Some Indians Are More Equal – Aijaz Zaka Syed

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Assam has repeatedly been rocked by communal violence targeting Bengali-speaking Muslims, seen here fleeing homes after the violence in this AP file photo.
The Bengali-speaking Muslims flee homes after the recent violence in Assam in this AP file photo.

The BJP government’s outreach to the vulnerable and persecuted minorities in neighboring nations and people of Indian origins around the world is welcome but it pointedly excludes some of India’s own minorities

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED | Special to Clarion India

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ome elitist clubs and hotels in the British India, the last surviving bastions of the Raj, until not long ago famously proclaimed: DOGS AND INDIANS ARE NOT ALLOWED!

We have certainly come a long way since those discerning times when men and their social standing were determined on the basis of the color of their skin.  Today, as India proudly celebrates its 69th year of independent existence, we couldn’t be freer as a people.   However, as borders become increasingly irrelevant in a globalized, networked world in the 21st century, for some there is no getting away from discrimination on the basis of religion, gender, caste and color.

One of the magnificent obsessions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been his urge to reach out to the immensely enterprising and economically influential Indian diaspora spread across the world and talk of the enduring emotional and cultural bonds with the mother land that have stood the test of time.  It is a mutual love affair indeed.  He has been mobbed and lustily cheered by the desis, scattered from America to Australia and Canada to Caribbean Islands to China, wherever he goes on his frequent globetrotting ventures.

It is no coincidence that true to his distinct worldview, the narrative and discourse of these sermons to the choir are almost always overwhelmingly exclusionary in nature and appear inspired by the conviction that all Indians and people of Indian origins everywhere are all Hindu.

So while these grand monologues rightly hail the famous dedication, can-do spirit and ingenuity of the Indians abroad, they also talk about the sacred essentials like Gita, Tulsi plant and holy water of Ganga that, according to the Dear Leader, keep the Diaspora bonded to the mother land.

So it is not surprising that in the run up to the defining 2014 General Elections that catapulted Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party into power, he repeatedly harped on the inherent right of the oppressed Hindus around the world to demand citizenship and a slice of the pie when and if they decide to ‘come home,’ even if their ancestors had migrated centuries ago.

The Dear Leader drove home the message again and again during his electoral rallies in the Northeastern states bordering Bangladesh while warning against the ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ – all Muslims living in the entire Northeast for centuries are in the view of the BJP and the larger brotherhood are all Bangladeshis and belong in the Bay of Bengal – who are out to steal the land and livelihoods of the people of the Northeast.

In his memorable one-sided soliloquy with the almost reverential Arnab Goswami of Times Now, who is otherwise known for his big mouth and insufferable attitude, Modi went to great lengths to cogently explain why Hindus who migrated to places like Fiji and Caribbean Islands have a birthright over India while Muslims living in states like Assam and West Bengal for hundreds of years are essentially Bangladeshi illegals or terrorists until proven otherwise and hence not welcome.

Now the Modi government is apparently planning to bring in a new law that will turn this saffron tinted vision of India of Sangh’s dreams into a reality.

The Hindu newspaper recently reported that “in a move that will have far-reaching implications in Assam and some parts of north-west India, the Union Home Ministry will amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, to grant citizenship to undocumented migrants who fled religious persecution in Pakistan and Bangladesh.”

The report explains that the migrants who are thus welcomed would include “not just Hindus but also Buddhists, Christians, Zoroastrians, Sikhs and Jains.”

To realize this goal, we are told, the government will bring in legislation that would enable the communities mentioned above to migrate legally to India although the External Affairs Ministry has cautioned that the move could upset some of India’s immediate neighbors.

Now who would have any issues with this noble idea? Indeed, governments – all governments and nations – ought to come forward to help and embrace all those persecuted and discriminated against because of their religious beliefs, birth, color or simply because of who they are.  All humanity is one family and when any of its members are in distress it is the duty of the entire family to take care of them.

This is why America’s founding fathers in their early, infectious idealism welcomed everyone to the brave, new world. The iconic Statue of Liberty in New York still offers, in the immortal words of Emma Lazarus, to take in the wretched and rejected lot of humanity from around the world:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door

But long before America became El Dorado and the most coveted destination of on the planet, India beckoned and embraced dreamers and the dispossessed from around the world in equal measure.  So if the Aryans, Arabs, Afghans, Mughals, Turks and the Europeans conquered it and were in turn vanquished by its charms, it also welcomed the persecuted Jews, Christians and Parsees or Zoroastrians without fussing too much about their origins or religious beliefs.

Not anymore.

The BJP government’s outreach to the vulnerable and persecuted minorities in neighboring nations and people of Indian origins around the world predictably and pointedly excludes Muslims.

I agree that the state of religious minorities, especially Hindus and Christians, in the Islamic republic of Pakistan and Sonar Bangla is nothing to write home about.  It is indeed appalling and makes all Muslims hang their heads in shame. If it is any consolation, even the Muslims including the Shias, do not exactly feel completely safe and secure in the land of the pure.

But, as fellow traveler Aakar Patel who has now joined Amnesty International as its India head thoughtfully points out, even if you assume that Muslims of Pakistan and Bangladesh, now that they have their own homeland, have no reason to complain, what about the Muslims of Indian origin elsewhere? Do they have no right to ever look to the land of their birth or that of their ancestors when in distress, like the Christians, Sikhs or Hindus of Indian origin?

How can a government that professes belief in the Indian constitution and is mandated to protect and uphold it be so unabashedly and openly discriminatory in its approach?

It is worth pointing out that Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian constitution promise in no uncertain terms equality before law:

“The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth: The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.”

Written by the legendary Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar and his team that included some of the brightest, liberal and farsighted men and women, the Indian constitution is a fine document which has played a defining role in the way India evolved as a secular, liberal and diverse democracy after its Independence on August 15, 1947.

India has successfully weathered many a storm and survived self-serving politicians and their delusions of grandeur thanks to its robust and vibrant constitution. Any attempt to change its character with discriminatory laws and selective empathy could have disastrous consequences.
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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 Clarion India

 

 

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Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.

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