Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is a tool for terror, masking itself as an amendment. The Hindu right has claimed that it has come out of love for the persecuted religious minorities of Afghanistan, but this claim does not make sense. The amendment does not offer anything to those who have fled, and in numbers, does not help that many people. Even if every Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and Christians from Afghanistan found their way to India in need of protection, their basic needs would not be met. This “protection” should be seen for what it is.
CAA is a tool to harass the Kashmiri population and is the next step after the abrogation of 370. By including Afghanistan in the list of countries in the CAA, India is reasserting its claim on the full undivided Kashmir and maintains the right to religiously profile, giving itself the right to screen people from Afghanistan as well on the basis of religion. Anyone who moved from Afghanistan to Kashmir to escape persecution in Afghanistan will now have to produce documents, which nomadic tribes are not likely to have or pass a religious test.
The inclusion of the non-Muslims from Afghanistan into CAA is odd. It will only help those who came from Afghanistan to India from 2009 onward get citizenship. In the last census in Afghanistan in 1973, the combined population of the Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists, and Christians amounted to a few hundred thousand. Almost all of that population fled during the Taliban rule, over 18 years ago. Nobody knows exactly how many are left, but estimates are that there are around a thousand each of Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians.
If the state really wanted to help non-Muslims from Afghanistan, amnesty provisions can easily be made for those settled here. For those who are expected to come, the state can create a system of safe passage, a rehabilitation package with programs of integration, and legal protection. Citizenship can be given to those who chose to live in India for the long term, whether it be 11 years or longer.
Shortening the time to 6 years might help those who are prone to travel and would need Indian citizenship to travel, but the state is equipped to grant basic rights to non-citizens, whatever their background.
If the state were serious, a draft refugee, settlement and rehabilitation scheme would have been appropriate. The policy could give local officials enough space to assess the specific needs of each case.
Making undocumented people from other countries label criminals is itself criminal. If people who are escaping the persecution of any kind are illegal in this state, then the state itself is criminal. Law cannot work against someone if the person had no choice. If the person came to India to escape persecution, the law should not punish them at all. CAA isn’t here to help those being persecuted. It gives the state a new tool for persecution. Criminalizing undocumented immigrants just gives the state an arbitrary standard to use against the disenfranchised.
Redefinition citizenship on religious grounds does not help those persecuted in Afghanistan. While the inclusion of Afghanistan into a list of countries was justified on the grounds that India shares a border with Afghanistan, the religious minorities in question live mostly in urban areas far from India. They are more likely to travel to India by flight than by land. The “border” also only touches Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and is far from the Line of Control. For practical purposes, India has no physical contact with Afghanistan
To add to the confusion, lakhs of people, mostly belonging to nomadic tribes, speak languages similar to Pashtun, and have lived in the country for centuries. Some of them live as far south as Madhya Pradesh and as far east as Assam. Many members live in Kashmir. It seems likely that CAA will regulate citizenship of the tribal population there, and give the state a new tool to harass them.
For decades, Afghanistan has been in deep conflict with domestic and international sides. Millions have been persecuted. It is important for India to take an active role in protecting the people in whatever way is feasible. Offering amnesty to refugees is welcome, and has been part of India’s policy for a long time. Screening refugees on the basis of religion and adapting our citizenship laws are not. Afghanistan has not always been an Islamic republic. Things have changed too much that it might not be one tomorrow. The persecuted of any people who have come from that conflict should be survivor driven. India should accommodate their needs without discriminating on why they have been persecuted but focus on that they have been persecuted. The current government is using a crisis suffered by a neighbor to push an agenda of hate and militarization.