Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019: The Fire That Consumes India

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A man walks on a street as a bus is on fire following demonstration against the Indian government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), now Act, in New Delhi. — AFP

How does CAA coupled with NRC affect the country on a whole? These two instruments will change the paradigm of citizenship in India. By stating that India is a natural home for Hindus all over the world, the idea of Golwalkar that Hindus alone will enjoy all rights in India. This idea is similar to that of Israel which calls Jews all over the world as their citizens. This goes against the very grain of multicultural societies where people of different religions co-exist with equality. It also goes against the tenet of equality enshrined in our constitution which ensures no discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, creed or gender

NEHA DABHADE | Caravan Daily

“..the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizen’s rights”, said Golwalkar in his We or our Nationhood Defined (Golwalkar) .

Golwalkar was the second chief and ideologue of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a hardliner supremacist organization which is the ideological parent of BJP. This is the foundational principle underlying the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 which allows accelerated naturalization to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to get citizenship of India, that the current BJP government has hastily pushed sparking country wide protests and palpable anxiety.

As is clear from the ideas of Golwalkar, ‘Hindu race’ is supreme in India and whoever doesn’t belong to not Hindu race stand to lose even citizenship rights. The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 which embodies this premise of Golwalkar, is also a knee jerk reaction of the BJP to suit its politics in retrospect of the disaster of NRC in Assam.

In order to understand the intent and import of this Act, it will be useful to trace the inconsistent positions of the BJP over the years. Its position at different times makes it clear that BJP never had a well thought out consistent stand on CAA but has brought it in merely for its political exigencies. This can be explained by taking into account that the crux of the CAA is giving citizenship to the “persecuted” Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains from the three stated countries. This is quite contradictory to the long held political position of the BJP.

The BJP without making any distinction on basis of religion (Hindus or Muslims) have always maintained that illegal immigrants are a threat to the identity and economy of India and especially Assam. Assam which has a porous border with Bangladesh may have had Hindu and Muslim, both immigrants who come to India for better economic opportunities. It’s difficult to determine who is a persecuted Hindu. Besides, the BJP never cared to find out how many and who were immigrants on the grounds for persecution.

In 2008, during the UPA government at the Centre, Mr. Advani, BJP’s foremost leader had had vehemently mounted a scathing attack on the then government for not tackling the influx of the illegal migrants from Bangladesh which was altering the demography of Assam. Such strong was his concern that he warned, “Assam as a whole today is fighting for survival. And the threat to its survival has come from a flood of illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. If this flood is not controlled, Assam will face extinction under the inundation caused by foreigners (Economic Times , 2008).

He went on to claim that there over 3.5 million Bangladeshi illegal migrants in India which is aggravating terrorism in India (Times of India, 2008) . Here too, no distinction was made between Hindu and Muslims even at this point and no mention of persecution of Hindus from Bangladesh. This is not the only figure available of the illegal immigrants. Murli Manohar Joshi once claimed that 1.7 crores Bangladeshi infiltrators in India and most of them were in Kishenganj. It’s interesting to note that the entire population of Kishenganj was 15 lakhs only (Engineer & Dalwai, 1995) .

This points towards two things. One, that the BJP leaders had no data to prove their incredulous claims which were not logical. Arbitrary figures were given in public domain by them to create paranoia against immigrants and this made them popular in Assam. Secondly, they insinuated over time that and popularize the narrative that illegal immigrants from Bangladesh is coterminous with Muslims.

Thus they wanted everyone to believe that all illegal immigrants were Muslims. In fact they made a distinction- Muslim immigrants were called “infiltrators”, connoting aggression and sense of animosity while the Hindu immigrants were called “refugees” (Engineer & Dalwai, Immigrants in Bombay: A Fact Finding Report, 1995) . It was not proven by any credible data that the Hindu immigrants were in any refugees and not just immigrants who migrated for livelihood like the Muslim immigrants.

This resentment towards the illegal migrants is shared by that the current Home Minister, Amit Shah who said, “the illegal immigrants are like termites. They are eating the grain that should go to the poor, they are taking our jobs” (The Hindu, 2019). It is then ironical that Amit Shah would want to flood the whole country with immigrants.

