The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) have together become a hotly debated topic ever since the CAA was passed in the Lok Sabha on 10 December.
In the last two weeks, various agencies of the government have come up with various statements to quell the increasing displeasure among the people with respect to CAA and NRC. In this effort, there have been instances where misinformation or incomplete information has was passed off as full-fledged messages to the public, which has created more confusion.
In our latest, Adv. Azmat H. Amanullah, who is an Advocate-on-Record of the Supreme Court of India, dispells some misinformation that was specifically released by the Press Information Bureau (PIB) of India in a two-part series through the Q&A format.
Author's Disclaimer: The term ‘illegal migrant’ is used because the Act uses this terminology. The correct reference should be ‘undocumented migrant’.
1. IS THE NRC A PART OF THE CAA?
AS PER PIB: No. CAA is a separate law and NRC is a separate process. The CAA has come into force nationwide after its passage from Parliament, while the NRC rules and procedures for the country are yet to be decided. The NRC process that is going on in Assam has been implemented by the Honourable Supreme Court and mandated by the Assam Accord.
FACT: NRC is not a part of the CAA but they are interrelated as they have a direct bearing on one another with respect to the effect they will have on Indian Citizens. NRC came first, the CAA came later, contrary to popular information. Here is how.
In 2003, the then Govt. notified the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 which already provides for the rules and procedure for a nationwide National Register of Indian Citizens. The response is completely false. Rule 3 of these Rules provide for a National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) to be established and maintained. Sub Rule (5) of Rule 3 of these Rules clarifies that the Population Register shall form the basis for the NRIC. Rule 4 clarifies that the Population Register itself shall be verified to prepare the NRIC.
Under these Rules, on various dates including 31.07.2019, Official Gazettes for various states have come out with the following publication by the Registrar General of Citizen Registration directing states to commence work under the Rules for a National Population Register. Though notifications have been issued earlier as well qua some states, the recent ones in 2019 state as follows:
In pursuance of sub-rule (4) of rule 3 of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, the Central Government hereby decides to prepare and update the Population Register and the fieldwork for house to house enumeration throughout the country except Assam for collection of information relating to all persons who are usually residing within the jurisdiction of Local Registrar shall be undertaken between the 1st day April, 2020 to 30 September, 2020.
3. There is a direct and real correlation between this Amendment Act and the NRC (the rules for which have been framed in 2003). Any person excluded from the NRC for want of documents will have the option of claiming they or their ancestors were from the exempted minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan and becoming Citizens. However, Muslims alone will be excluded from this option.
2. DO INDIAN MUSLIMS NEED TO WORRY ABOUT CAA+NRC?
AS PER PIB: There is no need for an Indian citizen of any religion to worry about CAA or NRC.
FACT: As mentioned above, the process for NRC has started. The Registrar General of Citizen Registration has already issued direction to States to commence work for preparation of a National Population Register (NPR) under the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
This NPR is the first step. As per the Rules, the NPR will then be verified for the preparation of the NCIR.
As reported on December 24, 2019, the Union Cabinet allocated funds to the tune of over 8500 crores to update the National Population Register.
So any Indian who, due to economic and/or social backwardness, gets excluded from the NRC for want of documents will have the option to avail the benefit of the CAA except if they are Muslims.
Please remember that a person who is in India ‘illegally’ implies a person without documentation to prove they are Indian. Such a person is likely to also not have documents to prove which country they are from or the religion they profess (remember, prior to the Amendment, they were in the country illegally and would, therefore, avoid retaining any document to show they were illegal). So, on what basis will the Government prove or refute a person’s claim that they are not from the three exempted countries or the exempted religions? No rules or guidelines have been issued regarding what will constitute ‘proof of citizenship’ or ‘proof of belonging to three countries and to the exempted religious communities’. It will be at the absolute discretion of the Government.
This is s grave cause of concern for Indian Muslims because a lot of them are socially and economically backward and therefore will certainly have serious issues qua documentation to prove Citizenship.
3. WILL NRC BE FOR PEOPLE OF A PARTICULAR RELIGION?
AS PER PIB: No. NRC has nothing to do with any religion at all. NRC is for every citizen of India. It is a citizen register, in which names of every will be recorded.
FACT: The NRC and CAA are intertwined as explained above. One follows the other and they both have consequences, together, on Indians, particularly Indian Muslims.
