The recently passed Citizenship Amendment Bill in India is problematic on many fronts. As commendable as the pursuit of rehabilitating persecuted minorities, on the basis of religion, of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh are, the Bill (now an Act) borders on hitting at the idea of India, as envisioned by its founding fathers.
Selective rehabilitation of refugees from only three contiguous countries, which very cleverly keeps Muslims out of the ambit of the law (Rohingyan Muslims and Sri Lankan Tamil Muslims are also persecuted, but will not be covered under the Bill). Some would say it is state persecution based on religion that is being countered. Well, that is one slippery slope one must not tread on.
Yes, there are Islamic countries bordering India, but they have constitutionally mandated the protection of minorities as well! Article 36 of the Pakistani constitution, the initial three articles of the 2004 Afghanistan constitution and various directives in the state of Bangladesh. All these countries have constitutional provisions, stating that non-Muslims have rights and are free to practise their faith.
Moreover, individual Hindus have risen to prominent positions, in both Bangladesh and Pakistan, notably as Chief Justices in the two countries. Also, when Mr Amit Shah says that the number of non-Muslims has shrunk since independence, it seems he has conveniently forgotten the separation of East and West Pakistan in 1971. Census data for 1998 show that the Hindu population of Pakistan (which was formerly west Pakistan) had not really changed significantly from its 1951 level of around 1.5 to 2%!
In practice, non-Muslim minorities do face discrimination and persecution in the aforementioned countries. Amnesty International particularly highlighted Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which it says
“are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary in a way which amounts to harassment and persecution of religious minorities.”
Pakistani Hindus have been facing immense pressure as well as discrimination, socially and religiously, as per interactions they have had with media outlets such as the BBC. One particular issue of concern has been that of targeting of Hindu girls in Sindh (province). However, Ahmadis are also facing immense pressures due to their beliefs being regarded as heretical by the Muslim majority, but Ahmadis are not covered under the Act.
In fact, most of the blasphemy laws in recent years have been filed against Ahmadis and other minority Muslim groups, rather than Hindus and Christians! In Bangladesh, the number of Hindus has dramatically fallen, from around 22% in 1951 to around 8% in 2011. This is partly due to the targeting of affluent Hindus to leave their land and assets, due to their homes and businesses being targeted, besides the attack by religious militants.
But what makes things very interesting, is that although the number of refugees in India has been going up in recent years, the largest numbers of refugees are not from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan! They are from Tibet and Sri Lanka.
In the case of Tibet, there has been documented oppression and persecution of Buddhists over the years, including in the Cultural Revolution of 1966, while in Sri Lanka, Muslims have been under constant threat, and more recently, demonisation after April’s Easter Sunday bombing. There are the Uighurs, the Rohingyans and so many others who cannot avail this new facility due to selective inclusion under the ambit of the current Bill. The manner of taking these refugees into the country is also problematic since the pressure on resources and the indigenous population is on the border states, such as Assam and Punjab.
In London, on 14 December 2019, members of the Indian community in the United Kingdom, particularly the Assamese community, assembled outside the High Commission of India in the UK, to protest the Citizenship Amendment Bill. I was invited to the same and spoke at the event.
What was highlighted, was that as commendable as the protection of the persecuted minorities and refugees is, the selective protection given to the minorities of only ‘three contiguous countries’ is problematic. Even though Myanmar and Sri Lanka have had intersectional oppression, based on ethnicity and religion, they are not covered under the current Act.
Moreover, religion cannot be the only basis for integrating people, especially in border states like Assam, where the distinct culture and society have been threatened by a mass influx of migrants, thereby threatening to make the Assamese a minority in their own state! 1971 showed us how socio-cultural and linguistic identities play a major role in the identification of individuals with a community, beyond religion.
This is why, I am launching the campaign ‘Take a liberation walk, not the CAB’ with a few others. ‘Take a liberation walk, not the CAB’ is an initiative launched in the UK. Under this initiative, we would like to encourage you to walk to the nearest administrative office of the government (or the Indian embassy, if in the capital city of a foreign country) and deliver a letter of protest against the CAB, in India.
If unable to do so, please post the letter. Let us get thousands of letters flooding the offices of the government and embassies, showing the public outrage about CAB. If you cannot do this either, we have a minor Change.org petition in support of this: http://chng.it/wtqNc5hFFB.
It is time for action and mobilisation against this.
Also, before self-proclaimed nationalists accuse me of speaking against my country, I would like to highlight that the government is not the country and the country is not the government. I would also like to highlight that it is my love for my country that cannot make me accept a law that is regressive and against the spirit of India.