The protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act have been going on for quite some time, with most protesters having little idea of what they are protesting about. In effect, the amendment merely seeks to provide relief to minorities of three Islamic countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, who have fled and sought shelter in India on account of religious persecution.
All that the amendment has done is one, define who can be considered a migrant. Two, reduce the time period of legitimate stay for consideration for citizenship from 11 years to five years. Three, to bring a clause that such people cannot be prosecuted. But despite the factual position being known, imaginary fears are continually being fuelled, which has created a sense of unease in the minds of a section of society.
One of the canards being spread is that the amendment to the Act violates Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. This is patently false. The amendment is only designed to assist persecuted minorities from the relevant countries to acquire citizenship in a faster time frame, and does not discriminate amongst that class of people. Therefore, it is not violative of Article 14.
As the Act is not applicable to Indian citizens, it does not violate Article 15. On similar grounds, it is not violative of Article 21, as the amendment to the Act has no bearing on citizens’ rights and liberties which remain intact as heretofore. It must also be noted that the amendment to the Citizenship Act was passed by both houses of Parliament, and there is no infirmity with respect to the procedures involved.
Another canard being spread is that the amendment violates India’s secular character, as enshrined in the preamble to the Indian Constitution. This again is false. The amendment is designed to give citizenship to those hapless minorities, who have been persecuted on religious grounds in countries which have become Islamic states. It addresses a historical injustice, on which no less a person than Mahatma Gandhi had given such an assurance. The amendment also does not prevent Muslims from other countries getting Indian citizenship for which separate provisions of the Citizenship Act exist.
The third canard is that many citizens will be deprived of their citizenship. This is absurd, with the prime minister himself reiterating time and again that the amendment to the Act will not impact any Indian citizen.
Every event portrayed by the media may not be a true reflection of Indian society. It only represents those who have come out on the street. Apprehensions appear to have been propagated by vested interests to give an impression that all is not well.
An analysis of social media indicates that a large part of messaging on Facebook and Twitter is coming from across the border in Pakistan. While a Pakistani citizen has full rights to comment on events in India, it seems inconceivable that so many citizens of a foreign country will suddenly get so involved in the affairs of a neighbouring country. The systematic and coordinated manner in which this activity is being carried out, points to an organisation at work, which is actively producing content and then disseminating it.
What is being witnessed in the protests against CAA is a classic case of information warfare. The opinion of a large segment of India’s youth, especially its students, has been influenced to believe that CAA will deprive millions of Muslims of their Indian citizenship. Many students also believe that CAA is aimed at appeasing Hindu nationalists. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There is a need for an effective perception management campaign by the government as also by vast segments of civil society to counteract this vicious propaganda unleashed against CAA. This is the knowledge age, where information is a key determinant. It would be appropriate if the right lessons are now learnt from the protests that have taken place on the issue of CAA so that preventive action is taken beforehand, before the situation can get out of control.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.