The struggle for Citizenship

This amendment allowed for the grant of Indian citizenship to religious minorities who fled from neighboring Muslim-majority countries due to religious persecution.

The Modi government officially notified the Citizenship (Amendment) Rules, 2024, signalling a significant development in India's citizenship framework. Home Minister Amit Shah took to Twitter to announce the news, highlighting the rules' provisions to grant citizenship to persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

In his post, he wrote, "These rules will now enable minorities persecuted on religious grounds in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to acquire citizenship in our nation… With this notification PM Narendra Modi Ji has delivered on another commitment and realised the promise of the makers of our Constitution to the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians living in those countries."

What is the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019?

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) is a legislative enactment that the Parliament of India passed on December 11, 2019 to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955. This amendment allowed for the grant of Indian citizenship to religious minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, who fled from neighbouring Muslim-majority countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan due to religious persecution or fear thereof before December 2014.

Under the CAA 2019 amendment, migrants who entered India by December 31, 2014, were eligible for fast-track Indian citizenship. The amendment reduced the residence requirement for naturalisation from eleven years to five.

The Act was heavily criticised for excluding Muslims from its purview.

What are the CAA 2024 rules?

The rules, in line with the 2019 amendment to The Citizenship Act, 1955, aim to provide citizenship to migrants belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian communities who entered India before December 31, 2014, from Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Bangladesh. An online system for application, processing, and grant of citizenship under the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is being explored by the Home Ministry.

Eligibility criteria for citizenship application-

Eligible applicants include individuals of Indian origin, spouses of Indian citizens, minor children of Indian citizens, individuals with registered Indian citizen parents, and Overseas Citizens of India Cardholders, among others.

Documentation requirements for citizenship by naturalisation

Individuals seeking citizenship by naturalisation must submit Form VIIIA, accompanied by an affidavit verifying the accuracy of the provided information and attesting to the applicant's character by an Indian citizen. Additionally, applicants must declare their proficiency in one of the languages specified in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India.

The application process for citizenship

Under Section 6B of the Citizenship Act, 1955, applicants must follow a specific application process, including electronic submission of the application to the Empowered Committee through the designated District Level Committee.

Upon submission, applicants will receive an acknowledgement in Form IX. This will be followed by document verification by the District Level Committee.

"Every application made by the applicant under sub-rule (1) shall have a declaration to the effect that the citizenship of his country shall stand renounced irrevocably in the event of his application being approved and that he shall not raise any claim on it in future," the document read.

The designated officer administers the oath of allegiance to the applicant, and the application, along with necessary documents, is forwarded to the Empowered Committee for further processing. In case the applicant fails to appear in person for the oath-taking, the District Level Committee may forward the application to the Empowered Committee to be considered for refusal.

Upon successful completion of the application, citizens will be provided digital certificates. A hard copy of the certificate may be provided on request.

Who is exempted from the CAA?

Autonomous councils created under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution are exempted from the purview of CAA. The law that came into effect on Monday will, therefore, not be implemented in most tribal parts of Northeastern states. Autonomous councils under this special status include Karbi Anglong, Dila Hasao and Bodoland Territorial Council areas in Assam, Garo Hills in Meghalaya and tribal areas in Tripura.

Areas where the Inner Line Permit (ILP) is required for a visit by people from other parts of the country in Northeastern states are excluded from the law. The ILP is in place in parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur.

Protests against CAA

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act has sparked widespread protests across the country, including in the national capital region and northeastern states since its introduction in 2019. Protesters in Assam and other northeastern states expressed concerns over potential loss of political, cultural, and land rights, as well as fears of increased migration from Bangladesh.

Protestors have also argued that the amendment discriminates against Muslims and violates the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution. Some also question the exclusion of persecuted religious minorities from regions such as Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.

Several petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, have been filed, including by political leaders, advocacy groups, and individuals. The Supreme Court has issued notices to the Centre and sought its response by the second week of January on a batch of pleas challenging the CAA

Who will be in charge of processing the applications for citizenship?

