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Rohit Dhankar

[This one I have written with much less certainly then most other posts. I am tentative on many of my arguments and will we open to better arguments offered without exaggeration.]

There is a lot of opposition to Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB). Most people misrepresent what the bill actually wants to do, exaggerate it as if it is denying citizenship to Muslims. Even as balanced people as Yogendra Yadava coin slogans like “Its essence may be summed up as: No Muslims please, this is India”. Which is less then half a truth and maligns India. Some declare India to become “Hindu Pakistan” if the bill is passed. A citizen today needs to examine these claims with a cool head. For that, lets first see what CAB 2019 wants to change in Citizenship Act, 1955.

First, let’s understand that the bill has no effect at all on the status and rights of Indian citizens. All present citizens of India; irrespective of their caste, creed, language, etc.; remain equal citizens. Thus, those who are telling us that it is discriminatory against Muslims citizens of India are telling lies.

Second, it does not debar Muslims from any country of the world from becoming citizens of India through due process. Which is: they can become citizens through naturalisation and by registration. There is no religion-based discrimination in Citizenship Act, 1955 for ordinary people in this regard and CAB 2019 is not snatching away or reducing those rights of any person from any country.

Then what is CAB 2019 supposed to do? Those who want to understand the issue fully in terms of citizenship as in Part II of Constitution, Citizenship Act 1955 and CAB 2019 can click hear to read original documents.

In brief, CAB 2019 wants to do two things (which are relevant to the point of discussion):

One: “Under the existing provisions of the Act, persons belonging to the minority communities, such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have either entered into India without valid travel documents or the validity of their documents have expired are regarded as illegal migrants and hence ineligible to apply for Indian citizenship. It is proposed to make them eligible for applying for Indian citizenship.” That is; it wants to change the definition of “illegal migrants” for persecuted minority communities, such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. But does not want to change this definition for Muslims from the three countries.

Two: “It is proposed to amend the Third Schedule to the Act to make applicants belonging to minority communities from the aforesaid countries eligible for citizenship by naturalisation in seven years instead of the existing twelve years.”

In brief, it is changing definition of illegal migrants in favour of Hindus, Boudhs, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians; but not for Muslims. And it is making the possibility of citizenship by naturalisation in seven years for these people, while others will have to wait for 12 years.

Now is it declaring “No Muslims please, this is India”? It is half truth to deceive people, couched in emotive terms. Neither deception nor emotive expression can serve as good arguments. But most of the debate runs on such lines. Mr. Yadav wrote an article in January 2019 titled “With amended Citizenship Act, BJP will do Jinnah proud”

He makes a point that by passing this bill India will accept two nation theory on which Pakistan was created. We will do well to remember that two nation theory was mostly propounded by Muslims from Shah Waliullah to Zinnah via Sir Syed and Iqbal. Among Hindus only Golwalkar and Savarkar, among the people of note, accepted it. Now, Mr. Yadav argues that this bill would mean India has accepted the bigoted theory. Well, finally Nehru, Patel, Gandhi and virtually every congress man and woman has to accept Pakistan. Of course, after they realised that no amount of persuasion and assurance is going to cut any ice among Muslims against the possibility of a Shariya governed theocracy. Did they all accept two nation theory when they accepted Pakistan? Or they were only forced to admit that two nation theory in Muslim mind can not be defeated by their secular arguments?

This bill is criticised for being against secularism. It does not debar Muslims from becoming Indian citizens through due process as defined in Citizenship Act 1955. It only refuses to make it especially easier for them as it makes it for Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs coming from precisely three countries where they are persecuted.

Why is the bill proposing to make it easies for persons belonging to these communities? Well, who does not know that these communities are being persecuted in the three Islamic Theocratic states mentioned? They have come into India in large number to escape such persecution due only to their religion. Staying here for years, some for decades. Most of them remained in Pakistan and Bangladesh after partition hoping they will be allowed to live there as human beings. But the Islamic intolerance, which is squarely denied by most liberals, proved to be stronger than their hope. Should India do something to help them in coming out of their miseries? A humanitarian answer seems to be yes. But those opposing the CAB argue that “don’t make any concessions to persecuted, unless you are ready to make the same to Muslims who are not persecuted as well”.

The crux of the secular argument, as Barkha Dutt elaborates in her ill argued piece, is: if it is because of persecution why does not India extend the same hospitality to Balochis, Shias, Ahmadis from Pakistan and Rohingyas from Myanmar?

This is an interesting mix of categories. Balochis are being persecuted not for religion, but for political reasons. Of course, India should help them as much as it can and also give them political asylum and refugee status if need be. But why facilitate citizenship? Political struggles are to gain rights at their own place.

Shias and Ahmadis may be prosecuted in Pakistan today for their faiths. But they demanded Pakistan for Muslims along with Sunnis. They were part of the two-nation theory and were successful in getting what they wanted. The problems they are facing are their own creation. Muslims when partitioned the country on the basis of religion lost all rights for special consideration. However, if they want to become citizens of India, they can follow the normal course of coming with proper documents, which they can easily do, and apply for naturalisation, they will get their citizenship if deserved in 12 years. Why should India make special considerations for them?

Rohingyas is a very complicated story. Their history in Myanmar has not been only of victims but also includes separatism, Shariya movements, attacking Rakhines, denying equal citizenship without special consideration for shariya etc. Also, India has no special obligation to them. They certainly do not deserve facilitation of citizenship. May be temporary refugee status as per the refugee conventions and on sweet will of India.