The NRC shall identify persons in India who do not have documents to prove they are Indian. It shall declare such persons to NOT be Indian Citizens, i.e., illegal migrants.
Before the NRC, all illegal migrants from these three countries (or who claim to be from these three countries) who have become eligible to apply for Citizens by the CAA will be granted certificates of Citizenship and will now have a document to prove Citizenship even prior to the NRC.
Upon the NRC being conducted, the CAA will already be in force. Any person who finds herself or himself not to have the documents required for proving citizenship will be considered, and who is not a Muslim, will have the option to allege themselves, their parents or grandparents to be from Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan and to make a statement or declaration that they are non-Muslims. They will then get out of the NRC net and become Citizens under the CAA.
Muslims, Dalits, Tribals, etc who are Indians (and not illegal migrants) belong to communities that are disenfranchised and will, in any case, have serious problems with respect to documents to prove their Citizenship. However, ultimately, only Muslims will get excluded since others can claim the benefit given under the CAA.
This is how the NRC will directly affect people of a particular religion.
4. Will people be excluded in NRC on religious grounds?
AS PER PIB: No, NRC is not about any religion at all. Whenever NRC will be implemented, it will neither be applied on the basis of religion nor can it be implemented on the basis of religion. No one can be excluded just on the basis that he/she follows a particular religion.
FACT: As explained above, the NRC and the CAA together will result in an exclusion on purely religious grounds.
The NRC, alone, being religion-neutral, has to be read with the CAA which is admittedly religion-oriented which excludes only Muslims.
So, the effect of both the CAA and NRC will be exclusion only on the basis of religion.
5. By conducting NRC, will we be asked to present proofs of us being Indian?
AS PER PIB: First of all, it is important to know that at the national level, no announcement has been made to begin the NRC process. If it is implemented, it does not mean that anyone will be asked for proof of being Indian. NRC is merely a normal process to register your name in the Citizens’ Register. Just like we present our identity cards or any other document for registering our names in the voter list or getting Aadhaar Card made, similar documents shall need to be provided for NRC, as and when it is carried out.
FACT: It is notable that a yes and no response is not provided. The answer is yes. And the problem is that to date there is no information by the Government as to what documents will be proof of being an Indian.
It is incorrect that no announcement has been made to begin the NRC process. As mentioned above, the NRC rules were notified in 2003 and the work under the NRC has commenced including the construction of Detention Camps all over the Country. The Home Minister has made various statements including in Parliament confirming that CAA and NRC go hand in hand and NRC will follow the CAA. Post the CAA protests nationwide, on 22.12.2019, the Prime Minister incorrectly denied that NRC had commenced or that there were detention camps in the Country. This led to the Home Minister retracting his statements publicly. It is a sorry state of affairs when incorrect and contradictory statements are being made on such serious issues by the two most powerful people in the Government.
The process in Assam was messy, protracted, and led many people to their deaths as they were asked to prove their Citizenship to the Government, stand in line for hours, scramble to find documents, travel across difficult terrain, deal with the confused machinery for the NRC process in Assam, etc. It excluded retired army officials, freedom fighters, relatives of ex-Presidents of India and many others, irrespective of religion.
The Government is not telling you what will be sufficient to prove Citizenship yet because they have not provided any information or rules in this regard. But it has been reported that Government officials have clarified what won't, i.e., Aadhar cards, Voter ID cards, and Passports will not be enough.
The consequences of exclusion from NRC? Detention in a camp and upheaval of your existence. Except if you happen to not be a Muslim and can claim to fall under the CAA.
6. How is citizenship decided? Will it be in the hands of the government?
AS PER PIB: Citizenship of any person is decided on the basis of The Citizenship Rules, 2009. These rules are based on the Citizenship Act, 1955. This rule is publicly in front of everyone. These are five ways for any person to become a citizen of India:
Citizenship by Birth,
Citizenship by descent,
Citizenship by registration,
Citizenship by naturalization,
Citizenship by incorporation
FACT: The response by PIB is extremely misleading.
The concept of NRC was introduced by the then Government in 2004 when they amended the Citizenship Act. Prior to this, there was no concept of every Indian having to prove their Citizenship.
Prior to this, the Citizenship Act and Rules provide the basis on which an Indian was deemed to be a ‘Citizen’ (such as by virtue of birth) and a framework for non-Citizens to apply for and become Indian Citizens after fulfilling the requirements under the Act and then complying with the procedure specified.
