The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 was passed by the Parliament on December 11. The bill aims at providing citizenship to the minority communities being persecuted in the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The people belonging to those communities who are residing as refugees and have arrived in India before December 31, 2014 are the major beneficiaries of this bill.
But since the 10th of December, the day after the lower house of Parliament passed the bill, protests have erupted in different parts of the country. The politics around it is fanning the flames. The opposition has accused the government of fomenting division by destroying the ‘secular fabric’ of the nation. And subverting the spirit of the Constitution by breaching the ‘Right to Equality’ enshrined in Article 14.
The Indian National Congress, the premier opposition party has asserted the stalwarts of the party during the Independence which boasted names like Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Jawahar Lal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi too would not have accepted the bill in its present form.
But do their arguments stand the test of evidence and sound logic?
The major grouse of the parties and people opposing the bill is the exclusion of the word ‘Muslim’ from the bill. The argument presented by them is that it undermines the secularism and the ethos of tolerance that India stands for. I disagree. In my opinion, India in its entire civilisational history has never been secular. Religion has always been closely interlinked with governance. But that does not make India intolerant.
India throughout its history has given refuge to communities being persecuted and has assimilated them within herself. All communities have been granted equal opportunity to practice their customs, beliefs and traditions in accordance with their religious beliefs. And it continues to do so. The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution too did not believe secularism to be an ideal fit for India.
With the little historical background established, it makes it easier to examine and understand the charge of destruction of the secular fabric of the nation leveled against the government. First and foremost, what is secularism? According to the Cambridge dictionary the word ‘secularism’ is the belief that religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country.
Since we are talking politics, in political terms, secularism is a separation of religion and government. Does the statement hold true in the Indian context?
India in its long history has been ruled by the Rajas and Maharajas of various dynasties. Before the Constitution, the royal sages gave guidance to the kings on economics, warfare, governance based on the knowledge accumulated in the Vedas, the Smritis and the Upanishads. Later, when the Turkic invaders catapulted to the seats of governance, the code of conduct for governance and punishment was based on the Sharia.
While Akbar was busy expanding his empire, the Portuguese in their Indian dominions were carrying out their own Inquisition. In their crusade to spread the missionary cause the Portuguese were destroying the temples, synagogues and mosques and criminalising adherence to their faith. During the British rule, the Charter Acts of 1813 and 1833 paved way for the missionaries to spread the message and convert the local populace.
The true cure of darkness is the introduction of light. The Hindus err because they were ignorant and their errors have never fairly been laid before them. The communication of our light and knowledge to them would prove the best remedy for their disorders.EVANGELICAL SPOKESPERSON (source: selfstudyhistory.com)
One of the earliest controversies in post Independence India has been the reconstruction of the Somnath Temple. After Junagadh acceded to India, Sardar Patel announced that the government of India would rebuild the Somnath Temple. This idea was opposed by the then education minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. He wanted the ruins to be handed over to the Archaeological Society of India, unlike with Muslim shrines and mosques.
When Sardar Patel was alive, the Cabinet passed the decision to rebuild the temple. After his death Nehru began to vehemently oppose the move and even wrote to the then President Rajendra Prasad to not attend, the ‘prana-prathistha’. Later, he made the following remark on the issue. “I don’t like your trying to restore Somnath. It is Hindu revivalism”.
I have quoted the examples to say that in both pre-independent India and post-independent India, religion has always remained intrinsic to politics. The other charge laid by the opposition is that the founding fathers of the nation would not have allowed the atrocity that the ‘Citizenship Amendment Act’ is. But is it so?
After Partition, doubts still lingered about the safety of minorities living in the newly independent countries of India and Pakistan. To allay the fears of the populace on the safety of minority communities in their respective countries, the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, Jawahar Lal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan signed the Nehru-Liaquat Pact. But a sense of skepticism always remained.
The fear it seems was well founded. The population of the minorities in the countries mentioned in the bill are in a steady state of decline. In 1947, when the country was partitioned the percentage of minorities in Pakistan was 14%. In Bangladesh, in 1971, the percentage of minority population was around 23%. However, these percentages have dwindled down to 1.6% in Pakistan and 8% in Bangladesh. In a few more years, there won’t be any minorities left in these countries.
To provide a mechanism for redressal if the situation ever arised, the Congress Working Committee in November 1947 passed a resolution to address this issue.
Referenced from India’s struggle for freedom: Select documents and sources, the resolution states that ‘The Congress is bound to afford full protection to all those non-Muslims from Pakistan who have crossed the border and come over to India or may do so to save their life and honour.‘ The former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2003 and the ex-Chief Minister of Assam in 2012 have advocated the same. At least for the refugees from Bangladesh.
So, what is the reason that Congress changed its stance?
Leaving the question aside, a sense of fear has percolated into the population due to miscommunication. Opposition parties and vested interests are fear mongering that the Indian Muslims are going to be deprived of their citizenship because of the recently passed act. Combining it with proposed NRC in the country the opposition is fanning the political flames.
Let us get the facts right. The Citizenship Amendment Act does not deprive any existing Indian citizen of their citizenship. Nor will it be a hindrance to communities left out in the act to procure Indian citizenship in the future. This amendment will fasten the citizenship process of many minority communities who have fled from our neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to escape religious persecution.
There is a fear that many Indian citizens will be excluded from registry of citizens due to lack of relevant documents. But the NRC implemented in Assam needed the tenancy or ancestry documents because of the clauses mentioned in the Assam Accord. The same is not applicable to the rest of India. It is not practically feasible. Hence, the rules for the proposed NRC in the country will be quite different from that of the NRC in Assam.
Instead of jumping to conclusions based on the contradictory statements being attributed in the officials of the Home Ministry by media houses, the speculations on NRC must be put to rest until there is official communication from the government.
While protests broke out in many parts of the country led by students and political outfits, many miscreants too found their way into the protests. In Dibrugarh, Assam flags of banned terror organisation ULFA were spotted at the protest site. In other parts of the country, in the name of protests the gathering mobs vandalised public property and resorted to arson. The police personnel on duty were attacked with stones by the frenzied mob. These activities were being carried out in the name of anti-CAA protests.
As told by the Delhi Police that students were not involved in the violence at Jamia University. Then who was instigating the violence? Students in universities have made their points through protests without any untoward incidents. But who are these people indulging in stone pelting and destruction of public property in the name of protests. Who is stoking the fire?