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Navigating The Identity Dilema: Implementation Of India’s Citizenship Amendment Act – OpEd

Navigating The Identity Dilema: Implementation Of India’s Citizenship Amendment Act – OpEd

As the world began to experience transformation with the end of the Cold War and the rapid growth of globalisation, so did conflicts between sovereignty and human rights. Economic production and trade occur at a transnational level, but populations are still bound within nation-states by the instruments of citizenship and sovereignty (Soysal, 1994).

Most of the twentieth century, which was dominated by economic issues, is now facing a different phenomenon of ‘identity politics’ (Fukuyama, 2018). The term identity politics was first used by Anspach in 1979 to refer to activism by people with disabilities who wanted to transform both ‘self’ and ‘societal’ conceptions of people with disabilities (Bernstein, 2005). In the discipline of social sciences and humanities, identity politics is used to explain an array of overlapping movements like women’s, human rights, civil rights, and ethnic or nationalist movements. These phenomena are distributed across time and space.

To be precise, identity politics generally entails efforts to construct an identity for an individual based on a set of ‘multiple identity markers’ (Naseem & Stober, 2014). In modern-day nation-states, these identity markers are fluid and continuously transformed. However, in some states, their identity is held closely. If any action is seen as threatening to their identity, it is responded to through violent means, especially in spaces that are formed rather rigidly. However, what about those unaccepted or thrown out of their states because of their identity? These individuals live in fear every moment. They become known as refugees, which is their new identity.

The Problem

The government of India notified the Citizenship (Amendment), Rules, 2024, on 11 March 2024. Initially passed in 2019, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is a legislative enactment passed by the Parliament of India. The Act aims to grant citizenship to persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who came to India on December 31, 2014.

Under the umbrella term ‘persecuted religious minorities,’ six religious groups have been identified: Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs. India, with a population of around two million Muslims, does not categorize the Muslim religious group under the umbrella of ‘persecuted religious minority’. Parallel to implementing the CAA, the government plans to extend the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to other states.

Currently, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exists only in Assam, where approximately 90 Lakh people have not been included in the final NRC draft, as reported by e-pao (2024). In response to NRC, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, has firmly stated that the NRC will not be implemented in the state. In the intricate realm of research, particularly within the suggested domain, the vulnerabilities of identities for those either omitted from the list or potentially facing exclusion is a pressing concern. 

The Identity Complex

The Asian experience of nationhood was different from that of the West. Post-colonial states, which are products of boundaries constructed by the colonial powers, witnessed shifts in the identity of the people due to forced displacement from their regions.

These new nation-states, with their own complexities, were forced to adopt the Western concepts of statehood. South Asia was affected by post-colonial and subsequent partition, which also saw the partition of their ‘historical memories’ (Nair, 2010). Hence, the drawing of borders created the new state of Pakistan from India; the subsequent war created Bangladesh, and civil war plagued the state of Sri Lanka. Partition and war led to the creation of refugees in South Asia. For those living in uncertainty, with the hope of returning to their homeland seen as a distant dream and resettlement in their current country as a far possibility, the new law can be perceived as regressive.

The socially constructed understanding of the refugees in terms of their religion and the place of their origin is problematic rather than focusing on the individual refugees themselves. Despite being a multifaceted and diverse society, India’s nationhood remains resilient, as various social groups uphold their distinct identities without compromising their membership in the nation (Shani, 2010). Preserving this characteristic is crucial in the present to safeguard the future of its secular fabric.

India, an important global power and the world’s largest democracy, is a vocal defender of international laws. Even though it did not sign the Refugee Convention of 1957 and the 1967 protocol, India is a signatory to various other international covenants. Since partition, India has welcomed refugees and asylum seekers, especially those coming from its neighbours. It adopted the term ‘secular’ in the preamble of its constitution in 1976 and has allowed freedom to preach, practice and propagate religion.

India has approached the refugee influxes through the dynamics of ‘political realism’ and ‘ethnonationalism’ (Khosla, 2022). However, today, it is reluctant to accept certain groups. Instead of adhering to a restrictive realistic approach, India should adopt a constructivist approach, reflecting on the changing dynamics of these groups and approaching them pragmatically rather than with preconceived attitudes. 

Conclusion

With the implementation of the CAA, many persecuted religious minority groups would get citizenship to one of the world’s largest democracies. It is a positive step towards these groups who have stayed in limbo for decades. The lacuna here is about the ‘Muslim minorities’ who, too, might be facing persecution from these countries. These groups face a future towards statelessness but still hold on to their social identity and membership of their social group even though they do not have political membership.

In the neo-liberal world, where importance is given to the markets and the economy, it will not be harmful to include groups within its population who would contribute towards the development of the economy. The refugees want not ‘handouts’ but opportunities to use their talents to contribute to the communities hosting them (The Hindu, 2023). Of course, the pre-requisite would be a thorough background check. Let religion not become ‘the opium for the masses’ or create divisions but instead become progressive in accommodating and uniting all humanity. 

References:

  • Consultative meet on NRC: “Issue is not identification but what should be done thereafter”. (2024, February 24). E- PAO. https://e-pao.net/GP.asp?src=1..250224.feb24
  • Bernstein, M. (2005). Identity Politics. Annual Review of Sociology, 31, 47–74. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29737711
  • Fukuyama, F. (2018). Against Identity Politics: The New Tribalism and the Crisis of Democracy. Foreign Affairs, 97(5), 90–114. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44823914
  • Khosla, M. (2022, september 22). Asia & Indo-Pacific. Retrieved from Stimson: https://www.stimson.org/2022/the-geopolitics-of-indias-refugee-policy/
  • Mundia, O. (2023, June 20). Refugees as assets to their new countries. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/refugees-as-assets-to-their-new-countries/article66986944.ece
  • Nair, D. (2010). Textbook Conflicts in South Asia: Politics of Memory and National Identity. Journal of Educational Media, Memory & Society, 2(2), 29–45. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43049350
  • Naseem, M. A., & Stöber, G. (2014). Introduction: Textbooks, Identity Politics, and Lines of Conflict in South Asia. Journal of Educational Media, Memory & Society, 6(2), 1–9. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44320031
  • SHANI, O. (2010). Conceptions of Citizenship in India and the “Muslim Question.” Modern Asian Studies, 44(1), 145–173. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27764650
  • Soysal, Y.N. (1994). Limits of Citizenship: migrants and postnational membership in Europe (1st ed.). The University of Chicago Press. 
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