The NRC and the rules under the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 turns this concept on its head. It will now be the onus of each person in India to prove her or his Citizenship.
Since there is no information or clarity yet on how a person can prove their Citizenship (such as what documents will be required), it will absolutely and completely be in the hands of the Government.
In fact, there are statements made to the media by Government Officials as to what shall not comprise sufficient proof including Voter ID cards, Aadhar Cards, and passports.
7. Would I have to provide details of the birth of parents etc. to prove my Indian citizenship?
AS PER PIB: It would be sufficient for you to provide the details of your birth such as date of birth, month, year and place of birth. If you do not have the details of your birth, then you will have to provide the same details about your parents. But there is absolutely no compulsion to submit any document by/of the parents. Citizenship can be proved by submitting any documents related to the date of birth and place of birth. However, a decision is yet to be taken on such acceptable documents. This is likely to include voter cards, passports, Aadhaar, licenses, insurance papers, birth certificates, school leaving certificates, documents relating to land or home or other similar documents issued by government officials. The list is likely to include more documents so that no Indian citizen has to suffer unnecessarily.
FACT: There is no official record or document to show what shall and what shall not be required to prove Citizenship, particularly for those born on or after 01.07.1987. Thus, it will all be at the discretion of the Government.
Read the last two sentences of the PIB response. ‘Likely to include’ voter cards, passport, and Aadhar. Ergo, the Government will decide and it has not decided yet.
Yet, as mentioned above, and as reported, Aadhar, Passport and Voter ID will not be sufficient proof.
Similarly, PIB says the list is ‘likely to’ include more documents so that no Indian has to ‘suffer unnecessarily’.
This means that some suffering will be necessary for all Citizens. Ask yourself why; Is the country overflowing with immigrants? (which is what the NRC appears to address).
If so, why does the CAA allow more illegal persons to get Citizenship? Do we not have more pressing things like unemployment, economic growth, education, health, etc. to deal with?
Do we have funds for the NRC and the persons who become Citizens under the CAA?
Thus, though the NRC process has started, there is still no clarity as to what constitutes proof of Citizenship. What is worrisome is the Government making incorrect denials about the NRC and detention camps in the media.
It is also to be remembered that socially and/or economically backward persons including women who relocate post-marriage, etc. historically do not have many documents. How will they prove anything in a case where a Voter Card or Aadhar is not enough?
Another example is the fact that in India it is commonly found that names in Voter IDs and other documents are differently spelled and vary from document to document as well. What happens in such cases of spelling mismatches? Again, we have no answers.
8. Do I have to prove ancestry dating back before 1971?
AS PER PIB: No. for pre-1971 genealogy, you do not have to submit any type of identity card or any documents like the birth certificate of parents/ancestors. It was valid only for the Assam NRC, based on the ‘Assam Accord’ and the directive of the Honourable Supreme Court. For the rest of the country, the NRC process is completely different and under The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
FACT: The situation in Assam qua the NRC was different.
The All India NRIC will need persons born on and after 01.07.1987 to prove the Citizenship of one or both of their parents. How they will do so is currently anyone’s guess since, as mentioned above, there is no clarity or information from the Government in this regard. However, providing the citizenship of one’s parents will necessarily require documentation pertaining to one’s parents if one is born on or after 01.07.1987.
Section 3 of the Citizenship Act reads as follows:
3. Citizenship by birth―(1) Except as provided in sub-section (2), every person born in India―
(a) on or after the 26th day of January, 1950, but before the 1st day of July, 1987;
(b) on or after the 1st day of July, 1987, but before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 (6 of 2004) and either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of his birth;
(c) on or after the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 (6 of 2004), where―
(i) both of his parents are citizens of India; or
(ii) one of whose parents is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of his birth, shall be a citizen of India by birth.
9. If it is so easy to prove identity, then how 19 lakh people in Assam were affected due to NRC?
AS PER PIB: Infiltration is an old problem in Assam. To curb it, there was a movement and in 1985, the then Rajiv Gandhi government, to identify the intruders, had to enter into an agreement to prepare NRC, assuming the cut-off date of 25 March 1971.
FACT: The response by the PIB does not address the question it poses to itself.
