There are certain sensitive issues in which there is always unanimity cutting across diverse political spectrum. The reservation for SCs, STs is one such example.
As per the last census, there are 20 crore Scheduled Caste (SC) and ten crore Scheduled Tribe (ST) community people, and they will have representation through reserved constituencies for election to Parliament and State legislature. Though initially the Constitution envisaged reservation for only ten years, successive extension for seventy years has been rightly accorded in deference to what Dr Ambedkar pleaded in the Constituent Assembly. Articles 330 and 332 also give representation to Anglo Indians by nomination and since their population as per the census is only 296, their representation stands withdrawn though the government promises they will consider their continued representation in legislature.
One political leader made an odious comparison with the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) alleging that in the CAA one set of minorities were omitted while in this Constitution Amendment, injustice was being done to another micro minority! This is just an example of how facts can be twisted for narrow political ends.
A few days ago, at the inter-State border check post in Kanniyakumari district, special sub-inspector Wilson was brutally shot dead by terrorists. None of the opposition parties condemned the killing and one politician had the gumption to politicise the issue. Now, the police have identified the terrorists involved and have unearthed an inter-State terror module. In a similar manner, the Amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955 is embroiled in politics. Unabashedly, vested interests are working overtime to generate half-truths and blatant lies to mislead people, resulting in serious public disturbance and violence in some parts of north India.
Many may not know that the first Law Minister of Pakistan was Jogendra Nath Mandal who was an Indian belonging to the Dalit community. However, six months after the Nehru Liaquat Pact which was signed in 1950 to ensure protection for minorities in the respective countries, Mandal resigned from his position as Law Minister, disgusted over the violence unleashed on the minorities, especially the Hindus and Sikhs in the then East and West Pakistan. He later died in West Bengal as a refugee.
The Indian Constitution came into force from January 26, 1950. The Partition which took place prior to the commencement of the Indian Constitution was effected on religious lines and a portion of combined India was ceded to form the new Nation Pakistan. At the time of Partition, there were many Hindus and other minorities who were living in the land which was given to Pakistan. The Independence of India came with tragic communal violence. Post Partition, India established itself as a secular state; Pakistan, however, established itself as a theocratic state, going against the Nehru Liaquat Ali Pact of protection to minorities in Pakistan.
Part II of the Indian Constitution deals with citizenship and is governed by Articles 5 to 11. Article 11 specifically states that Parliament will have the power to make any provision with respect to acquisition and termination of citizenship and all other matters relating to it. Thus, it is clear that even at the time of framing of the Indian Constitution, it was felt that that time was not conducive to finalise provisions with regard to citizenship and that is why Article 11 was introduced in the Indian Constitution, giving the liberty to Parliament to frame appropriate laws regarding citizenship with the efflux of time.
In furtherance of Article 11, the Citizenship Act, 1955 was passed. Section 14A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 specifically states that the Central government may compulsorily register every citizen of India and issue a national identity card to him or her. It further states that the Central government may maintain a National Register of Indian Citizens and can establish a National Registration Authority for this purpose. Therefore, it is wrong to state that the concept of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) came into being for the first time by virtue of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 is that it discriminates on the basis of religion and that classification on the basis of religion is unconstitutional. However, this is not the case because affirmative action to protect minorities of the three countries mentioned is a justifiable differentiation which has reasonable nexus with the object it seeks to achieve. It is also one of the obligations on the part of India as there has been a violation of the Nehru Liaquat Pact and repeatedly Gandhiji and several political leaders have given an appeal to render justice to these oppressed minorities in Pakistan-mostly Dalits. Thus, it could be seen that the Amendment Act of 2019 is an objective which should have been achieved much earlier considering the historical injustice meted out to the minorities from these three countries.
Moreover, this is not the first time that such an attempt for the classification has been made. The Government of India in 1950, with Pandit Jawarlal Nehru as the Prime Minister and Dr Ambedkar as Law Minister, passed a legislation, namely the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950, and this Act specifically drew a distinction between those who came to Assam illegally and excluded those who came to India due to civil disturbances from East and West Pakistan. As per census, there are 1.2 crore Bangladeshis in India.
The categories of granting citizenship to any person by virtue of the Citizenship Act, 1955 are: by virtue of birth, naturalisation, registration, and acquisition of any territory by India. This has not been interfered with in any manner whatsoever. All that the Amendment seeks to do is to introduce another ground for granting citizenship through the process of naturalisation for the special category of minorities migrated due to oppression and residing in India as on December 2014, reducing the period of naturalisation from eleven years to five years. This is a very limited purpose relief. Already, existing provision of granting Indian citizenship by naturalisation is not changed and is open to all religions and countries and there is no discrimination to any religious group whatsoever.
In 2010, the National Population Register (NPR) was launched and the then President was registered as the first citizen and the government announced that the National Register of Citizens will follow with the establishment of an authority to carry out the process.
In Assam, the NRC was implemented following a writ petition filed in 2012 before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to protect the ethnicity of Assam from the large scale trans-border migration. On 21.07.2015, the Hon’ble SC constituted a judicial committee to oversee the process of NRC and stated that the updating of the NRC will be done in accordance with the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. This again is crucial because it highlights as to how the concept of the identity card for citizens in pursuance to Section 14A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 was conceptualised in 2003 itself.
The Supreme Court directly monitored the implementation of the NRC in Assam as there was delay on the part of the government and listed twenty-two sets of documents like birth certificate, school certificate, ration card, voter ID, etc. directing that any one of the listed documents would suffice to establish proof of residency. Even to get a mobile phone SIM, basic proof of residency is required and the hue and cry raised over NRC is clearly motivated.
Similar dissent was voiced when the Aadhaar identity card exercise was launched but it was successfully completed and there was no discrimination.
Minorities, particularly Muslims, are misled by wily politicians as if their citizenship is at stake, creating a fear psychosis. They foolishly also claim they will not allow enumeration in their State which is a statutory requirement.
Neither the NPR nor the NRC are in any way discriminatory and only attempt to enumerate the lawful citizens. The Supreme Court has evolved a transparent process, listing out a set of documents which any lawful resident in India will possess. The ideal situation would be countries without borders, with free movement of people, but this utopian ideal is neither possible or practicable in this age and time. Let us feel proud to hold aloft our Indian identity, irrespective of caste, creed or religion.
— The writer is Mylapore MLA and former DGP