New Delhi: The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) told the Supreme Court that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019 is discriminatory because it excludes Tamil refugees and “manifestly arbitrary” because it expressly excludes Muslims, saying the law should be declared null and void because it is “unconstitutional” and “destroys the basic fabric of secularism”.
In a supplementary affidavit submitted to the top court, the party – which is among the 200 petitioners challenging the Act – said the CAA is unconstitutional because it is ultra vires of Articles 14 and 21 of the constitution. It argued that the Act is ‘arbitrary’ as it relates to only three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh – and provides a fast-tracked route citizenship only for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christian communities from these nations and expressly excludes Muslims.
“The Act deliberately keeps away the people belonging to Muslims who had suffered persecution in the three countries and therefore it is highly discriminatory and manifestly arbitrary,” the DMK said.
While the government has argued that members of these communities have been identified because they face religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, DMK has pointed out that Tamils in Sri Lanka have been excluded even though a clause in the country’s constitution gives primacy to Buddhism over all other religions.
“Clause 9 of the Sri Lankan Constitution, not only gives importance to Buddhism over other religions but also empowers the state to protect and foster Buddhism,” the affidavit, filed by the party’s organising secretary R.S. Bharathi, said.
According to the CAA, the basis for including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh was that their constitutions provided for a specific state religion due to which the religious minorities there faced prosecution on grounds of religion.
The affidavit said that the situation in Sri Lanka is similar to the one in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Not only have the Tamils faced religious persecution as they were predominantly Hindus, but they have also faced ‘rampant persecution’ due to their minority status since Sri Lanka’s independence from British rule.
Therefore, the classification to select only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh has no “rational nexus with policy and object of the influence act”, DMK said.
According to LiveLaw, the affidavit says that CAA not only gives “undue advantage and benefits” to undocumented immigrants but also fails to achieve the stated objective – to provide support to persons persecuted on the grounds of religion.
‘Step-motherly behaviour’ towards Tamil refugees
The party said that Indian-origin Tamils, who fled Sri Lanka due to persecution and are now in India as refugees, are out of the ambit of the legislation. It contended that the Union government, in its counter affidavit filed in October 2022, has “categorically remained silent” about the plight of the Tamil refugees.
“The step-motherly behaviour (of the Centre) towards Tamil refugees has left them living in constant fear of deportation and an uncertain future,” the affidavit says. As stateless people, they have been denied employment in government services, organised private sector and the right to property and voting, it adds.
The party claimed that the CAA is “against the Tamil race”.
The law ignores the reality that for several decades Tamil refugees who have settled in Tamil Nadu are deprived of fundamental and other rights due to non-citizenship and due to non-naturalisation. The Act does not provide any reasons to exclude them and hence is discriminatory.
CAA introduced a completely “new basis for the grant and non-grant of citizenship on grounds of religion, which destroys the basic fabric of secularism”, the party said. There is no reason provided as to why Muslims were altogether excluded even in the three countries wherein they have suffered from persecution, it says.
Providing a background, the affidavit said tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamil populations in Sri Lanka have deep historical roots. The Tamils came from southern India. There are two separate communities in the island nation which are the Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian-origin Tamils. Both are of the same ethnic origin and speak the same language.
The Indian origin Tamils now in the island nation were taken there from south India by the British rulers to work as bonded labourers in the coffee and tea plantations, mainly around Kandy, between 1852 and the 1930s.
The Sinhalese population of Sri Lanka, the majority of them Buddhist, have historically considered the Tamils as “invaders” who are “infringing” on Sinhalese territory. The identification of the Buddhist religion with Sinhalese nationalism is an important element in understanding the conflict in Sri Lanka, he argued.
Tamil refugees in India
To resolve the citizenship issues faced by the 9.75 lakh Indian Tamils residing in Sri Lanka, on October 30, 1964, India and Sri Lanka signed the Sirimavo-Shastri pact.
About 3 lakh people were to be granted Sri Lankan citizenship while the government of India was to accept the repatriation of 5.25 lakh people. The status and future of the remaining 1.50 lakh people are the subject matter of a separate agreement between the two governments.
In substance, the government of India was obliged to grant citizenship to 6 lakh stateless Tamils with a natural increase in their numbers.
Quoting from the Tamil Nadu government rehabilitation department’s handbook, Bharathi said 3,03,076 people arrived in India as refugees from 1983 to 2010 in four phases.
As of January 2010, the number of expatriates who arrived and registered was 4,61,631, he said, submitting relevant documents to support his claims.
(With PTI inputs)