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CAA 2019 divides Melbourne

CAA 2019

The past few weeks, there has been only one issue – the CAA and NRC- which has dominated headlines all over the globe for Indians, no matter where they live. As the issue developed into wider protests both for and against – in India and more and more people taking to streets, it divided the Indian Diaspora around the world. CAA 2019 has divided Melbourne’s local Indian community.

And Melbourne, the multicultural capital of Australia, was no exception. The visuals of police lathi-charging and using tear gas shells on protestors in India, particularly on students from Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim University along with arson and vandalism being committed on public property – were beamed all over the world television screens and on the internet. Who would miss that and thus who could remain quiet.

We witnessed a passionate, healthy and vigorous debate on both sides and that in itself is evidence of success of multiculturalism in Australian society. One would wonder why on earth, protesters in India could not remain peaceful?

There were two protest marches organized on Sunday, December 22 against CAA 2019. Two weeks later, on Sunday, 5th January, local Indians organised a rally supporting the CAA 2019.

The anti-CAA protests were organised by Bilal Mir of Deakin University and Hyder Hussein of Tarneit.

Explaining his reasons, Bilal Mir’s Invite on Facebook said: “The Indian government has unveiled a sinister plan to disenfranchise millions of Muslims through Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC). All efforts of raising dissent are being curbed with shocking police brutality. Therefore, we stand in solidarity with students of Jamia and Aligarh.”

People were invited to the Parliament House on Sunday 22 December between 11 AM to 3 PM.

Joining Bilal Mir’s protest on same side of the Melbourne’s CAA divide, was Hyder Hussein. Posting on Facebook inviting people to protest peacefully Hyder wrote: We condemn Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) based on religious discrimination.


Sunday December 22 @ 1.00 PM at Federation Square.

Around 150 plus strong Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University alumni gathered to voice their condemnation of police action on students protesting against the new citizenship law (Citizenship Amendment Act) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

In his Facebook posty, Bilal Mir wrote: “We highly condemn this act of the inept handling of peaceful protest by the students by the government of India… 

We find that the Citizenship Amendment Act along with the National Register of Citizens to be a highly discriminatory act of legislation, especially that surreptitiously marginalises and ostracises the Muslim community of India and is in violation of the secular fabric and spirit of India, and especially against the Article 14 of the constitution of India – “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” 

Hyder Hussein, addressing the gathering at Fed Square said, “…Freedom is our birth right and we will not rest until we have achieved it…

“We want the nation without any discrimination. We want India to be secular again”.

There were slogans calling ‘Modi government down down’ and ‘we oppose CAB’.

Although the passions seemingly ran high, but by and large protests were peaceful.

BT even noticed someone supporting Modi and Shah (in the anti-CAA rally on 22 December) sitting on the steps of Federation Square with a placard saying: “Modi & Shah your therapy will save millions the Trauma”.

Although divided in opinion, Melbourne’s India community leaders passionately defended their views on both sides. Melbourne is home to a BJP support group – Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP). The group, obviously, is defending the CAA and NRC initiatives of the Modi government and is passionately and calmly running their argument here.

Australia is also home to those who are followers of the Congress party in India. Suresh Kumar Vallath, president of the Kerala Chapter of the Indian Overseas Congress (IOC) is settled in Melbourne and is a very vocal critic of the CAA and NRC. Welcoming a healthy debate, Mr Vallath put forth arguments he thinks are militating against the initiatives. He has no doubts – those initiatives are unconstitutional.

BT spoke to both the leaders to get their views on this issue which had brought India into world focus and may have implications for some considerable time to come. We narrowed down the arguments to the two measures (CAA and NRC), potential legal challenge and their implications.

To the question – Is CAA constitutionally valid?

Mr Shah, of the OFBJP emphatically says, “Yes . It is 100% valid constitutionally. The persecution of minorities in those countries (PAB) is based on religion and hence the citizenship is also based on religion. It does not exclude any religious minorities from those countries.”

Not surprisingly, Mr Vallath of the IOC says, “I believe CAA is in breach of Article 14.”

He says the measure (CAA) violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.  He adds:

“Right to equality under Article 14 means absence of special privileges to few to the exclusion of others,  and equal opportunities for all without discrimination (Article 15) in the territorial jurisdiction of India.

