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Citizenship Act is an extension of and commitment to the idea of secularism

The notion that CAA is anti-minority is based on conspiracy theories. It is, in fact, a fulfilment of India’s moral and constitutional obligation to minorities in its neighbourhood

Written by Dr Rakesh Sinha |
Updated: December 24, 2019 12:29:46 pm
In a democratic society, the formulation of a law — apart from constitutional compatibility — is expected to address two subjective issues. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

In a democratic society, the formulation of a law — apart from constitutional compatibility — is expected to address two subjective issues. The first is its social utility and the second, the moral consciousness of the people. It is in this context that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) should be examined. Its critics assert that it betrays our commitment to secularism, the very foundation of the Constitution. Is this objection valid?

The idea of the CAA was mooted and finally given shape in law to protect people from religious persecution in three neighbouring countries — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. All of them are Islamic states and the increasing radicalisation of society in these countries led to brute religious majoritarianism against minorities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians. There has been consensus in India that such victims should be given dignity and protection. In fact, it constitutes a core ingredient of our social philosophy from time immemorial. Even before we framed our secular democratic Constitution, India provided shelter to people facing religious persecution. When Parsis and Jews faced threats to their right to worship and religious identity, they found dignity and space on our soil. According to the 1931 census, there were 1,09,752 Parsis and 24,000 Jews in India. Moreover, both these communities have shown little inclination to return to their respective nations. The CAA is consistent with this secular tradition of India.

The Indian state has never been antithetical to the cause of minorities in our neighbourhood, irrespective of the political party in power. Such victims have been accommodated during the Congress government in the past as well. Even the Left parties supported India’s active intervention to protect “refugees” from Bangladesh. The 20th party congress of the CPM in 2012 passed a resolution demanding an amendment in the Citizenship Act 2003 to give citizenship to Bengali refugees who were, according to the party, victims of “historical circumstances”. The unchecked atrocities on minorities in these states by fundamentalists, and the failure of the states to defeat such elements, gave rise to an abnormal situation.

There were over two lakh Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan before the 1990s. Their number has dwindled to a few hundred in the last three decades. Further, out of 64 temples and gurudwaras in the country, only three are functional.

The situation in Bangladesh is no less grim. The work of Abul Barkat of Dhaka University and statistics released by the Bangladesh Statistical Bureau revealed a situation beyond our imagination. Barkat, based on decades of research, establishes that 632 Hindus have gone missing everyday in Bangladesh since 1964 (East Pakistan till 1971). Both the sources confirm that no less than 11.1 million Hindus have gone missing in Bangladesh between 1964 and 2013. The Enemy Property Act was renamed as the Vested Property Act after the formation of Bangladesh. It affected more than 1.3 million Hindu households — more than two lakh acres of land possessed by the Hindus was forcibly grabbed. The efforts of the state to safeguard Hindus remained abysmally ineffectual. In 2002, Bangladesh enacted the Vested Property (Return) Act and subsequently the Vested Property (Return) Amendment Act, 2011 with the intention to give back possession of their land to Hindus. But this was in vain.

The Jinnah Institute in Pakistan and other sources, including news reports in the international and national media, present a gloomy picture of the condition of Hindus and other religious minorities in that country. Attacks on the dignity of women, forcible conversions, grabbing of land and other properties of the Hindus and Christians have been a part of daily life.

It is thus urgent to address the existential threat to religious minorities in these three countries. And it is with this aim that the Narendra Modi government formulated the CAA. Contending that this humanitarian action is a betrayal of our commitment to secularism is a classic example of the peculiar absurdity of double think. The CAA is, rather, an extension of and commitment to the idea of secularism.

The Act also corrects the historical mistake committed in the Nehru-Liaquat pact. Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had not engaged his cabinet colleagues and senior party leaders before signing the pact on February 8, 1950. The secular pretensions of Nehru, emanating from the Western variety of flawed modernity, led him to backtrack from the promises to the Hindus who lived in Pakistan. The Congress leadership had promised during Partition that their life and religion would not be in peril. The pact was a great retreat from that promise. Syama Prasad Mookerjee resigned from the Union cabinet on February 19, 1950, in protest against the Nehru-Liaquat Pact. A few months later, the world witnessed the protest by the Law Minister of Pakistan, J N Mandal, whose close friendship with M A Jinnah was well known. The undiminished atrocities on Hindus, particularly Scheduled Caste women, led him to resign from the government on April 29, 1950 and return to India. He wrote: “I cannot bear the load of untruth and pretensions that Hindus live with honour and security of their life, religion and property in Pakistan.”

On December 4, 1947, Mahatma Gandhi demanded that the Nehru government bring back Scheduled Castes from Pakistan due to the inhuman treatment meted out to them and their forced conversion. The CAA is a fulfilment of the historical responsibility to those people whom Partition made stateless. India’s secular democracy has historically been invested with moral force and this has been exhibited by the CAA. Earlier, governments used gradualism to provide protection to the Hindus and other minorities of these states. The Modi government has formalised the process to end the uncertainties and odds faced by these stateless and persecuted people.

In a democracy, dissent and doubts are important and logical dialogue is the only way to yield a constructive consensus. But the protests that emerged abruptly against the CAA seem to be explicitly driven by a prejudice against the government — that it is pursuing Hindutva majoritarianism to exclude Muslims. This is based on an over-active imagination and conspiracy theories. How does giving humanitarian shelter to the victims affect Indian Muslims or any other citizen of India?

Importantly, Muslims in these countries do not face any crisis in pursuing their right to worship. India cannot meddle in the internal disputes among various sects of Islam, whether Ahmadiya or Shia or Sunni, who have been competing with each other for hegemony and over interpretations of the historical evolution of Islam. Religious persecution and aspiration for hegemony are two different things.

The concept of citizenship is not static or stagnant. It is a dynamic process and is intertwined with the nation state. It progressively expands and sometimes, unwillingly, shrinks according to circumstances.

There are two examples from our own historical experiences. Millions of Indians ceased to be citizens with the formation of Pakistan as fraternity mutated into unfriendliness between communities. The second example is reflected in a correspondence between two great Parsi leaders. Dadabhai Naoroji wrote the following to Dinshaw Wacha on December 20, 1888: “We are India’s and India is our mother country… and we can only sink and swim as Indians. If we break with it our fate will be that of a peacock feather’s.”

The CAA fulfils both the constitutional morality and civilisational ethos historically endowed to us. It is time for the Muslims to be part of this Indian tradition rather than being fed the delusion that the Modi government is anti-minority.

This article first appeared in the print edition on December 24, 2019 under the title “A deluded dissent.” The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP

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