Speaking to The Lede, veteran lawyer BV Acharya questions why protests are taking place when no Indian’s rights have been infringed upon
“This legislation does not take away the rights of anybody. It only confers some additional rights on some sections of people. What is the problem with that?” asks BV Acharya, veteran lawyer who is based in Bengaluru.
In an interview with The Lede, Acharya breaks down the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that was passed by both Houses of Parliament earlier this month. The CAA fast tracks the citizenship process for six religious minorities (not including Muslims) from three countries – Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“This is under the amended law,” continues Acharya. “Under the original law, anybody, including a Muslim, is entitled to claim citizenship here provided he fulfils those conditions. This is only an additional benefit conferred on non-Muslim minorities of three neighbouring countries. That process is still there. Nobody can have any grievance,” he says.
Protests are raging all over India as Acharya speaks to The Lede. Many have turned violent over a variety of fears. In Assam and the north eastern states, the local population does not want irregular migrants to be naturalised.
In the rest of the country, there is fear amongst the Muslim community that the CAA, combined with the looming National Register of Citizens (NRC) could lead to Indian Muslims being profiled and discriminated against solely due to religion.
“It does not affect any citizen of India whatever may be the religion he belongs to,” reiterates Acharya. “It is only an additional right conferred on sections of people from outside the country.”
When asked about the criticism that the CAA goes against the Constitution, Acharya disagrees.
“I tried to find out from the opposition what exactly their grievance is. Except for saying that the ruling party is today making a law that goes contrary to the spirit of secularism, they do not have any other arguments. By that they (the opposition) mean when you are conferring citizenship for these three states, you are excluding the Muslims of those states.
Exclusion has been done by the government for two reasons - Muslims in those states are not minorities there. Secondly they have got protection of the Constitution because those countries have declared themselves as Islamic states.
Therefore the only violation could be Article 14 which is the equality clause. Articles 21 and 19 apply only to citizens so that is not violated,” he says.
Article 14 assures equality before law: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”
Article 21 of the Constitution is about protection of life and personal liberty: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” This is read with Article 19 (1) (e) of the Constitution that restricts a foreigner from residing and settling in India.
Article 19 speaks of protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech: “All citizens shall have the right
- to freedom of speech and expression;
- to assemble peaceably and without arms;
- to form associations or unions;
- to move freely throughout the territory of India;
- to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
- to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business”
“But as far as Article 14 goes, you can always justify on the basis of some intelligible criteria. Here there is a clear specification - Muslims there (in the three neighbouring countries) stand on a different footing than other minorities. They are not minorities since those are Islamic countries.
According to me, Harish Salve is one of the top advocates of India. He has pleaded for us in the International Court of Justice in the Jadhav case. From the beginning he has been clearly explaining this to the media. He firmly believes Article 14 is not violated,” says Acharya.
When queried about fears over the NRC and the possibility of religious profiling and discrimination, Acharya says that there is no need to protest even before something happens. “Even that has not become law. They are going to enact. Now it has been clarified that it will not be done unless the views of all stakeholders are taken into account in the country.
If and when they introduce a Bill, at that point we can see whether it is valid or not. In contemplation of what might be enacted, how can you start an agitation?” he says.
As for the botched NRC process in Assam which has introduced fear into the minds of the Indian Muslim community, Acharya says there are differences between the Assam situation and the rest of the country.
“Assam stands on a different footing. So many local issues are there in Assam. I am not in a position to comment on it,” he says.
“The rights of the citizens of any community including Muslims are not affected. It is only additional rights that you are giving for one section. You cannot say you should give additional rights for the whole world.
Sri Lanka should be included, Burma should be included, you can’t say that. Depending on the situation, you are entitled to enact a law that is relevant to only three countries. It is an executive decision,” he signs off.