Opposition-ruled states including Kerala and West Bengal have said they will not implement the CAA. Under the Rules, however, the Centre has tweaked the process of grant of citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from the three countries in such a way that states will have little say in the matter.

Thus, while citizenship applications were earlier made to the district collector — who is under the administrative control of the state government — the new Rules provide for an Empowered Committee and a District Level Committee (DLC), to be instituted by the Centre, to receive and process the applications, which are to be submitted electronically.

Applications will be made to the DLC, and the final decision will be taken by the Empowered Committee. The Empowered Committee will be headed by a Director (Census Operations), and will have as its members an officer of the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (under the Ministry of Home Affairs) of the rank of deputy secretary or above, the FRRO, the State Informatics Officer of the National Informatics Centre (under the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology), and the Postmaster General (under the Union Ministry of Communications) of the state. A representative each from the state home department and the Railways will be invitees to the Committee.

The DLC shall consist of the District Informatics Officer or District Informatics Assistant of the concerned district, and a nominee of the central government. The two invitees to the committee will be a representative of the district collector’s office not below the rank of Naib Tehsildar or equivalent, and the jurisdictional station master of the Railways (subject to availability).

Is this the first time that the government has moved to address the plight of these refugees?

No. The first steps in this direction were taken back in 2002, when the state of Rajasthan requested then Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani to help resolve the difficulties faced by Pakistani Hindus trying to procure Indian visas and citizenship.

As a result, in February 2004, the government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee amended The Citizenship Rules to give district magistrates of certain border districts in Rajasthan and Gujarat the power to grant LTVs and citizenship to such migrants.

Subsequently, in June 2010, when Manmohan Singhwas Prime Minister, the Ministry of Home Affairs asked states and Union Territories to consider cases for extension of LTVs of certain categories of Pakistani nationals without insisting on the validity of passports. The notification put the cut-off date at December 31, 2009.

Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan were eligible under this policy, apart from Pakistani women who were married to Indian nationals and were staying in India; widowed or divorced Indian women who were married to Pakistanis; and “cases involving extreme compassion”.

Grant of LTVs was also considered in the case of originally-Indian Muslim men who went to Pakistan after Partition leaving behind family in India, and returned on valid Pakistani passports and settled in Kerala.

In December 2014, the first Narendra Modigovernment issued a notification allowing grant of citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Christian and Buddhist migrants from Pakistan. Jains and Parsis were not included in this relaxation.

In 2015 and 2016, the government amended The Passport (Entry into India) Rules and The Foreigners Order exempting Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh from the process of law in case they entered India without a passport or visa.

Finally, in 2018, a year before Parliament passed the CAA, the government issued a notification that made these communities eligible for LTVs if they sought Indian citizenship. A range of benefits were extended to them — they could get a private job, start a business, admit their children to school, move freely within the state, open a bank account, buy a house, and get a driving licence, PAN, and Aadhaar.


Hindu refugee families in Assam, living since the 1960s in a refugee camp and who had been denied Indian citizenship so far, said that the Amendment had "kindled hope" at first. They added that the recent protests against the Act and demands for its cancellation have made them fearful of the future. In New Delhi, about 600 refugees from Pakistan living in a camp consisting of tiny shanties celebrated the new law. A delegation of Sikh refugees who had arrived from Afghanistan three decades ago thanked the Indian government for amending the citizenship law. They stated the Amended law would allow them to finally gain Indian citizenship and "join the mainstream".

Some RohingyaMuslim refugees in India were not optimistic about the Amendment and feared they would be deported. Other Rohingya refugees expressed gratitude at having been allowed to stay in India, but did not make any comments specific to the Act lest they provoke a backlash. They said that local police had asked them not to protest against the Act. 

More than 200 families have arrived in the Indian state of Punjab with all their belongings after the law was enacted. 

Talks with the Refugees

The background narrative of the Pakistani Hindu refugees from refugee camps who are still awaiting their country’s citizenship.

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