty of Indian police is to provide protection to the people, the society and help in maintenance of law & order. Video-clips and reports indicate that several policemen have instead used violence against students for no fault of theirs. Each and every Indian has the democratic right to protest. Police can take action against them on ground of suspicion of their indulging in any illegal behavior but not on their protesting, studying peacefully in libraries, reading prayers or any other such activity. Students and their supporters have come out in large numbers as part of their duty as Indian citizens. Their protest is a strong mark of their solidarity with each other in the right direction and democratic manner. Police, as indicated by their use of violence against them, has sadly failed to respect their duty of providing protection to people. They are supposed to serve the people and not abuse them. Of course, here it may be stated, all policemen cannot be blamed for some having deliberately (or under some pressure) failed in their service to the nation. But yes, salute to all students and their supporters, who have not let their voice be silenced by use of force against them. As Indians, cutting across barriers, the citizens’ protest is a mark of their displaying their duty towards each other and towards the Indian Constitution. This is just a mild indicator of the strong roots of secularism in this country. A minor percentage of right-winged, communal elements cannot silence it easily!