The Central government had exempted the migrants from adverse penal consequences of Passport Act 1920 and Foreigners Act, 1946 (which requires undocumented immigrants prove their citizenship) through notifications in 2015 and 2016. This also made them eligible for long term visa to stay in India. In effect this provided a solution to the immigrants if they were really persecuted to avoid punishment and allowed them a wide range of rights barring a few like right to vote or hold political and constitutional post.

If this was the case, it makes one wonder what was the need for this amendment in 2019 unless vote bank politics was the motive by giving the immigrants voting rights. This is the same vote bank politics that BJP accuses the Congress of but indulges in very cleverly.

Violence at Seelampur in Delhi.

In its political manifesto of 2014, BJP mentioned that addressing the issue of infiltration and illegal immigrants in the Northeast was its priority. And to address this concern, it wanted to review and improve the border management. It promised punitive measures to check illegal immigration. At the same time, it mentions in the same manifesto that India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here.

But here clearly, the intent of the BJP is to foment discontent in Assam against the Bengali speaking Hindus and Muslims and push for instruments like NRC targeting the Muslim who BJP believed to be “foreigners” and “infiltrators”. There was no specific concern about the refugees of the abovementioned religions during dealing with the priority of the so-called infiltration from east.

In July 2018, when the draft list of the NRC was published excluding 4 million residents, a large number of them unwittingly being Hindus in the process of hounding out the Muslims, the BJP had to start thinking of ways in which to protect the citizenship of the excluded Hindus which forms its political support base.

This is when the idea of Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 started to be pushed aggressively. That perhaps explains that BJP in clear terms for the first time clearly stated in its election manifesto its intent to propose the Citizenship amendment Bill as we know it today. In the end of August 2019 when the final NRC list was published leaving out 1.9 million, again most of them being Hindus, the scramble to introduce the Bill and get it passed accelerated.

The BJP in the face strong protests by students and from other quarters is reiterating that the CAA is in no way targeting the Muslims in India. However CAA can’t be viewed in isolation and has to be examined and analyzed in the light of the announcement of the ruling dispensation that NRC will be implemented throughout the country. In its support it argues that all over India there are Bangladeshi illegal immigrants.

But fearing the repeat of the NRC experience in Assam, which now the BJP has disowned in some way, the CAA is the backdoor entry for the Hindus likely to be excluded from NRC process. Its intent is to exclude Muslims and strip them off their citizenship. Though the Muslims under different regimes in India have been discriminated against and victims of communal violence, for all purposes, treated as secondary citizens of India, this is a concerted institutionalized attempt to strip them of their very citizenship.

If BJP is rolling out NRC throughout the country then there are lessons to be drawn from the NRC process in Assam. The NRC process in Assam having its roots in the simmering conflicts spanning over decades was a result of the opposition to migration especially of Bengali speaking Hindus and Muslims which over time metamorphosed into opposition to Bangladeshi immigrants and all Muslims.

Fearing the repeat of the NRC experience in Assam, which now the BJP has disowned in some way, the CAA is the backdoor entry for the Hindus likely to be excluded from NRC process. Its intent is to exclude Muslims and strip them off their citizenship. Though the Muslims under different regimes in India have been discriminated against and victims of communal violence, for all purposes, treated as secondary citizens of India, this is a concerted institutionalized attempt to strip them of their very citizenship.

The Muslims were the primary targets which manifested itself in the Nellie Massacre. The NRC process which required all the residents to produce a complicated labyrinth of documents to prove they are citizens of India by furnishing documents of many generations of their family brought unspeakable misery to the Assamese. Apart from the colossal INR 1200 crores estimated spent on the exercise to eventually “identify” 1.9 million when exaggerated number of immigrants where thrown out of the hat without proper data, the human cost is criminal.

The fact finding mission which the author was part of in Assam, witnessed and spoke to many college professors and teachers who were deployed for over years, some for 15 years till retirement, in the process of NRC. While education of the entire new generation of citizens took a backseat, the entire human resource was deployed in the machinery of NRC.

The pervading paranoia and arbitrary exclusion on mere spelling mistakes or technical errors in the documents of the residents led innocents to commit suicides or sent to the detention centres which for all practical purposes are like prisons. Innocent lives were upturned leading to tearing apart of families, prospects of life in detention centres and loss of financial and mental wellbeing. The poor and illiterate had to queue up to supplicate before the authorities to include them in the NRC. Maintaining documents in a flood ravaged state is not easy and the Adivasis have no concept of documents to prove that the land they live on is theirs for generations. There are still remote areas which don’t even have hospitals to issue birth certificates.

