There are things about the citizenship Bill that are deeply disturbing. Not least is the manner in which Home Minister Amit Shah routinely makes clear that it targets Muslims.
He has said so often that he is going to hunt out Muslim “termites” and deport them that he leaves no doubt at all about the real purpose of the Citizenship Amendment Bill that the government hopes next week to make into law.
Last week, while campaigning in Jharkhand, he once more made his speech threatening “termites”. It made me happy to see that there was no response from the crowd. Not even when he asked why “Rahul baba” was so upset that he was showing undue concern. “Where will they go, what will they eat, how will they live, Rahul baba asks. I ask him, are they your cousins?”
Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati are right to publicly oppose a law that seeks to leave it in the hands of petty officials to determine who has a right to be Indian and who not. Most of the “termites” that Shah so despises are very poor people who usually do not have documents to prove if they are Indian or not. They will now be at the mercy of officials who more often than not will use the law as a new source of inhumane extortion.
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Last week, Ram Madhav tried to give the law a ‘humanitarian’ spin by describing it as an exercise to deal with the “fallout of Partition”. With the deepest respect, Ram Madhavji, I would like to say that this is rubbish and you probably know this.
Partition has nothing to do with this law. As someone who belongs to a family of refugees from Pakistan, may I tell you that the “fallout” of Partition was dealt with long ago. This new law is nothing more than a majoritarian and very ugly exercise to prove to Indian Muslims that in the ‘new India’, they have a lesser place than Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians and they better get used to this.
The Prime Minister continues to remain silent about this law but his closest confidant, the Home Minister, concentrates on reminding us almost daily that Indian citizenship is no longer anyone’s birthright. It will in future be treated as a privilege, especially for Muslims. If they cannot prove that they are Indian, then they will end up in detention camps or deported.
What makes this amendment to India’s citizenship law totally irrelevant is that there are not exactly millions of “termites” trying to creep across our borders.
If we had a situation similar to what exists on the southern border of the United States, or what happened in Europe when the Syrian war caused a mass migration, this amendment may have had some meaning, even in its current discriminatory form. But, this is not the situation we face.
There was a time when Bangladeshis flooded across our eastern border in search of jobs and a better life. They no longer do in any significant numbers because the truth is that many social and economic indicators now show that Bangladesh has gone ahead of India in some areas.
From the north we have seen a small trickle of Afghans come to Delhi to escape the war in Afghanistan, and they should be welcomed with open arms because they are fleeing jihadists of the worst kind. If there are Pakistanis coming into India illegally, it is mostly as jihadists and not immigrants.
The Hindus and Sikhs who have come across to escape religious persecution are in every case welcomed with open arms. Nobody has ever threatened to send them back, so what really is the purpose of this new amendment?
Could it be that its real purpose is only to further poison the already fearful atmosphere in which Indian Muslims have lived since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister? Modi likes to repeat, every now and then, that he believes in ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas (development for everyone)’ but has almost never spoken out against the lynchings that cause Muslims to live in terror, and that have scarred India’s image as a secular, liberal democracy. Nor has he explained why he considers this amendment to the citizenship law necessary.
There is no doubt at all that his government has the numbers in Parliament to ram the amended law through next week. Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati have spoken out against its discriminatory nature, but neither the Congress nor the Bahujan Samaj Party has the strength in either House of Parliament to make a difference.
What disturbs me most about this law is that it could be a harbinger of very bad times. With the second largest Muslim population in the world, we have contributed the least number of holy warriors to the worldwide jihad. But how long will things stay this way?
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh
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