THE proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill is an assault on the constitution of India that has never based our citizenship on our religious or caste identities. The government says that it wants to welcome people living in Islamic countries but then immediately suggests that Muslims are not wanted. It makes a clear assumption that all the Muslims living in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are happier because they have an ‘Islamic’ government just as all the ‘Hindus’ in India are happy with the Bharatiya Janata Party in power. It also implies that all the non-Muslim minorities in these countries are not happy and have no constitutional guarantee. It is true that most of our neighbourhoods are majoritarian societies like us and there are ‘extra-state’ actors of the majoritarian communities which are beyond the control of the government everywhere as in India. We know very well who the people are in India — the people that do not care about the constitution and have violated it most of the time without being penalised.
What started from the north-eastern parts of India has now been imposed on the whole country. The issue in Assam and other parts of the region was never communal; it was about the genuine demographic changes in these states post-1971 after the Bangladesh war, but that has never been because of the Muslim population. The Assam agitation even in its height, started by movements such as the All Assam Student Union and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad, has never been communal even in their peak days. The agitation was against illegal infiltrators which any country or state should do when the situation goes out of hand.
The infiltrators were not merely Muslims but majority of them were Bengali Hindus. There is no doubting the fact that minorities in our neighbourhood have lived a difficult life and laws like the blasphemy laws have been used against minorities to compel them to leave their spaces or business.
The Indian state has always played a dangerous game in dealing with ‘refugees’ and their ‘settlement’, which has resulted in tension in many places. In the partition era, Bengali Hindus and Sikhs were settled in those places which were adivasi areas, resulting in the misuse of the curtsy and illegal grab of the adivasi land as was the cases in Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Khiri and Shaheed Udham Singh Nagar district in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand which have a huge Sikh population. Frankly speaking, a majority of them were settled in the aftermath of the partition but slowly and the powerful of them used the politeness and simplicity of the adivasis to grab their land. The result is that there is a complete demographic change in these regions and most of the adivasi land has been grabbed by the power elite among these Sikhs. Most of the adivasis such as the Tharus and the Boxas in the Tarai region have become landless.
The Bengali namashudra community was initially settled in Dandkarnaya region, which was in Chhattishgarh that neither had their culture nor language. Ultimately, all of them went to Bengal and settled in the Sunderban region or Marichjhaapi. There too, the Bengali bhadralok refugees got land in prime location of Kolkata or even in Delhi but the Dalits were given land in far away places.
The demography of Tripura changed and the indigenous people became minority in their own region. Tripura’s political dominance is in the hands of non-indigenous people. Jharkhand, an adivasi state, has now more non-adivasi population and a non-adivasi chief minister. Uttarakhand’s non-hill district will dominate the politics in future as its population is growing at much a faster rate while hills have a negative population growth. Moreover, industries and business of outsiders now dominate the hill district of Uttarakhand. Soon, the non-Uttarakhandis will dominate the state politics and culture.
Even if India’s space is opened to outsiders, where does the Indian state want to ‘settle’ the refugees or those who want to come to India? The Indian government has already assured the north-eastern states that it will not settle them in these regions as their members of parliament have raised concern. Will Himachal and Uttarakhand also raise the same issue? Will these state take a huge chunk of refugees? If yes, will there not be a demographic change in these states? Why should we allow this, whether Hindus or Muslim or any one else?
Indian citizenship does not discriminate on the basis of religion. Nowhere in the world such discrimination exists. Once you are an Indian citizen, you are Indian. The Indian government cannot bring all the Hindus from all over the world and take care of them. This is absolutely horrendous. Does the current regime think that these issues did not crop up during the partition? In fact, there were lots of such issues and discussions. Why should India think that all the Hindus the world over have the fundamental right to settle in India just because it is their ‘fatherland’, as espoused by Savarkar. So, those who lived here for centuries will be hounded out while those who are citizens of other countries will be brought here. Will this not create a crisis here? Does the government think that merely being a Hindu is enough? How does the government settle them and how will the local population take them? Will they be settled in Punjab or Haryana or Uttar Pradesh or Delhi?
If the government suggests that the door is open on an individual basis, then why can the basis be not of relationship with India and not religious? The contents of the current bill are against the spirit of the constitution and have a one-point agenda to harass the Muslim citizens. It is sad how the current regime is working on such designs to divert attention from the real issues of economic recession, unemployment, climate change and getting back all the time to its favourite pastime of Muslim bashing.
The government is, perhaps, oblivious of minority rights and related international laws. Every modern progressive country respects its minorities and feels proud of them. Many non-native Hindus have become prime ministers and presidents of other countries and we feel proud of them. India too had that approach and we were immensely proud of those Indian leaders who were not brahmanical Hindus but of other faiths.
It would be wise if India took a lead on minority rights issues globally; but for that, we need to have a moral high ground and track record. It is deeply disturbing that without introspection, the BJP leaders continue to think that they can get rich dividends in elections because of the politics of polarisation and creation of an anti-Muslim climate all over the country. All political parties must stand together and oppose this bill, which will divide us deeply. It is not the duty of the Muslims to fight for their rights but all of us, Indian citizens, who must stand together and speak up against such a discriminatory bill. It appears that our role model is not Germany, France or the United Kingdom, but Saudi Arabia, Taliban regimes or other countries which are theocratic. The fact of the matter is that many of the Middle Eastern countries are changing and accepting diversity. Hindi has become the second language of administration in Abu Dhabi courts. Oman recently erected a Hindu temple and Indians are welcomed to all these Middle Eastern countries that give us employment not by our religion but our capacity and quality. Is it not ironical that India, which started off on strong secular socialist foundations is turning today to the outdated and tainted ideas that have been rejected by countries that have suffered because of theocracy and discriminatory laws.
We hope that the Supreme Court will stand up for a vibrant, robust democracy and not the ideas which take us towards brahmanical theocracy, for which India has already paid a huge price. It is time that political parties spoke up against this bill apart from the legal luminaries who can challenge this in the court of law. Indians need to unite against a power that wants to thrive on our division and deviate from the real issues so that it can ‘silently’ sell off all our ‘resources’ to its favourite cronies.
Countercurrents.org, December 5. Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist.
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