An all India NRC would be many times worse. The NRC in the state of Assam alone required the involvement of over 50,000 government employees and cost more than Rs. 1,200 crore. This is a state that has less than 3% of the country’s total population (Shrivastava, 2019) . One can’t even imagine the funds required to carry it out throughout India. This massive amount spent on this exercise which is based on unsubstantiated and exaggerated fear and suspicion will drive the entire country to a new level of paranoia.

The poor and dispossessed will be supplicants before the authorities and at their mercy. Ironically, the very Hindus, who the CAA is supposed to protect, will be those queuing up in large numbers. If they want to protect their citizenship through CAA, they will have to prove persecution from one of three neighbouring countries mentioned in the Act which is almost impossible. Rightful citizens will have to declare themselves foreigners or refugees first. Thus, the NRC will spare nobody though the Muslims will face brute open discrimination. All communities are at a risk of being stripped off their citizenship like witnessed in Assam. The hardships are unimaginable.

How does CAA coupled with NRC affect the country on a whole? These two instruments will change the paradigm of citizenship in India. So far the citizenship in India was based on principle of jus soli which means acquiring citizenship of the country by virtue of being born there. The Citizenship Act 1955 provided for all being born on or after the before 1st July 1987 as Indian citizens. Subsequently citizenship can be acquired by citizenship by descent where one has to prove that one of their parents were citizens of India. However with CAA and NRC, the shift is towards the principle of jus sanguinis or blood system.

By stating that India is a natural home for Hindus all over the world, the idea of Golwalkar that Hindus alone will enjoy all rights in India. This idea is similar to that of Israel which calls Jews all over the world as their citizens. This goes against the very grain of multicultural societies where people of different religions co-exist with equality. It also goes against the tenet of equality enshrined in our constitution which ensures no discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, creed or gender.

This is a change in the very idea of India. India was founded on the composite nationalism where citizens belonging to all faiths enjoyed the same citizenship rights. Their religion didn’t determine their citizenship. This is a dangerous turn to ethno-nationalism in Indian history which will bring violence and unrest in the future.

Kolkata: Members of Muslim community participate in a protest rally against Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) and NRC, in Kolkata on Dec 13, 2019. (Photo: Kuntal Chakrabarty/IANS)

This is a change in the very idea of India. India was founded on the composite nationalism where citizens belonging to all faiths enjoyed the same citizenship rights. Their religion didn’t determine their citizenship. This is a dangerous turn to ethno-nationalism in Indian history which will bring violence and unrest in the future.

The government reiterates that this Act only seeks to give refuge to those persecuted in the countries having specific state religion. It is important to point out, as much as we appreciate the humanitarian gesture of the government, the purpose of the Act will be lost if India is unable to provide refuge to all other persecuted minorities in other neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka which gives special position to Buddhism in its Constitution leading to reports of discrimination against Tamils and Muslims or even Bhutan and Nepal which have state religions. These inconsistencies along with its knee jerk design to protect its constituency which votes it to power makes its nefarious attempt very clear.

Today the country is burning in the face of brute power and arrogance of the ruling dispensation which is pushing an Act which was passed with no consultation and democratic spirit. Earlier the ruling dispensation allowed issues like cow vigilantism, “love jihad”, ghar wapsi to foster hatred and othering of the Muslims and other vulnerable communities. This act is just another instrument to further this agenda. By all means it won’t be the last one. The Act betrays India and flays its soul by hurtling it down into the abyss of uncertainty, anxieties and injustice knowing well the consequences of such acts.

This ill thought out and ill intentioned Citizenship Amendment Act and imminent NRC that the Home Minister threatens the country with, is bringing the country on the verge of unrest which the world is taking notice of. The defiant government which is turning a blind eye to protests and in proportionate force the protests are handled with, is giving a message that it cares less about democracy and is bent on redefining India which will completely normalize bigotry and render its own millions of citizens stateless in its thirst of power and its ideology of Hindu Rashtra.

This Act coupled with NRC is unmistakably the first concrete step towards the cherished dream of BJP’s ideological parent, RSS. Unfortunately the ruling party doesn’t care if it’s at loggerheads with the idea of India itself and its long cherished dream.

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Neha Dabhade is associated with Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs and comments by readers are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Caravan Daily

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