Unconditional Citizenship Denied: CAR, 2024 Sets a Dangerous Precedent

Far from meeting the demand for "Unconditional Citizenship" for refugees, CAR, 2024 would lead to the rejection of a large number of applications for Indian citizenship through this route, thereby identifying them as "illegal migrants" excluded from the citizenship

The Citizenship Amendment Rules, 2024 (CAR, 2024) notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India on March 11, 2024 is, simultaneously, a subversion of the secular basis of India’s citizenship law for the sake of communal, majoritarian vote-bank politics as well as a ploy to deceive lakhs of Bengali Hindu refugees from Bangladesh residing in West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and other Indian states, and identify them as “illegal migrants” in the eyes of law.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 [CAA, 2019] was enacted by Parliament in December 2019. Since then, over two hundred petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court of India, challenging the constitutionality of the law, because it introduces a religious test for granting citizenship to an arbitrarily chosen set of three Muslim majority countries from India’s neighbourhood, which have very different histories and conditions of persecution of religious minorities. The Union government had refrained from notifying the CAR in the past 5 years because the entire matter remains sub judice. There can be no justification for notifying the CAR, 2024 now, on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections, other than petty vote-bank considerations. This amounts to undue interference in the course of justice for electoral gains, in a sub judice matter, which sets a very bad precedent.

The post-Partition Bengali refugees of West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and other Indian states, particularly those who have migrated from Bangladesh after 1971, have been demanding “Unconditional Citizenship” from the Indian government, ever since the Citizenship Act, 1955 was amended under the Vajpayee government in 2003 which characterised all refugees as “illegal migrants”. The Modi government had promised to undo this anti-refugee, anti-Bengali amendment, i.e. CAA, 2003 through the CAA 2019 by unconditionally granting them Indian citizenship. Many Bengali refugees voted for the BJP in 2019 based on this promise, particularly the refugees belonging to the Matua community (belonging to the Namasudra caste which is a Scheduled Caste in West Bengal), who were voters in the Lok Sabha constituencies of Bongaon, Barasat, Ranaghat and Krishnanagar.
The CAR, 2024 makes it clear that these Bengali refugees, who are also SCs, to secure Indian citizenship under Section 6B of India’s amended Citizenship Act have to make an application providing details of their birthplace and that of their parents, as well as their date of entry into India, plus details of Passport and expired Visa. According to the CAR, 2024, an “Empowered Committee” shall scrutinise these applications for citizenship and grant Indian citizenship only if an applicant is found to be a “fit and proper person to be registered or naturalised”.

The CAR, 2024 demands that the applicants submit documents that are almost impossible for most Bengali refugees to procure. The experiences of D-Voters and NRC in Assam have already shown how people suspected of being “illegal migrants” have lost all social and economic rights.

Far from meeting the demand for “Unconditional Citizenship” for refugees, CAR, 2024 would lead to the rejection of a large number of applications for Indian citizenship through this route, thereby identifying them as “illegal migrants” excluded from the citizenship. This amounts to the institutionalisation of the NRC process, which has already been underway through the Deactivation of Aadhaar numbers of a large number of residents of West Bengal under the newly inserted Regulation 28A.

The Joint Forum against NRC rejects the Citizenship Amendment Rules, 2024 as a legally and constitutionally untenable subordinate legislation, aimed at petty vote bank politics, which would be challenged in the Supreme Court shortly.

The Joint Forum against NRC also calls upon the Bengali refugees of West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and other Indian states to see the trap that has been set by the Modi government for them through the CAR, 2024 to identify them as “illegal migrants” and exclude the for Indian citizenship forever, rendering them stateless. BJP has exposed itself as the biggest enemy of Bengali refugees, which needs to be taught a fitting lesson in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election.

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