The argument that the facilitation of citizenship acquisition is being based on religion is not entirely true. It is not being advanced for Hindus etc. from all countries of the world. But only from three Muslim majority Islamic theocratic states. The real reason is not religion but religious persecution. There is a difference between the two for those who want to see. India is being forced by the Islamic intolerance in the three named countries, it is a response to a crisis created by these countries where India is at the receiving end, it is a consequence of their intolerance and resultant situation. Not something India is initiating.

Still India blaming is the favourite social mediate discourse. Let’s see a few tweets.

Arfa Khanum Sherwani, @khanumarfa: All this while, we were protesting and resisting to save India from turning into a ‘Hindu Pakistan’. But now it looks like the day is not far when we will turn into a ‘Hindu Israel’. #CitizenshipAmendmentBill, 10:53 PM · Dec 4, 2019·Twitter for iPhone

Her and her friends use of ‘Hindu Pakistan’ is multilayer and interesting. Let’s not forget that Pakistan was created by cutting a chunk out of a very old country for the sake of religion. There is also a hint that Hinduism has all the making of an intolerant religion as Islam has proved through history. It is to malign Hinduism to equate it with Islam in intolerance. This kind of rhetoric will force people to ask harsh questions, which liberals will see as non-secular. Which Hindu scripture sanctions jihad on non-believers? This is important because intolerance at the level Pakistan practices necessarily requires scriptural sanction. When in history Hindus indulged in forced conversions? This is relevant because Pakistan practices it in the name of Islam. When did Hindus destroy others’ places of worship? This is important because Pakistan did that in the name of Islam and Islam did it throughout the world in the name of religion of Allah. The people who talk of Hindu Pakistan do not notice that Hinduism does not have the theological and cultural ingredients to create something as monstrous as Pakistan even if majoritarian attitude hardens. Secular Hindus will surely defeat the BJP kind of Hindu-tilt; but the more the liberals equate Hinduism and Islam in intolerance longer time they will take and more efforts they will have to make.

Yogendra Yadav suggests a portrait of Jinnah along with Savarkar. “@_YogendraYadav: When passing CAB, Lok Sabha should install a portrait of Jinnah, alongside Savarkar. If Bapu was alive, he would have done a fast unto death agaist this preposterous law that strikes at the idea of India.”

His secularism argument we have dealt with. Bapu’s fast hardly makes anything right. Bapu did many things to push his ideas and ideals as well as favoured individuals on the basis of not any spiritual power but pure emotional and political blackmail and Ambedkar noticed. Maybe he would have won even today, but that hardly makes it right.

Savarkar, in-spite of his Hindutva accepted equality of all citizens by 1944 resolution of Hindu Mahasabha. And he did nothing to divide the country. Jinnah deliberately divided the country. Again an untenable parallel which will reduce the weight of his good arguments.

Saba Naqvi is more balanced “@_sabanaqvi: #CAB would make India a #HinduRashtra in spirit and law. It should be legally challenged for discriminating against people on basis of religion. 6:34 PM · Dec 4, 2019·Twitter for Android

Her first claim of course is wrong. Passing of the bill will certainly not make India a Hindu Rashtra. As all citizens will still remain equal irrespective of their religion. But if the bill is seen as discriminating one should take it to the court. That is definitely a proper way of dealing with legislations bulldozed through parliament but happen to be against the spirit of constitution.

Prof. S Irfan Habib is a very sane voice in today’s climate. Even he thinks that it is against the spirit of Indian nationhood. “@irfhabib Tweeted: The CAB stands against the very spirit of Indian nationhood and inclusive nationalism as defined by our founding fathers. Leaders like Gandhi, Patel, Nehru, Azad and others debated and discussed it intensively during freedom struggle which was later enshrined in the Constitution. (https://twitter.com/irfhabib/status/1202148589784272896?s=20)”.

But even he does not payed attention to the situation in which India is pushed because of intolerance to minorities in its neighbourhood. Indian nationhood primarily constitutes in treatment of its citizens and rights and entitlements its citizens enjoy. So far, we have no discriminatory legislations which curtain or deny rights on the basis of religion. Yes, we are going through a turmoil. But we will go through it without harming any section of the Indian citizens as well as without harming the secularism and democracy.

An interesting feature of all such writing is that none of them pays even lip service to the atrocities faced by minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Forget about suggesting any measures to help those persecuted people. These are the same people who have such huge sympathy for Rohingyas. Well, if you think that making citizenship easier to these persecuted people is against secularism, please do suggest what India should do with lakhs of such people in India? Or do you insist that the same facility be extended to those who have come here of their own freewill without any persecution? Would that be just?

Finally, to the doom’s day says: India is an old country with an age old cultural and religious diversity. Its constitutional nationhood is new, but as a ‘country’ it is millennia old. Its tradition of tolerance and dealing with multiple perspectives on life and world is very old. Even if we deny it vehemently, this tradition of tolerance and accepting diversity has played a very important role in keeping India secular even after a bloody partition based on religion. Presently, that tradition is under threat, its is true. But the threat has at least partially emerged because there is a certain ‘intolerance’ in the voluble elite even to the mention of anything good Indian, its culture and Hinduism. The BJP and RSS saw the opportunity of harnessing this public irritation with this constant maligning,  and captures public imagination in this environment. The so-called intellectuals did not know how to communicate with the masses, therefore, could not counter BJP etc.

But in-spite of the failure of western bookish intellectuals and misguided rhetoric of BJP, Indian culture will create solutions which will remain open, inclusive, tolerant, democratic and sane. Or at the least I hope so.

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5 December 2019