The CAA Story: Through the Eyes and Experiences of an Indian Teenager

An outsider body UNHRC is challenging a domestic law and criticising that it is ‘fundamentally discriminatory’. Well, to give equality to the unequal people of other countries is a good ‘crime’; and not to forget we are not violating our own constitution.

Our country is known as the world’s largest democracy, and with it comes its own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s leave the disadvantages for later but we have a good number of advantages thanks to this tag. The one advantage which our people (especially the opposition) seem to love is the Freedom of Expression. Why do I say that? Because not a month passes without strikes or some kind of protests in our country. If it’s not a nationwide strike, it will definitely be a state or district wide protest.

Why do I talk about this now? The answer is very simple. There is enough evidence of this problem in the form of Anti-CAA ‘protests’. Another reason is, till now, I had failed to understand the reasons behind the riots and the attacks, and the negative effects of all these. But today, as I slowly start to fathom the vast and churning ocean of politics, I feel pained, outraged and helpless for the situation the common man has found himself in. Whatever the reason, the ultimate sufferer is the common man.

Now, everyone in our country is familiar with the acronym CAA, but not everybody knows the actual meaning of Citizenship Amendment Act which was passed in 2019 in the month of December. The Citizenship Amendment Act is a very simple and self-explanatory law. It states that it will provide citizenship to the illegal immigrants of six religious minorities, who fled due to religious persecution from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and sought refuge or citizenship in our country on or before 31st December 2014. These six religions are Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Jain, Buddhist, and Christianity.

The main cause for introduction of this Act is “religious persecution”. When there is religious persecution in a country, the people of minority community or non-Muslims, in this case, are systematically mistreated for their religious beliefs and practices. They are mistreated through various means like continuous abuse and forceful conversions. The last means of persecution is killing. The facts show that in Afghanistan minorities have been persecuted in a large scale thanks to the formation and ruling of Taliban. Taliban had declared that a pure Islamic country was their goal. The statistics of Bangladesh clearly show the massive decline of minorities from 1971 to 2011. During the formation of the country the total non-Muslims were 14.6% and the 2011 census shows 9.6%. When we consider Pakistan, the Pakistani government claims to be against religious persecution and it is even mentioned in its constitution, but the figures and facts show otherwise. There is no consistent census conducted there due to their political instability but with these two following reports we can understand. During 1951 the total minorities were 23% and now approximately 4%. Pakistan government say that the majority of the 23% were residing in East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh), hence the decrease. But considering the population increase and addition of some more communities as minorities, the number must have at least been in double digits.

There are many reasons for the religious persecution like hate speech or a leader’s opinion. But the root cause for it in Pakistan and Bangladesh is due to the partition of India in 1947.

Considering the plight of the people our government passed this Act, but objections were raised saying that the act violates Article 14, and that it discriminates against Muslims because they will not get citizenship. However, the reality is this: nowhere in the Act is it mentioned that no Muslim will get citizenship. Muslims and others seeking citizenship will get citizenship through the naturalization process. Coming to the Article 14, it states: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”. Well, according to this statement, the CAA seems to have violated Article 14, but this statement has exceptions. The exception is that the Article 14 can be relaxed if ‘reasonable classification’ is provided. There are two conditions to be fulfilled for the acceptance of the ‘reasonable classification’. They are:

  • The people who are grouped together should be disguised from the rest
  • The distinction should have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the Act.

The CAA satisfies both these conditions. Firstly, the six religions are grouped together and can be distinguished. Now coming to the second condition, the rational relation is clearly visible and explained in detail in the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’: “…many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries. Some of them also have fears about such persecution in their day-to-day life where right to practice, profess and propagate their religion has been obstructed and restricted”. Therefore, CAA is lawful.

When CAA was passed, I was writing my end semester exams and hence had little idea how and exactly when it was passed. After my exams were over, I became busy observing the political situation with rapt attention and was horrified to see all the violence that was taking place. To be honest, it took me a couple of days to understand the actual meaning of the Act and the reasons for the breakout of protests. Why would anyone like me who has access to the leading internet search engine take so much time to understand one simple Act? The reasons according to me are:

  1. Whilst this act was being passed in the parliament, there was inadequate information in layman’s terms for the public to understand
  2. The media failed to convey it to the people in its true form (or, at least a significant section of it deliberately misled).

Due to these reasons there was a lot of confusion and some people cunningly took advantage of this to spread rumours that the Act was focused on taking away the citizenship of a certain community. This spread like a wildfire causing the youth to get out on the streets. There were widespread protests across the country. Some protests turned into riots, which were also pre-planned. The permission for protests was given (problem with democracy: you don’t really need to work a lot to get protest permissions) with some restrictions. But fanatic mobs disguised as protesters violated these restrictions, causing the police to intervene. Once this happened, the mob started pelting stones at the police. Many of them even destroyed the CCTV’s and unearthed the poles to block roads. Seeing the sudden turn of events, the police restored to lathi charge and fired tear gas shells – but to no avail, as the mob had covered their faces. Upon realising this, and also due to the need of the hour (because some officers were injured), the police shot a few rounds. This resulted in some mob attackers getting injured. When this same incident happened in Mangalore, two people succumbed to the injuries of gunshot.

