Citizenship Amendment Act: Impact on India’s Secular Identity


The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA), which offers a path to Indian citizenship for persecuted religious minorities from neighbouring countries, has created considerable controversy in India and abroad. The law, which aims to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians fleeing persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, has sparked protests and accusations of bias for excluding Muslims. The origins of the CAA can be traced back to the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) introduced by the Narendra Modi government in 2016. After it expired in 2019 with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, both houses of Parliament quickly passed the revised CAB in December of the same year became the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. This legislative development sparked an intense public debate in India on citizenship, identity, and constitutional principles. The controversial nature of the CAA transcends domestic politics and resonates in international discussions of law and human rights. By directly linking civil rights to religious identity, the law sparked debates about equality, secularism, and democratic principles. This paper aims to critically assess the impact of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019’s impact on India and its compliance with international legal standards. It seeks to evaluate the law’s compatibility with the Indian Constitution and its compliance with India’s international obligations. Through this analysis, the paper seeks to shed light on how the CAA challenges fundamental principles of equality and constitutionality, both domestically and globally.


The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 facilitates Indian citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from India’s neighbouring  Muslim-majority countries – Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan – who have fled religious persecution. Individuals belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian faiths arriving from these countries are eligible for Indian citizenship even without the required documents. They are also protected from deportation due to lack of documentation. The Citizenship Amendment Act of 1955 previously mandated a residence period of 11 of the previous 14 years in India to qualify for citizenship. However, the CAA relaxes this requirement to six years for immigrants from specified religions and countries who entered India before December 31, 2014. The Act does not apply to the tribal areas of Tripura, Mizoram, Assam, and Meghalaya, which are covered by the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Areas falling within the internal limit specified in the Bengal Eastern Frontier Ordinance of 1873 are also excluded from the jurisdiction of the Act. As a result, almost all of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland remain outside the purview of the Act.


The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) has sparked significant debate on its alignment with Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which provides equality before the law and equal protection of the law to all individuals within India’s borders. This legislation aims to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who have fled religious persecution. It specifically targets Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, couples and Christians facing persecution in those countries, while excluding Muslims from the provision. Critics say the CAA discriminates against Muslims based on religion, violating Article 14. This constitutional provision prohibits the state from denying equality before the law or equal protection of the laws to any person in India regardless of their citizenship. The point is that the CAA’s selective treatment based on religious identity does not support this constitutional guarantee of equality. Proponents of the CAA defend its legality by arguing that it establishes a reasonable classification based on identifiable differences and a clear connection to the legislative objective. The law is intended to protect individuals persecuted because of their religious affiliation and limits its scope to neighbouring countries where Islam is the predominant state religion. Opponents, however, argue that this classification is arbitrary and does not meet the standard of rationality required by Article 14. They argue that by favouring certain religious groups over others, the CAA undermines the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution. In addition, implementing the CAA presents practical challenges and potential legal complexities. Granting citizenship based on religious identity could lead to problems related to identification, verification, and potential abuse of the provision by individuals seeking to use the law for personal gain. In short, the debate surrounding the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 reflects fundamental concerns about equality, religious freedom, and constitutional principles in India. The interpretation and application of Article 14 in the context of the CAA remains contested, highlighting broader issues of individual rights and the rule of law in India’s diverse and pluralistic society.

Secularism at Stake: Examining India’s Citizenship Amendment Act and the Struggle for Minority Rights

