Constitution does not permit for citizenship by religion: Senior Advocate Aditya Sondhi at NLSIU discussion

Constitution does not permit for citizenship by religion: Senior Advocate Aditya Sondhi at NLSIU discussion

National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NLSIU) recently organized a discussion titled CAA: Assault on Constitutional Values.

The event was held to discuss the implications of the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA), the ensuing protests against the controversial legislation, and the recent violence at various universities such as Jamia Milia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

On the JNU protests and the violence on campus, NLSIU's Professor Babu Mathew stated,

Such a situation is absolutely unprecedented. Never before in the history of this country has something like that ever happened. People wearing masks, carrying lathis, assaulted unarmed students. But now the young generation has risen in rebellion. That is the hope of this country and the fact that these protests are led not by any political party.”

The main speaker of the discussion, Senior Advocate and former Additional Advocate General for the State of Karnataka Aditya Sondhi, began with a brief introduction of the CAA. Sondhi stated the Amendment Act simply seeks to add a proviso as to who an “illegal migrant" is. The Act excludes people from only one religion - Islam - he noted.

He stated that if this Act did not have such an exception on the basis of religion, then probably all the people would have lauded and welcomed the Act. In this regard, he stated,

"Why did you you exclude Muslims? Is it constitutionally valid? Though the reason for this Act to come in place was religious persecution, the Amendment, however, makes no mention of persecution. Its absence is conspicuous."

Senior Advocate Aditya Sondhi

Regarding the argument that Article 15 is applicable to citizens alone, he stated

“Yes, Article 15 is citizen specific. But Article 14 and 19 are for all persons.”

He further stated that other than religious persecution, there could be many reasons for migration. Despite this, the real reasons for migration remains absent in objective of the Act, Sondhi noted.

Additionally, there are many Muslim minorities who have suffered persecution in Pakistan, such as the Shias and the Ahmadiyyas. Not providing them protection is again a failure of the Act, he stated.

It’s not an academic reaction anymore. These issues remain in the realm of constitutional jurisprudence. Article 15 is not a license to demarcate on the basis of religion.”

Sondhi also talked about how these migrants would be given citizenship and be made voting citizens. He also stated that a non-citizen may not have a vested right to regularization.

Further, Sondhi stated that the concept of NRC in Assam is different, as the fallout in Assam is not just Muslim-specific. Talking about the NRC, he stated

“NRC is practically taking a headcount, a census. Who remains a victim? Is that exception moral? Is it fair and just? The consequences will be more sinister if this continues.”

Sondhi further contended that Articles 5 -11 in the Constitution do not permit for citizenship by religion. In this regard, he stated that the constitutional structure cannot be violated.

"We have reached a stage where we have to revisit our doctrines", he stated.

Another issue with the Act, he noted, was that since the classification was based on religion, there is no place for atheists or for such people who worship nature in the CAA.

Sondhi ended his talk by congratulating the student body for the initiative taken. An interactive question and answer session with the audience followed.

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