Helpless and befuddled
Confusion regarding the process of establishing one’s citizenship has further muddled the already convoluted debate over CAA-NPR-NRC
In an RTI application, a requester asked for the copy of citizenship certificate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The PMO promptly replied, 'he does not need such a certificate, as he is a citizen by birth in terms of Section 3 of Citizenship Act, 1955'.
That is great. The people of India wish for that being the case for all Indian citizens too. Unfortunately, it is not. As per Section 3, a person born in India on or after January 26, 1950, but before July 1, 1987, is citizen of India by birth irrespective of the nationality of his parents. The question is whether everyone born before 1987 is presumed to be a citizen like the PM? Or should they require proof that their date of birth was before 1987 and their place of birth was somewhere in the Indian territory? What documents should they produce sir? If they do not have documents, what will be their fate? All those who are born before 1987 would like to know what documents the PM has produced to prove that he is a citizen of India by birth as per Section 3? Is that presumed or proved?
A person born in India on or after July 1, 1987, but before December 3, 2004, is considered a citizen of India by birth if either of their parents is a citizen of India at the time of their birth. For those who are born after December 3, 2004, they will be considered Indian citizens by birth only when both of their parents are citizens or one of the parents is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of their birth. Citizenship by birth is a universal principle but India imposed conditions over it. If they are born after 1987 and before 2004, their father or mother should be a citizen of India. If they are born after 2004, their father and mother both should be citizens. Again, if one of their parents is an illegal migrant, they, though born in India, can't become a citizen of India at all. Narendra Modi could easily be deemed as a citizen of India by birth because he was born before 1987. New generations are not that lucky. They must prove their citizenship according to the present law of citizenship – NRC rules and NPR regulations. This is the reality born out of CAA, NRC and NPR.
A person born after 1987 should prove that their father or mother was a citizen. For that, they must show that their mother was born before 1987 in India. A young man born after 2004 needs to prove that his mother and father were citizens by birth and definitely so at the time of his birth. Suppose he was born to a person who migrated from Bangladesh and married an Indian woman, he cannot become a citizen here, because one of the parents is an illegal migrant as per the Citizenship Act.
Pro-CAA sections of media, nationalists and so-called patriots, along with ruling party members are blaming the anti-CAA critiques as spreading baseless fears. Anyone upon reading Section 3 of the Citizenship Act as amended until 2019, will understand the difficulties referred above.
So far, neither the Home Ministry nor any other Governmental authority has told the people specifically that certain documents are needed to prove their citizenship. Officially, it has been declared that Voter ID, Aadhaar, PAN and Passport will not serve as adequate proof of citizenship and that each person has the burden of proving their citizenship.
Around 30 per cent of Indians are illiterate, poor and do not have documents as most of them might have not gone to school. Even if they have some papers, they do not know how to preserve them. In floods, fires and other such calamities, they lose their papers. For instance, in the recent Delhi riots, targeted arson attacks by a mob against certain people left most of them with nothing in terms of possessions. How do they convince the babus or tribunals in these cases?
How to prove parentage?
It is not a question of Muslims apprehending the loss or issue of secularism. It is a practical problem of proving the place where one was born and the timing of such a thing. Every person, irrespective of religion is finding it difficult. More than anything, how can a son or daughter prove that x and y are his/her parents?
Officers who collected details of a resident for NPR were given power under the 2003 Rules to doubt and add 'D' in front of a resident's name. Refer to the law stated below-
Rule 4(4): During the verification process, particulars of such individuals, whose Citizenship is doubtful, shall be entered by the Local Register for further enquiry and in case of doubtful Citizenship the individual or the family shall be informed in a specified proforma immediately after the verification process is over.
Thus, one can become a D or 'Doubtful' voter.
DM's power over 'D' cases
After another inquiry, if doubt persists, the District Magistrate level 'Registrar' can refer a 'D' case to a Foreigner's Tribunal under rules amended in 2019 under Foreigner's Order.
The Rule 3A(6) added by Amendment to Foreigners Order 1964 in 2019 says: The District Magistrate may also refer to the Tribunal for its opinion the question as to whether the Appellant is a foreigner or not within the meaning of the Foreigners Act, 1946 (31 of 1946), in terms of sub-para (1) of paragraph 2. In case of such reference to the Tribunal, it shall be deemed as a reference to the Tribunal in terms of sub-para (1) of paragraph 2, the Tribunal shall examine the said reference along with the Appeal.
This is the statutory link between NRC and CAA, which the Government is trying to cover up with aggressive blaming of critics.
Before the Tribunal
If a Foreigners Tribunal deems the person with a 'D' case as a foreigner, the person loses the case, becomes state-less and reaches detention centre. The High Court can only resort to the person taking the onus to prove their citizenship, failing which, they will wait in a Detention Centre until deportation or death.
CAA may not turn out any differently for Non-Muslims as well. If a Hindu or a person belonging to the other five stated religions fail to prove that they suffered persecution and migrated before 2014, they may not get the citizenship.
The tragedy is that everybody in India is being put to this test. It is in this background that it becomes difficult to believe the statement given by the Home Minister in Kolkata (March 1) that minorities would not lose their citizenship rights under CAA and that neither the Hindus nor other five religious persons need to produce any documents.
The writer is a former Central Information Commissioner. Views expressed are strictly personal