As reported widely, the NRC process in Assam declared Army Veterans, Freedom Fighters, family members of an ex-President of India, and many, many other persons, some of whose close relatives were declared Indian Citizens, both Muslims and Non-Muslims to NOT be Citizens. This is due to people not having documents, documents getting destroyed due to natural calamities, errors in the process of document verification, errors in names and dates, etc.
While the issue in Assam is religion-neutral and an issue against any illegal/undocumented migrancy, the process of NRC all over India (NRIC) has already started on a religion based scheme- by declaring migrants except Muslims from three countries who enter India without valid documents, to be considered eligible for Citizenship.
Please note that even the Government claims that it does not have any figures qua illegal migrants. In July 2019, Minister of State for Home Affairs had responded to a question in Lok Sabha saying there was no accurate data on illegal immigrants.
10. During NRC, will we be asked to present old documents, which are difficult to collect?
AS PER PIB: There is nothing like that. Common documents will only be required to prove identity. When the NRC is announced at the national level, then rules and instructions will be made for it in such a way that no one will face any trouble. The government has no intention of harassing its citizens or putting them in trouble.
FACT: This response by PIB is incorrect because, to date, there is no official clarity on what documents will be required under the NRC. However, the NRC process in Assam shows that persons were required to show various documents including those of their parents which was very difficult to collect. In the NRIC (NRC for all India), as mentioned above, persons born on or after 01.07.1987 will indeed need to show proof of citizenship of one or both parents.
One must also ask the question, what is the burning need for an NRC all over India? It can’t be too many migrants because the CAA is allowing migrants who were earlier illegal to become Indian Citizens.
Nevertheless, as per an analysis of the Indian Census of 2011, India has about a 0.4 % foreign-born population.
In fact, India Today reports after an analysis of the various Census data available that the numbers of Bangladeshi immigrants coming into India have been declining and a majority of immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh who are in India came prior to 1991.
11. What if a person is illiterate and does not have relevant documents?
AS PER PIB: In this case, the authorities will allow that person to bring a witness. Also, other evidence and community verification, etc. will also be allowed. A proper procedure will be followed. No Indian Citizen will be put in undue trouble.
FACT: As mentioned above, as on date, there is no clarity as to what will suffice for proving one’s Citizenship since none has been given by the Government except confusion and contradictory statements qua the NRC itself. There are no rules or basis for this claim that a ‘witness’ will be allowed or community verification. These statements are made out of thin air.
Please also note that in the absence of a document to prove citizenship, what will a ‘witness’ have to prove, what we the parameters of this oral proof? If an entire community or village is excluded due to lack of documents, what will be community verification or ‘other evidence’? These are words in the FAQ of the PIB with absolutely no basis in fact.
12. There are a large number of people in India who do not have homes, are poor and are not educated and they do not even have any basis of identity. What will happen to such people?
AS PER PIB: This is not entirely correct. Such people were on some basis and they also go the benefit of the welfare schemes of the government. Their identity will be established on the basis of that.
FACT: Misleading. The response skirts the question about people who have no homes, are poor, uneducated, and have no documents. It simply sidesteps the question posed by itself and talks about people who come under welfare schemes. Welfare schemes are on the basis of documents. There are many disenfranchised people out of even this net of welfare schemes.
Coming back to those who are under welfare schemes, will their documents be sufficient to pass the currently unknown test of Citizenship? WE DO NOT KNOW AND CANNOT KNOW at this time.
13. Does NRC exclude anyone for being transgender, atheist, Adivasis, Dalits, women and landless without/ without documents?
AS PER PIB: No NRC, as and when carried out does not affect any of the mentioned above.
FACT: The NRC, as is clear from the above, shall exclude all persons who are socially and/or economically disenfranchised and without documents such as many transgenders, Adivasis, Dalits, landless persons and other minorities (including women).
After thus declaring such persons to not be Citizens, i.e., to be migrants in India illegally, the CAA can then be used by persons except Muslims to claim they are from the three specified countries to apply for and be granted, Citizenship by virtue of the amendment.
About the Expert:
Azmat H. Amanullah is an Advocate-on-Record of the Supreme Court of India and is also associated with a law firm based out of New Delhi.
He has experience in a wide range of laws including the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, telecommunication and broadcasting laws, IP laws (primarily copyright laws), consumer protection laws, criminal laws, service laws and the like having handled civil and criminal matters at the trial, as well as Appellate stages, for both corporate and individual clients.
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