The ironical part of all this is that, all major news channels, instead of conveying the actual meaning of the act (at least now after all the mayhem had taken place), strategically showcased the protests in their prime time shows. They set up their panels comprising of well-known faces, typically consisting of a lawyer, a political spokesperson and a political analyst, to discuss about it and criticise the police. After watching a couple of these “panel discussions”, I understood why people were baffled. In the discussions, usually the so-called ‘Political Analyst’ causally commented that the fact is this act does take away the citizenship of a particular community, as mentioned earlier. The first thought that came to my mind was, “Aarey yaar, please get your facts clear, the CAA is actually about giving citizenship and not taking it away” – I wanted to say this out loud to the ‘analyst’.

Within a span of a few days, social media was flooded with the CCTV images and evidences of the attackers harming the police as well as the passers-by.  In the blink of an eye the news channels started focusing on the actual incident and the police finally got support from the public. The most shocking part of all this was some ministers gave compensation to the mob attackers and their families. The thought that kept nagging my mind is why someone would provide money to the mob attackers, when actually they should have given it the attacked passers-by or police personnel, who were harmed during the Anti-CAA riots. “Oh, sorry”, I said to myself – “hush! You are not supposed to ask that”. How could I ever forget?

As the days passed, the intensity of the protests decreased considerably. Seeing this, I thought that the show would finally be over and hopefully everything was going to be normal again. But that was not to be. It was just the ending of the first season and the second season came in the form of JNU Campus Violence.

Few days later, news broke out that the students and teachers of JNU had been brutally beaten up during the previous night by a few masked miscreants. A protest began in New Delhi condemning this violence. People alleged that the rival student unions were the masterminds behind the attack. In the following few days, JNU Student Union (JNUSU) organised protests in the campus where they received a lot of support. They even got support from a famous celebrity, whose film was up for release that week. Later, the Police clarified that the violence in the Campus was not a one night incident but had happening three days prior to this specific incident that brought the whole thing to the public view; and that the whole issue in JNU had started in October with regards to the registration process. The fact was that the JNUSU members had beaten up some other students of their university and had vandalised the campus property, and so the violence that happened that night was some kind of retaliation. So, basically, the actual criminals were none other than the JNUSU members themselves, the irony being that they were the ones now asking for justice.

After all these protests, some people moved to the Supreme Court against the Act. Common pleas were that CAA violates the fundamental Right to Equality and intends to grant citizenship to a section of illegal immigrants by making exclusion on the basis of religion. They sought an interim stay on the operations of CAA. The top court passed an order that it will not grant stay on the implementation of CAA without hearing the Centre’s response on the pleas and gave the Centre four weeks’ time to respond.

After this decision, once again there were protests organised, mainly on Republic Day and on 30th January 2020. Many protests were organised on the latter date in New Delhi including in places like Jamia Milia Islamia University campus. On the day of protest, the JMIU saw a student march from their campus to Rajghat. A man, apparently full of hatred towards a particular community, appeared in front of the students and shot a bullet towards them, injuring a student in the process. The man was arrested but the students started a riot against the police for their ‘inaction’. This again started a fresh series of protests in the country during which ‘Shaheen Bagh’-type protests arose to fame.

The Shaheen Bagh protest was a sit-in protest led by women. The problem isn’t so much with their protest but the spot of protest. They blocked an important link road and set up their protest camp (again a problem of democracy) making a public property their home. The protest began initially on 14th of December but came to the limelight after the shooting incident. This protest was a model for similar protests in other major cities of our country. A plea was filed, seeking orders to clear the Shaheen Bagh area, in the Supreme Court. The SC decided to appoint three mediators to initiate conversations with the protesters with regard to shifting of the protest to a location that does not block a crucial public place. This was a separate case and was not merged with the CAA case.

Recently, the UN Human Resource Commission has filed a plea in the Supreme Court challenging the CAA. An outsider body is challenging a domestic law and criticising that it is ‘fundamentally discriminatory’. Well, to give equality to the unequal people of other countries is a good ‘crime’; and not to forget we are not violating our own constitution. But some of our own people in India are supporting the foreign body. I appreciate the passion shown by these people, especially the young ones among them, towards the country’s well-being and coming together to speak their minds out but such passion should not give way to violence one or politically-motivated or foreign-handled protests. Our constitution has provided us the right to expression, and it is our duty to use it in the proper manner and our impulsive thoughts should not skip the details of law. Our small mistake of not going through the details of an act and protesting in such a hideous manner has brought the spotlight on us, but for all the wrong reasons.

Featured Image: The Hindu

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