Mohammad Javed Alig
An extremely controversial, polarised and much-heated debate on Citizenship Amendment Bill is at the centre of local and intellectual discussion. It seeks to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955, aimed at making non-muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan eligible to apply for Indian citizenship if they faced any persecution there on the grounds of religion. They will not be considered illegal immigrants if they have entered India on or before December 31, 2014.
Home Minister’s logic on CAB is not consistent because it does not protect all religious minorities, nor does it apply to all neighbours. The Ahmedia Muslim and even Shias face discrimination in Pakistan. Rohingya Muslims and Hindus face persecution in Burma, and Hindu and Christian Tamils in neighbouring Sri Lanka. Shah’s logic is very clear and straightforward that Hindus in India’s neighbourhood have faced hardship, violence and persecution. These migrants deserve rights and dignity — and where else but in India can they get it?
The Bill is clearly excluding Muslims. The intention of the Bill is to weaken a certain religious community. The CAB ringfences Muslim identity by declaring India a welcoming state for refugees from all other religious communities. It seeks to legally establish Muslims as second-class citizens of India by providing preferential treatment to other groups. The use of religion as a criterion for citizenship would mark a radical break with its history and would be inconsistent with the basic structure of the Constitution. Nothing can be more distressing for around 200 million Muslims of the country, who have always been both Muslim and Indian.
The CAB also formalises inequality, on religious grounds, in direct contravention of the values of the Constitution. India is a secular country and religion is not the basis of citizenship. Religion cannot be the basis of discrimination and the State cannot take decisions based on religion. The CAB pointedly excludes Muslims. Those who suggest that India is a natural home for Hindus, but not Muslims, clearly consider Islam as a foreign religion.
This unconstitutional bill is an attack on the foundation of the Indian Constitution and the secularism of the nation. It violates Article 14 of the Indian constitution which prohibits the State from denying “to any person equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”. This basic structure of the Constitution cannot be reshaped by any Parliament. And yet, the Government maintains that it does not discriminate or violate the right to equality.
The idea of India emerged from the independence movement that aspired to treat people of all faiths equally. India was not created on the basis of religion, Pakistan was. Only the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha were in support of Jinnah-Savarkar’s two-nation theory of Hindu and Muslim nations, which led to Partition. All the founders of India were strongly committed to a secular state, where all citizens enjoyed full membership irrespective of religion.
The CAB is a double-edged sword, whether it is the CAB or NRC–they are two sides of the same coin. The Union government plans to extend the NRC, first implemented in Assam, across the country. The NRC asks residents to prove their ancestors’ citizenship. In Assam, residents were asked to produce documents proving that they or their families lived in India before March 24, 1971; more than 19 lakh residents were excluded in the final published list.
NRC was proposed as an anti-immigrant measure but BJP converted it into an anti-Muslim sentiment and cheered on the NRC process. But when the outcome emerged, their calculations went wrong, many Hindus were out of the register. CAB provided a solution to this problem. The plan now is to first do the CAB, and then push the NRC, so that non-Muslim individuals who are left out have a way back in. The party believes that this move will give the Indian state both the strongest-ever documentation of all its citizens, but will also turn out to be electorally beneficial in Bengal and the Hindi heartland.
I, as a citizen of this country, feel completely ashamed that as a country we have let down our Muslim and Adivasi brothers and sisters and have not succeeded in assuaging their fears about the secular ethos of the country. The pre-planned exclusion of Muslims from the ambit of the Bill will greatly strain the pluralistic fabric of the country. I refuse to accept the process of enumeration in NRC by not submitting the required documents to prove my citizenship and am willing to accept the action taken by the Indian state against me. If the state chooses to declare me as a non-citizen, I would also be happy to fill up the many detention centres that you are building all over the country. Mr Modi, I would advise you to increase the capacity of your detention centres, as many of us would fill it up before you succeed in your agenda.
The CAB-NRC package will also be one of the most expensive and challenging bureaucratic exercises ever undertaken by the Indian State — and will place an extraordinary burden on the citizens. The implications of the CAB-NRC undermine India’s ethos, values, citizenship rights, foreign relations and international image.
Mohammad Javed Alig is an Independent Journalist, based in Delhi. He is Post Graduate in Media from Aligarh Muslim University.