Unsecular Citizenship In Secular Country

The paradox of Indian secularism reflects in the Indian citizenship laws, the secular credentials of Indian citizenship that it is inclusive of each and every social, religious group etc has always been under a scanner. Questions have been raised on the partial and discriminatory behaviour of the governments while providing citizenship to religious and social groups who do not adhere to the ruling ideology. 

The citizen amendment act in 2019 has yet again raised questions on secular and non discriminatory credentials of governments providing citizenship to people of the country.

To understand CAA, first one needs to understand the Indian citizenship act and who can be the citizens of our country?

The citizenship In India is regulated by Citizenship Act, 1955. Through this act citizenship could be acquired in Five forms- by birth in India, by descent, through registration for people from “undivided India” after seven years of residency in India, by naturalisation for people from other countries after twelve years of residency in India, and by incorporation of territory into India. 

The citizenship amendment act has transformed the previous citizenship act as it seeks to amend the definition of illegal immigrant for Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh,  these are people who entered India and exceeded their stay illegally, before this act these people were ineligible to apply for citizenship. Through this act these people will now be granted fast track Indian citizenship in six years. Before this, twelve years of residence has been the standard eligibility requirement for naturalisation. This act was introduced to protect these social and religious groups from religious persecution in countries like:- Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. This act aims to protect those people and simultaneously exempt certain social groups from proceedings of illegal migration. 

The cut-off date for citizenship is December 31, 2014 which means that the applicant should have entered India on or before that date in order to benefit from the provisions provided through the Indian citizenship and CAA.

A verification process was also proposed to be initiated through NRC which is National register of citizens, this process aimed for illegal immigrants living in the country. As a result it created fear among the Indian muslim community and various other marginalised social groups who have lived in the country for generations that they would now be stripped of their citizenship rights and the provisions provided to them through the citizenship. They also feared that the government would send people to detention centre at their will when Amit Shah (home minister of India) announced that NRC would be applied to India and not just to Assam. The names of 1.9 million people were missing in the draft that was introduced in the state of Assam, more than 300,000 objections to the draft NRC had been raised. 

To which opposition argued that though CAA welcomes and is providing refugee to all other religious communities, simultaneously it also establishing muslims as second class citizens of providing beneficial treatment to other social groups. This violates Article 14 of the constitution and fundamental right to equality.

Indian nationalism is an instance of territorial nationalism, which is inclusive of all of the people of India, despite their diverse ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds.

However, the BJP employs a more aggressively nationalistic expression that segregates other social groups, while the opposition is a little soft on the issue and is inclusive of the other social groups.

The Bharatiya Janata Party employs a more aggressively nationalistic expression. It means that the BJP seeks to preserve and spread the culture of the Hindus, the majority population. It ties nationalism with the defence of India’s borders and interests against arch rivals China and Pakistan, with the defence of the majority’s right to be a majority. However, Congress’s soft Hindu politics is similar yet different to BJP’s aggressive stance on the issue and so, they opposed the bill.

This bill was challenged in the Supreme Court by the petitioners on the grounds that the bill discriminates against muslims and violates the right to equality. SC did not put a stay on the bill but they asked the Centre to reply to the petitioners.

This has lead to protests all around the country. Protests at Jamia, JNU and Shaheen Bagh are one of the few major instances that led to the debate of national and anti-national, the place at which these protests were held are significant too as the JNU is the place for student activists and people who have lineages towards left. Protests at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh  are significant as they reflect upon the insecurity of minorities. it’s not just insecurity of minorities but it’s the insecurity of government too as many of these protests were suppressed by the government with the brutal use of rubber bullets, water cannons, lathicharges etc to vandalising public library of students and severely injured many innocent students studying there.

Right wing nationalist projecting their ideology as superior than others, they present themselves as superior force under the pretence that they are defenders of religion and the nation. 

Protest against government policies are being termed anti-nationalist, through this, a general consensus is being build that some people are more nationalist than others.

BJP even tried to polarise the Delhi elections and politicised the protests at Shaheen Bagh. At a rally in Delhi Amit Shah said “your vote for BJP candidates in Delhi,  would and lead to silence and end of thousands of Shaheen Bagh”, he also referred to protesters as “Anti-nationalist” and “tukde tukde gang”. Other leaders like:- Anurag Thakur (Union Minister) chant to “shoot the traitors,” inciting violence. On February 1, 2020, a man fired two shots in the air near the protest site that was one week before poll.

When BJP leaders use terms like:- “Pro-pakistan”, “Tukde Tukde gang” and “Anti nationalist” to polarise elections for their political gains, they also stereotype and sideline various social groups from society by using ‘hate speech’ which is similar to what was happening in Germany, Italy and France in early 20th century when national question and nationalism was gaining significance and becoming political. Right wing nationalist movements and leaders of time propagated xenophobia and racism under the pretence of nationalism.

From leaders like Nehru and Patel whose secular credentials are absolutely unquestionable, they also introduced permit system that resulted in dropping the rate of Muslims becoming back to India in 1948-49.

Religion is not the only basis on which questions are being raised- against the Indian Citizenship act, questions are also being raised on the lack of the notion of citizenship by birth. If an individual is born after 1987, he/she has to prove their birth in India along with Indian citizenship of one of their parents. This provision has created loopholes and tends to reflect very harshly on certain category of citizens. For instance, an orphan born after 1987 who is unaware of his parents, or an abandoned transgender who again are unable to establish the fact that their parents are Indian citizens because they don’t even know who their parents are, and on the question of people collecting and holding on to their documents for 50 years, the government expects from people to show and verify their documents but how many people in India can produce “legacy documents”? Perhaps not even our prime minister- whose date of birth, college degree, and marital status have all been the subject of national controversies.

Other than that, there’s another category which is referred to as “Dreamers” by the US wherein if an individual’s parents are, let’s say, Bangladeshi immigrants who came into India illegally and have settled in India, then that individual being born in India will unfairly be discriminated and deported to Bangladesh.


History of CAA lies in the history of 1948: Abhinav Chandrachud [Mumbai Collective 2020]. (2020, February 11). [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gifeGicNLfI&ab_channel=SatyenK.Bordoloi

India: Intimations of an Ending. (2020, January 14). Retrieved from https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/arundhati-roy-assam-modi/

Gottschalk, P. (2018, August 8). Who are Pakistan’s Ahmadis and why haven’t they voted in 30 years. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/who-are-pakistans-ahmadis-and-why-havent-they-voted-in-30-years-100797

Online, E. T. (2019, December 31). Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019: What is it and why is it seen as a problem. Retrieved from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/et-explains/citizenship-amendment-bill-what-does-it-do-and-why-is-it-seen-as-a-problem/articleshow/72436995.cms

Gettleman, J., Schultz, K., Raj, S., & Kumar, H. (2019, April 13). Under Modi, a Hindu Nationalist Surge Has Further Divided India. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/11/world/asia/modi-india-elections.html

“Shoot the Traitors.” (2020, June 16). Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/report/2020/04/09/shoot-traitors/discrimination-against-muslims-under-indias-new-citizenship-policy

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world. #choosetochallenge

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