What is the NCR-CAA combination all about? How will it affect various marginalised communities? Here’s how.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is creating a furore across the nation: and it rightfully should. For the most part, the legislation is a fillip to the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and in combination, the two pieces of law represent a tremendously lethal combination that goes against the basic grain of human rights.
Most public discourse has addressed the obvious, immediate, and direct impact of the two laws in operation. However, many deeper ramifications lie in wait as this leviathan lumbers about across the country.
Divisive politics, brutal crackdowns of protests, and dissipation of democratic rights are only just the beginning. The biggest difficulty in all of this is the sheer magnitude of ambiguity. The fundamental basis for any law to apply is that it must completely cast aside ambiguity: imagine being governed by a string of legislative provisions that can be interpreted by the lawmaker to their convenience. Do I hear you say Banana Republic? Bang on the buck.
The letter of the law is not clear, and the claims of each agency involved appear to present irreconcilable claims – take for example, PM Modi’s assertion that NRC has not been mentioned since 2014, in stark contrast with Home Minister Amit Shah’s firm assertions in favour of the NRC and that the CAA and the NRC will operate together.
After a speech that generated any number of contradictory stories, the incumbent party has authorised the preparation of the National Population Register, with a clear mention that it is the first step in the NRC process. The averse nature of each of the government’s actions in this space are frighteningly alarming developments to say the least. The scale of the impacts of this legislative measure can at best only be envisioned now – ground reality could be a lot more severe than a bunch of words cobbled up on paper can betray.
A comprehensive list of communities that stand to be affected adversely by these laws has been drawn up by the amazing folks at The Gnamma Collective on Instagram presents a breakdown of the individual groups and how the CAA-NRC combination can affect them: Muslims: The NRC and CAA in conjunction target and affect the Muslim community in India specially. The CAA reduces the residence requirements for Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Sikhs, but not for Muslims. It also prevents them from being considered as illegal immigrants if they come from particular countries and are persecuted. This means that of some non-Muslim people have no documents to produce during the NRC process, they can still be protected by the CAA. But Muslims will automatically be deemed non-citizens. The National Population Register suggests that they will create a list of doubtful citizens, although there is no definition or criteria in place to clarify who would be deemed a doubtful citizen.
Women: As many stories in Assam have already shown, several women are likely to encounter difficulties in producing documents to prove their identities. The limitations on inheriting property can prevent them from proving their ancestry, linkage to their parents, and thereby, to the place of birth. Between the lack of access to education and early / forced marriages, several women have no documents of their own to testify to their identities – oftentimes having been linked to their husbands, fathers, or fathers-in-law’s documents. Furthermore, when marriages are not registered, no official documents testify to their identities as Indian citizens.
Transgender persons: Several transgender persons either find it difficult or entirely impossible to access legacy or lineage documents, especially when they have been cut off from their families. Furthermore, most documents tied to their birth or pre-transition stages in life will represent their pre-transition identity, and will not be accepted as a representation of their self-identified gender.
Dalits: The historical oppression, structural violence, and systemic exclusion of Dalits has prevented access to banks, financial institutions, land, and other property. Several of them have been forced to move from city to city, or to engage in daily labour, and have, as a result, no documents to prove their identity and lineage. Caste-based violence has already existed, and the NRC and CAA will only serve to amplify this violence.
Migrant workers: Several of the nation’s migrant workers have few to no documents that prove or testify to their citizenship. In the unorganized sector, the lack of records testifying to their employment – be that a payslip or an appointment letter – can also go against them. In the process, they are vulnerable to exclusion, alongside a vicious cycle of poverty as their daily wage labour can take a beating while they take time to collect the relevant documents.
Internally displaced persons: Individuals who have been forced out of their homes on account of environmental or natural disasters, or even out of property loss, may be forced to lead lives without documents to their credit. The destruction caused by a natural disaster may bring with it the heavy burden of choosing between running after the restoration of personal documents and finding work that can support sustenance in order to restore livelihoods: and the choice is often the second, rather than the first.
Persons with Disabilities: The stigma around disability has caused for several persons with disabilities in the country to be abandoned. In cases where disability is intellectual, their own capacity to seek out the law to apply for documents is not accessible. In such situations, identifying ancestry or property documents is not easy, and in many cases, an unreasonable demand on their bodies and minds to have to represent themselves to procure such documents.
Tribal Communities: The NRC and CAA in combination can have significantly adverse impacts on tribal communities in India. Most tribal communities are not documented – several of them are not likely to have property, marriage, and educational documents to testify to their citizenship.
While the CAA can still come to their rescue, it would mean that they would have to identify as Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Parsi, or Christian – and would have to prove that. Should they be successful, it would mean abandoning their cultural identity – and along with it, their rights to the forests, to community resources, and to their cultural practices, as well as their rights to access higher education and employment opportunities which was provided for them under affirmative action for Scheduled Tribes.