India’s constitutional framework is built on the principles of equal rights through collective citizenship, non-discrimination, and secularism. Professor Gurpreet Mahajan argues that secularism in Indian democracy protects the interests and special rights of religious and linguistic minorities to promote cultural autonomy and diversity. Throughout history, India has embraced pluralism and secularism as symbols of progress and modernity. The inclusive nature of the Indian independence movement, involving all communities and classes, reflected these ideals during the drafting of the Constitution by the Constituent Assembly, which envisioned a secular, socialist, and democratic India. However, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) has been criticized for its divisive nature and perceived inconsistency with constitutional provisions such as Articles 14, 21, and 25, which require reasonable classification and valid legislative purpose for validity. The current version of the CAA is considered unconstitutional due to its religious classification, which is expressly prohibited by the Constitution of India. Critics of the CAA recognize the humanitarian intent of helping religiously persecuted minorities from neighbouring  countries. However, they say the law perpetuates a false narrative that suggests Muslims are not legal citizens and could be treated as foreigners after the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process. This narrative is in line with the ideological pressure on the Hindu nation, which goes against India’s fundamental principles of secularism, collective citizenship, and equality before the law. The potential implementation of the CAA after the completion of the NRC raises concerns about discriminatory exclusion based on religious identity, particularly among Muslims. The exclusion of Muslims from the CAA raises broader questions about India’s commitment to secularism and the protection of minority rights, suggesting a possible communal agenda by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to challenge India’s professed secularism. ethos and constitutional values.

Upholding Secularism: Tackling Religious Persecution with Secular Values

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is a legislative measure aimed at addressing religious persecution in specific countries with theocratic constitutional attitudes and historical patterns of discrimination against religious minorities. Indian secularism emphasizes the inclusiveness of all religions and promotes a sense of brotherhood among a diverse population. The CAA reflects India’s commitment to secular values, freedom, and solidarity by recognizing the religious persecution faced by minorities in neighbouring  countries with state religions. This amendment aims to address long-standing issues that India has been facing for decades, particularly targeting religions that face discrimination on religious grounds in their countries of origin. It does not violate fundamental rights but aims to assist religions that are discriminated against due to religious persecution in designated countries. Critics say the exclusion of Islam from the CAA raises concerns about violating secular principles. However, countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh have introduced state religions, resulting in religious persecution of non-Muslims. The CAA aims to help severely persecuted individuals, such as the Ahmadis of Pakistan, who cannot safely return to their home countries. Notably, India recognizes Ahmadis as Muslims and does not include them in this law. As for the Rohingya of Myanmar, the CAA’s December 31, 2014 cut-off date excludes them, and other security concerns specific to the Rohingya population further limit their inclusion. Similarly, Sri Lankan Tamils ​​and Christians face persecution primarily due to ethnic or sectarian conflicts rather than state-sponsored religious persecution. Concerns from Assam and other northeastern states primarily revolve around potential threats to political, cultural, and land rights due to the potential influx of refugees and foreigners acquiring Indian citizenship. It is important to note that India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, which is in line with the constitutional guidelines under Article 51(c). C).


An analysis of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) reveals a significant erosion of India’s core constitutional values, including secularism, social justice, and the rule of law. This erosion undermines principles such as equality before the law, civil liberties, and constitutional morality. Inaugurated in 1950, the Constitution of India embodies the nation’s commitment to universal franchise, federalism, and secularism, making it a revered document that binds all segments of society regardless of caste or class. Minorities and marginalized groups find particular reassurance in the protection of their social, economic, and cultural rights. The review of the CAA raises serious concerns about its compliance with basic constitutional values ​​and human rights standards. The provisions of the CAA are not only inconsistent with key constitutional principles but also undermine religious freedom and secularism. By promoting discrimination based on religion and disregarding equal protection under Article 14 of the Constitution, the CAA sets a disturbing precedent. The CAA’s stated goal of providing humanitarian aid to immigrants from neighbouring countries raises further questions about its scope and intent. If the goal is genuine humanitarian aid, why hasn’t India adopted comprehensive refugee legislation with fair asylum procedures? Unfortunately, the current form of the CAA appears to prioritize political agendas over the well-being of persecuted individuals. Looking forward, the judiciary will play a key role in reviewing the constitutionality of the CAA. This represents a critical test of judicial integrity and adherence to constitutional morality and the rule of law. The role of the judiciary in protecting the rights of religious minorities and restoring public confidence in the legal system is paramount. In conclusion, the CAA decision will reflect the collective aspirations of Indian citizens for the type of nation they want to build. The judiciary must deal with truth and justice to address the concerns raised by the CAA and uphold India’s constitutional principles. This ongoing debate underscores the need for a strong and impartial judicial process to restore faith in democratic principles and the rule of law.


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Citizenship Amendment Act: Impact on India's Secular Identity

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