The exemptions under article 14 are for special classifications such as women, children, SC/ST etc. These classifications have to be reasonable, have nexus to the objective and not arbitrary.

Excluding Muslims and including only six communities is arbitrary and against the secular spirit of the constitution.”

Is CAA going to affect the NRC and/or NRP?

Mr Shah again is very emphatic and says “it does not impact either of these in any ways.”

And when asked, “Does it have any implications for Muslims of India?” Mr Shah again is categorical in his denial of CAA causing any hardship to ANY CITIZEN of India.

“CAA does not take away citizenship from anyone. It only gives citizenship to persecuted minorities from PAB (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh). Hence there is no implication for any citizen of India”, Mr Shah told BT.

Also read: Passions run high over CAA 2019

On the other hand, Mr Vallath explained his fears telling BT:

“If the NRC is applied to the rest of India, the Muslim citizens who can’t be included in NRC for absence of sufficient enough proof & documentation, would be stateless. The stated objective of BJP is to send back or detain so called “non-citizens” and (as) such discriminatory. We believe those who were born in India, those who lived in India for more than specified years, whose parents were born in undivided India etc. should be given citizenship irrespective of religion and based on the fact of persecution.

The CAA 2019 provides a fast tracked system of applying for Indian citizenship to persecuted minorities of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians having come from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh if entered India before 31 December 2014.

When CAA is linked with National Register of Citizens (NRC) which is the next step for the Modi government), by default, it could be argued, everyone in India – Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, Christians and Muslims – who may have lived in India for centuries, could face botheration culminating in detention in detention centres, in the absence of proof of their origin.

Although the government is at pains to explain that the CAA is the only way to legalise and address the issue of non-citizen migrants from those three countries, languishing in India for many decades, the ‘scare-mongering’, says the BJP is not helping.

Supporters of Modi and Shah say India has not only been suffering from this illegal migration of people from these countries, it has also been at the mercy of Muslim clerics when it comes to laws governing some 200 million Indian Muslims. They say, India should have Uniform Civil Code (UCC) for everyone and thus India requires codification of Muslim law. The debate on the UCC is centred on the argument to replace individual personal customs and practices of marriage, divorce, adoption and successions with a common code.

Some commentators are now pondering over if proclaimed equality before the law in the CAA could be used to argue the case for Uniform Civil Code and Codification of Muslim law in India.

Many believe, that will be the logical next step for the Modi, Shah led government.

We put the question to both Jay Shah and Suresh Vallath.

Jay Shah said: “Uniform Civil Code has been a part of manifesto of BJP in consecutive elections. The government will take appropriate steps in this direction when they feel it is the right time to do so.”

Mr Vallath fires a question back:
“There are specific tax laws applicable and providing benefits to Hindu Undivided Families. Are we going to stop that?

“Uniform civil code, though aspirational, have to be discussed with all stakeholders rather than enforcing it to isolate minorities. India is a diverse country and a Nation of Nations. We have to fulfil our commitments as per the spirit of the constitution and ensure LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship & FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual”, he adds.

And supporters of the Indian government and members and fans of the BJP gathered at the steps of Victorian parliament on Sunday, 5th January and shouted slogans in praise of India and Indian government’s initiative on CAA 2019 which, they say, will give ‘well-deserved’ citizenship to millions of minorities facing persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Speaking on the occasion, Rakesh Raiszada, who is proud of his Indian heritage and although settled in Australia for decades, defended the Modi government’s CAA 2019. He vehemently argued in its favour and said Muslims could still apply for India’s citizenship through ‘normal means’ and the special, fast track treatment being offered to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians was a wise move which was long overdue.

Like many defenders of CAA 2019, Mr Raiszada was in no doubt that the new law was constitutionally valid and will stand the challenge in the Supreme Court of India.

For the record, Mr Raiszada stated he is not a member of any political party (of India).

There were many Victorians of Indian heritage – both affiliated and unaffiliated to any Indian political party who attend the CAA 2019 support rally.

Undoubtedly, until things settle in Delhi, Melbourne’s CAA divide and its resultant healthy debate will continue, at least for now.

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