A dialogue with Prof. Shailaja Menon

Rohit Dhankar

[This post is a dialogue with a bleeding-heart liberal (by her own admission) friend. We are in habit of having such dialogues time and again. This one was going on FB and is related to my yesterday’s post “Is CAB against secularism?”. That is why posting it here.]

Rohit: (In response to a post by Prof. Bhupenrda Yadav) I am sorry for being politically incorrect but actually do not understand what is wrong in trying to identify illegal migrants from Bangladesh? Have not come across any cogent argument yet. I do understand the limitless harm caused by dubbing Indian citizens as Bangladeshi, but do not understand why CORRECT identification would be wrong?

Shailaja: What is the process that would be followed for CORRECT identification? Ask people to produce documents they may not have access to, run from center to center for days on end, give up earning a living wage on those days? How will you solve problem of lack of correct documentation?

Rohit: By your question should I understand that the OBJECTION is because of lack or impossibility of reliable and fair procedure, and not to the idea of identification itself? If, yes, then it is worthwhile to device or develop reliable and fair procedures.

If the objection is in principle to the idea itself, that need to be shorted out.

So, which one is your objection?

Shailaja: I object to this at multiple levels, in principle, and due to process. Unlike you, I am not comfortable saying humanitarian sentiments you appeal to should only kick in for religious persecution of a certain segment of the population. [The original response from Shailaja was one continuous statement. I am breaking it up into separate points that statement makes, and responding to them one by one.]

Rohit: I am not saying that humanitarian ‘sentiments’ (to me ‘principles’) should kick in only for religious persecution of a segment of population. I am saying for some practical reasons due to religious persecution being one of the major causes of the citizenship crisis of lakhs of people living in India, THIS PARTICULAR ACT is trying to take care of this issue. AND THAT taking such a route to solution is not necessarily morally and legally objectionable. Humanitarian concerns should address other problems as well, and with sensitivity. BUT THE SOLUTION MAY NOT BE THE SAME. ACTUALLY, THE SOLUTION SHOULD NOT BE THE SAME.

Shailaja: I am a bleeding-heart liberal.

Rohit: I too consider myself a liberal in spite of what others think these days. 😊 However, I am not bleeding heart. I try to be as hardnosed rationalist as far as possible, though often fail (unfortunately ☹).

Shailaja: My heart bleeds when I see people migrating for economic reasons, as well.

Rohit: I too have concern for them. But distinguish between someone trying to flee to save his daughter or faith or may be life; and someone moving on the basis of one’s own judgment for better livelihood. And equating the two is injustice to my mind, irrespective of their religions.

Shailaja: My heart bleeds when the Rohingyas are massacred, yes, it’s a complex history, but my heart doesn’t understand these subtle differences when it sees a large section of humanity in distress.

Rohit: I do not have a bleeding heart, and can not demand others to go by MY heart, they may have THEIR OWN hearts. So, I prefer having good reasons that all may understand. However, I have concern for miseries of large populations, and Rohingyas as well. But, do not want to be responsible for it. To me India’s role in this is limited to may be providing temporary shelter and help the concerned countries solve it with as much humanity as possible. I see absolutely no reason for extending speeded up citizenship to Rohingyas. I believe that when India is not legally or morally bound to extend a favour, it has its freedom to restrict it to whom it sees fit.

Shailaja: My heart does not understand the idea of a non porous national border – acorss the world humans have and are migrating across national borders seeking to flee various kinds of atrocities; my heart is not able to sort them out into neat logical categories and behave in a humanitarian way towards one group, and in an indifferent way towards another.

Rohit: My mind understands and is forced to accept national borders; not completely non-porous, but reasonably firm and clear. My mind does not allow me to assume that justice (in all respects) to human life is possible without reasonably defined political formation at the current state of human intellectual and moral development. Such formations have political, legal, and administrative systems. They have economies, cultures, traditions, and ways of functioning. They make human cooperation and sharing the fruits of that cooperation in a just manner possible. I agree that they must be open minded and magnanimous in sharing whatever goods they have managed to create; but that can be done only in a reasonable manner; can not be considered free for all. Therefore, migration across the borders has to be regulated through legal systems. Otherwise, the necessary political and economic system will be destroyed. That reasonableness demands categorising the problems and devising appropriate solutions for each, rather than lumping everything together.

Shailaja: Most of all, Rohitji, my heart does not believe in punishing grandchildren of poor, illiterate muslims for what the elite counterparts of their grandparents chose – your grandparents chose two nations, we remember that, no fast track for you! The sins of the forefathers!

Rohit: My mind Shailaja ji, does not allow me to forget or disregard the causes and reasons advanced for partition; the methods used and resultant loss of human lives and property. The jolt to a developing culture and set-back to a polity. Imagining that those who disagree want to punish grandchildren for the wrong decisions of their grandparents is somewhat insulting to their intellect or moral compass. There could be reasons not motivated by a desire to punish, but based on better grounds.

But, one, I do not know why I should not consider the countries created in this manner at par with hundreds of other countries in the world as far as citizenship of those for whom these countries were created goes. And two, how can I ignore the trauma faced buy those who did not want such division. But accepted with heavy heart once it became inevitable. The division was of population, resources, kind of preferred laws and political formation. Thinking only of the grandchildren of those who wanted partition seems to be one sided to me. What about the legitimate issues, I am not talking of feelings, such open policy may create for the many more grandchildren of those who did not want partition? To be fair means thinking for all.

