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CAA unconstitutional, say Catholic religious at grassroots

by Raju Vernekar
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IT News
Mumbai, Feb 8

A group of Catholic priests and nuns (Justice Coalition of Religious) (JCR) working among the poorest and most marginalized communities in Maharashtra has opposed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as unconstitutional.
“The CAA is the first instance of religion being overtly used as criterion for citizenship under Indian nationality laws and therefore fundamentally discriminatory and divisive in nature,” a  press release from 36 representatives of 16 Catholic congregations that oppose the act, stated.
JCR which  recently met in Mumbai,  opposed CAA,National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). They said these laws are at odds with secular principles enshrined in the Constitution and contradict Articles 13, 14, 15, 16 and 21 that guarantee to every citizen the right to equality, equality before the law, and non-discriminatory treatment by the State. JCR attended a capacity-building workshop titled, “Rights-based Advocacy in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) at the end of the last month.
The grassroots workers also noted that the new law undermines India’s commitment to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and other human rights treaties to which the country is a signatory.
The CAA fast-tracks Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhist, Christians, Parsis and Jains who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014, from its Muslim majority neighbours, namely Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
“By giving special privileges to migrants from these religious communities, the government has singled out Muslims for exclusion. As citizens and members of the minority Christian community in the country, we are dismayed that a statutory attempt is being made through the CAA to privilege peoples of certain faiths while relegating another, Muslims, to a secondary status.”
Muslims and Christians, the Catholic religious noted, have been experiencing “a deep sense of vulnerability and insecurity with the rising tide of majoritarian nationalism in the country and actual violence perpetrated against minority communities particularly Muslims.”
JCR also said that the CAA “unfairly” disadvantages Muslim groups, such as Hazaras and Ahmadis who have historically faced persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh from seeking refuge in India. “It leaves out Sri Lankan Tamils who form the largest refugee group in India residing here for now almost three decades,”.
The CAA also excludes the Rohingya Muslims, the “world’s most persecuted minorities,” from Myanmar with whom we share a border. The country needs a proper law on refugees and so we appeal to the government to develop a sustainable refugee policy that is non-discriminatory and compliant with international conventions, like the UN Refugee Convention, 1951 and the 1967 Protocol to which India is not a signatory.
 Since 2013, the north eastern Indian state “has been reeling under the impact of an ill-conceived NRC exercise. Apart from the huge material costs, the human costs have been immeasurable.”
When asked whether the press release condemning CAA put up by the Archbishop of Bombay Cardinal Oswal Gracias in December 2019 helped boost the community’s voice of dissent, Brinelle Dsouza, coordinator for JCR (Western India), said, “Our protest is a part of the larger Christian voice that is emerging. As Christians, we are strongly opposed to that which gives privileges to certain religions over others.
In the meanwhile, the TISS students’ union (TSU) has demanded that an FIR lodged by police against one of the students Urvashi Chudawala, be withdrawn. She was charged with sedition for raising slogans pro-Sharjeel Imam slogans at a rally organised by the “Mumbai Pride” solidarity gathering on 2 February. She reportedly raised slogans such as “Sharjeel Tere Sapne Pure Honge” in support of his demand to divide India. The cases of  sedition have been registered against Imam in Assam and Uttar Pradesh for his inflammatory speeches against the country and he is in police custody in Delhi.
The TIS statement stated, “A Supreme Court judgment says that only raising slogans doesn’t lead to sedition until and unless there is an implicit threat of violence. Using these charges to curb the dissenting voices of the oppressed is highly condemnable..BJP is trying to play with our education, career and future. In the same gathering, Urvashi had also read out the Preamble. This negates all claims of being anti-national, TSU stated.  
The Adivasi Students’ Forum, Ambedkarite Students’ Association, Muslim Students’ Forum, Muslim Youth Voices, North-East Students’ Forum, Progressive Students’ Forum, Spaceless Collective and Queer Collective have come out in support of the statement.

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