After a charged debate, the Constituent Assembly settled for a “jus soli” approach to citizenship. The first Home Minister of India and a key contributor to the debates, Sardar Patel, while arguing for a broad based, non-discriminatory criterion for citizenship, said “There are two ideas about nationality in the modern world, one is broad-based nationality and the other is narrow nationality. It is not right for us to take a narrow view.” Even after being witness to the horrors of Partition, the framers of our Constitution did not budge in favour of religion-based criteria. After the Constitution was enacted, Patel again appreciated the framers for adopting an “enlightened modern civilised” approach to citizenship while stating the ethnicity-based citizenship as outdated. Unfortunately, the duo from Gujarat who swear by Patel is destroying the vision of the Constitution.
The principle of equality before law, irrespective of one’s religion, race, sexuality and gender, is a necessary precondition for the functioning of a just society. Making religion a criterion for offering citizenship and excluding one religion from it is an insult to the legacy of this country’s freedom struggle, a fraud on our constitution and most importantly, a nefarious attempt to institutionally otherise Muslims and plunge them into precarity and fear. Many have opposed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) on the basis of this criterion. This Act, along with many other previous decisions of the central government, is part of a larger design of the RSS-BJP combine to make India a Hindu-Rashtra. It should be pointed out repeatedly, that every freedom fighter, from Maulana Hasrat Muhani to Subhas Chandra Bose, from Bhagat Singh to Chandrashekar Azad, made sacrifices and devoted their lives for the cause of a secular democratic India, not for Hindu-Rashtra.
By discriminating between migrants on the basis on their religious affiliation, the CAA divorces India from its rich humanitarian tradition of giving shelter to whoever is persecuted. The choice of three countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – is arbitrary. If the central government is really concerned about persecuted minorities, then why not extend this gesture for the Tamils from Sri Lanka and Rohingya from Myanmar? Similarly, Hazaras in Afghanistan, and Ahmadiyyas, Shias and Balochs in Pakistan are being persecuted. Atheists are regularly targeted in many theocratic countries. The Act will only distort India’s humanitarian credentials. The CAA is drawing flack internationally already, including from the UN.
Persecution due to following a certain sect is not the only reason of migration. A growing concern worldwide is about climate refugees. The greed of capitalism and the tendency to over-produce has depleted the natural resources of many regions in the world, forcing people to migrate. Unlike the RSS-BJP combine, nature and poverty do not discriminate. The CAA is silent on this vital issue.
The CAA is in complete violation of Article 14, as our Constitution specifically prohibits any kind of discrimination on the basis of religion. At the founding of the republic, the question of religious minorities was among the more sensitive ones. Many in the Constituent Assembly wanted to wait and see how Pakistan decides to treat its minorities before making a decision on minorities in India. When this issue of relative rights to minorities came up, B R Ambedkar vehemently rejected it saying “I must deprecate any such idea. Rights of minorities should be absolute rights.” He added further “If we find that certain minorities in which we are interested and which are within the jurisdiction of another State have not got the same rights which we have given to minorities in our territory, it would be open, for the State to take up the matter in a diplomatic manner… But no matter what others do, I think we ought to do what is right in our own judgement.”. This distinction between India and Pakistan has served India. But the CAA, coupled with the home minister’s claim that there will be a nationwide NRC, breaches this commitment to minorities irreparably.
The current government’s violent Brahmanical ideology is attacking the very foundation of our democracy. The economy is in the doldrums with mass unemployment and inflation making lives miserable for ordinary people. From Kashmir to Assam, reports of civil unrest and violence are common and the indifference of the government is on display. It is high time that all sections of society who care for democracy, freedom, secularism and equality come together to resist this assault on the idea of a humane, pluralist and egalitarian India. We must oppose and rise against the CAA and NRC. As a country, we should not be left with the guilt the Germans had after they supported the execution of state-sponsored hate and Nuremberg Laws.
The writer is General Secretary, Communist Party of India