One needs to look into history of various failed pacts as well. Because of all this: why should one not consider them at par with foreigners coming to India from anywhere in the world? Why should one feel responsible in the same way as the victims of failed pacts and continuing atrocities simply because of their faith? I often wonder why hearts of some of my compatriots bleed only for one section of people who have come to India; and there is no mention at all of atrocities and hardships of those who do not belong to that section? Why their being minorities in other countries is ignored? Fairness and equality demand differentiation on rationally valid criteria. My mind does not allow me to ignore that.


16th December 2019

7 Responses to A dialogue with Prof. Shailaja Menon

  1. Ramnik says:

    A civilised interactive debate. One thing that I am not sure if it is being factored in is what I may call the latent motive of the powers that be in India at this point of time bringing in this Act. To me, in spite of all your fair and reasonable arguments, the exclusion of just one major religious community from the list of religious communities rankles deeply and forces me to say that without looking at this latent motive we are probably not doing full justice in understanding the deep import of what the party in power and political formations supporting it are doing.


    • rdhankar says:

      I completely agree Ramnik ji. We should try to understand the motives and dangers if the ACT but then with proper arguments. I started on this when saw some people declaring that now India will give citizenship on the basis of religion only and Muslioms can not become citizens and that so on. The best way would be analyse it, see it for what it is. then see what motives there could be. also I dont think that those who are opposing it are above having hidden motives.


    • rdhankar says:

      I am also aware Ramnik ji, that I am the only one arguing on these lines among the people I know. some of them have already declared me a gone case. 🙂


  2. Shailaja Menon says:

    As I have already stated in a couple of posts, including this one on FB, the only reason I am able to dialogue peacefully with Rohit is because his HEART (not necessarily his mind) is in the right place 😆.
    That said, I wish to ask you for a clarification, Rohitji. You have asserted multiple times in various posts that all that CAA does is to deny Muslim refugees fast-track to citizenship; it does not deny them citizenship, provided they are here for 11 years. Now, I went and read up on this. I could have read incorrect sources, so let me run it past an authoritative source on this act. As far as I have understood this, India is not a party to the Convention Related to the Status of Refugees, 1951; or to the Protocol that followers in 1967. As such, the Indian law that currently governs illegal immigrants is The Foreigners Act, 1946. Under this act, illegal immigrants have to be deported back to their countries of origin, and cannot apply for citizenship if they have entered the country illegally. This creates a situation, if my sources are correct, where individuals of several relgions who have entered country illegally due to religious persecution can apply for and receive citizenship if they entered before 2014; but refugees who are Muslims, must be deported. Have I understood this correctly, Rohitji? If so, would you be willing to change parts of your blogs that stated clearly that fast- vs. slow-track is the only discrimination against Muslim refugees? Many people rely on you for verified, correct information and interpretations, no? On the other hand, if I am wrong, I would be very glad to learn otherwise. Plus, no body relies on me for correct information. Pl. do clarify in a yes or no way: is my information accurate? Thanks!


    • rdhankar says:

      Thanks Shailaja ji. I will get back tomorrow morning. after looking at my blogs. If I have given an impression that all illegal migrants will necessarily get citizenship after 11 years, I will look and DEFINITELY correct. I knew that the definition of illegal migrant is changed in order to make it possible to apply for naturalization. Will certainly look in the morning.


  3. Dolashree K Mysoor says:


    Not sure if you got my previous comment, but here is a gist anyway.

    I agree with Shailaja’s view, but have different reasons for the agreement. First, the issue I have with your argument is that you are looking at the CAA as an isolated incident. It is difficult to separate what is happening with the NRC from the CAA. The two moves are targeted and systematic attacks against members of a particular community.

    Second, you raise a point about fairness of procedures for determining citizenship in a country. Yes, I agree we need fair procedures to determine citizenship and illegal migration is a problem. But, what is debatable here is how ‘fair’ this method is. Again, I’m saying that there seems to be an attempt to systemically disenfranchise an entire community through both the CAA and the NRC. What is the best way of determining access to citizenship here – religion, or the fact of having faced persecution? FYI, this isn’t the first time our citizenship laws have been skewed. Traditionally, asylum seekers, refugees, IDPs fall under the the category of persecuted groups. This is hardly the situation that was considered while framing this law. But, between 2015 and 2016 the government has exempted certain categories of people based on date of entry, country and religion from being classified as ‘illegal immigrants’. It is these exempted groups that are being considered for citizenship now. This is a question about exclusion of one particular community and the government’s failure to justify the exclusion. My question is whether religion should determine citizenship and whether this is a fair test for citizenship. One may have been born into a particular religion for no fault of theirs and that would be ground enough to exclude them from access to citizenship. I understand the need to be born in a country to determine citizenship, but not being born into a particular religious faith. I acknowledge that sovereignty is the simplest bat to beat my argument with, but I guess we are talking about what is ‘right’ here and not what possibilities exist.

    Third, this law will have to be tested against equality protections in the constitution. Two questions come up here- Is there an intelligible reason for the exclusion or differentiation? Second, does this exclusion serve the intent and purpose of the legislation? I am yet to understand what religion has to do with the object of this law. If the answer to either of these questions is in the negative, then the legislation in question must treat all persons equally.


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