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The recent enactment of the amendments to the Citizenship Act have left many, and certainly myself, very disturbed. The legislation itself is undoubtedly problematic and is compounded by the linkages with the National Register of Citizens (NRC). I was a part of a People’s Tribunal on the deployment of the NRC in Assam, and we found that even though it was conducted under the aegis of the court, it was a disastrous exercise with terrifying consequences.
The protests that have followed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, were not surprising, but the manner in which the protesters were treated certainly is. The reaction of the law and order machinery to what were essentially student-led peaceful protests has led to incidents of violence and loss of property across the country, which is terribly unfortunate. This is a reflection of the times we live in and signals that the youth in our country have to spend the next significant amount of time battling a leadership that comes across, at once, as communal and authoritarian.
At such times, empathy is but a natural reaction, particularly from a generation that has lived through and seen the worst of the authoritarian regime that was the Emergency. In this context, what I personally feel worse about is that the voice of the judiciary in this narrative is either almost entirely absent or has been overwhelmed by a strong executive.
The CAA is touted as a “fast-track” means of granting citizenship by naturalisation to what it identifies as persecuted minorities (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians) from three neighbouring countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan). Those belonging to these communities from these countries will not, as per the law, be regarded as “illegal immigrants”.