The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) had originally been drafted by the Narendra Modi government in its previous term in 2016. The Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill in January 2019 but with the end of its tenure in May, the legislation lapsed. The new CAB was passed by both houses of Parliament in December.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 to make it easier for illegal immigrants belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi and Christian communities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan to acquire Indian citizenship if they left their parent countries to escape religious persecution.
The CAA has led to protests at several places across the country with more dominant display of anguish in states ruled by the BJP. But before the CAA became a reality on December 12, there had been three decisions that set the background for the new law and paved the way for it.
In September 2017, the Union home minister had cleared a proposal to grant citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees in Arunachal Pradesh. Immediate push for the decision was a Supreme Court ruling.
Chakma and Hajong refugees are original inhabitants of Chittagong Hills in Bangladesh and had fled the country when it was still called East Pakistan. Their population at that time was around 15,000. Today, their population has increased to about 1 lakh. Though Chakma contest and claim they are about 50,000 only.
To understand the Chakma-Hajong issue, let's have a look at the genesis of the problem.
The major influx of Chakma and Hajong people happened during the 1960s in the wake of the construction of Kaptai dam and religious persecution under then Pakistani administration.
Chakmas are predominantly Buddhists and Hajongs Hindus. Their flight to India caused controversy in the Northeast with local groups resisting the presence of outsiders. Mizo people were particularly opposed to settling Chakma and Hajong people in India.
To avoid conflict, the central government rehabilitated Chakma and Hajong refugees in the Tirap division of then North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA), which was then under the Governor of Assam. It was then a sparsely populated area.
Following the creation of Bangladesh, it was agreed in 1972 - it was the same year when NEFA was converted into Arunachal Pradesh -- to give Chakma and Hajong people citizenship of India.
In 2015, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to grant Chakma and Hajong people citizenship. The order was enforced in 2017.
RBI ALLOWS PROPERTY RIGHTS, NOT TO MUSLIM IMMIGRANTS
In March 2018, the illegal immigrants - Muslims not included - from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan got the right to own property for residence or business.
A notification by the Reserve Bank of India said, "A person being a citizen of Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan belonging to minority communities in those countries, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who is residing in India and has been granted a Long Term Visa (LTV) by the Central Government may purchase only one residential immovable property in India as dwelling unit for self-occupation and only one immovable property for carrying out self-employment"
The RBI notification meant that the Muslim illegal immigrants from these three countries need not apply for buying immovable property in India.
VISA OVERSTAY CONCESSIONS TO NON-MUSLIMS
Earlier this year, the external affairs ministry announced concessions to minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan if they overstayed their visas.
In case of overstay for up to 90 days, the minorities from these three countries were to pay a fine of Rs 100. The regular fine is $300. This was the amount to be paid by Muslims of the three countries if they overstayed for the same duration.
Similarly, the minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan had to pay a fine of Rs 200 for overstay between 91 days and 2 years, and Rs 500 for over 2 years of overstay. The corresponding regular fines - applicable to Muslims from these countries - are $400 and $500.
This change was a point of ire particularly in Bangladesh, whose cricketer Said Hassan was fined Rs 21,600 for overstaying after India-Bangladesh series ended in November. A Hindu or any other non-Muslim Bangladeshi player would have been fined in similar situation Rs 100.
These three policy decisions went largely unnoticed until the Citizenship Amendment Act was legislated by Parliament in December, and protesters hits the street. There were ample signs that the Modi government's Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was going to be exclusive for minorities of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Inclusion of Muslim immigrants from these countries was not on government's agenda.