Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday declared that the process of granting Indian citizenship to Hindu refugees in Bengal under the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) will resume once the process of COVID-19 vaccination has ended.
“As soon as the COVID vaccination process ends the process of granting citizenship under CAA will begin. All of you [Matua community] will be respected citizens of this country,” said the minister, stating that the implementation of law was pause in view of the pandemic.
Amit Shah was attending a rally in Thakurnagar, West Bengal, the base of the Mathua community.
WHO ARE THE MATHUAS?
Mathuas are Hindus, originally from East Pakistan, who migrated to India during the Partition and after the creation of Bangladesh. They are estimated to have a population of three million in West Bengal, enough to tilt the scales in favour of a political party in minimum four Lok Sabha seats and over 30 assembly seats in Nadia, and North and South 24 Parganas districts. The community is generally considered to vote in favour of the TMC, but stood with BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Several protests were broken out across India in 2019 against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. This act seeks to alter the definition of ‘illegal immigrant’ for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists, and Christian immigrants from our neighbours Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have been settled in India without legal documentation. These minority immigrants from other countries will be granted fast track Indian citizenship within 6 years. Till now, the standard eligibility requirement for citizenship by naturalisation has been 12 years of residence.
The Supreme Court, on hearing the initial petitions challenging CAA, declined to sustain the contentious law, but insisted that the Centre file its reply against the petitions stating its unconstitutional, explaining the functioning of the act.
The legislation will apply to those who were ‘forced or compelled to seek shelter in India due to persecution on the grounds of religion’. Its main objective is to protect such people from the processes of illegal migration. The cut-off date for eligibility of citizenship is December 31, 2014, i.e. the applicant should have entered the country on or prior to the given date. Indian citizenship, under the present law, is given either to the people born in India or have resided in India for at least 11 years. The bill also proposed to incorporate a sec. 7 (d), providing for the cancellation of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) registration, where the OCI card-holder has violated any provision of the Citizenship Act or any other law in force.
The Centre claims that these minority groups have come escaping the persecution in Muslim-majority countries. This logic, however, is inconsistent. The bill does not include protection of all religious minorities, and does not apply to all neighbouring nations either, like Ahmedia Muslims and Shias in Pakistan, Rohingya Muslims and Hindus in Myanmar, Hindu and Christian Tamils in Sri Lanka. To this contention, the government had responded that Muslims are open to seek refuge in Islamic countries.
HOME MINISTER AT THE RALLY
The nation-wide protests against CAA that followed after it was passed by the Parliament in December 2019 created a lot of fear among people that if seen in consonance with the proposed National Register of Citizens, the CAA could be used to disenfranchise Indian Muslims.
However, Shah in his rally said that the implementation of the act would not have any effect on the citizenship status of Indian minorities and accused opposition parties of misleading and misinforming the minorities about the law, widely criticised as ‘discriminatory’ as it has a criterion for religion for eligibility of Indian citizenship for the first time.
Shah also promised Rs. 18,000 in each farmer’s bank account if BJP take over from TMC in the upcoming polls. He also announced Centre’s decision to raise a paramilitary ‘Narayani Battalion’ on the demand of Koch-Rajbanshi community of the state.
Appeasing the Matua community, Shah said if voted to power, the BJP government would propose renaming the Thakurnagar railway station to ‘Shri Dham Thakurnagar’, dedicated to Sri Harichand Thakur, their socio-religious guru.
As of December 2020, the rules governing the Act were still under preparation according to the home ministry, a year after it was passed by the Parliament and received the President’s assent. In response to an RTI query from The Hindu, B.C. Joshi, Director (citizenship), Foreigners Division also said that the rules under Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 are under preparation.
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