CAA may dent India’s image as a secular polity in the long run : The Tribune India

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CAA may dent India’s image as a secular polity in the long run

An inclusive citizenship policy remains the best way to protect social cohesion & uphold national unity.

CAA may dent India’s image as a secular polity in the long run

DRAWBACK: With a narrow focus on some communities and the exclusion of others such as the Rohingyas, the goals and objectives of the CAA are devoid of a humanitarian impulse. Reuters



Luv Puri

Journalist and Author

WITH the notification of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, another round of a polarising debate has begun. The CAA seeks to provide Indian citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The period of residence in India to qualify for citizenship has been reduced from 11 years to five.

Many democracies routinely make exceptions for fast-tracking the immigration or citizenship process for some groups by striking a balance between upholding the constitutional values of a country and the precise demands of the day. What makes the CAA different? First, the executive’s decision apparently violates the foundational tenets of the Constitution. The fact that the government came with detailed rules on the CAA weeks before the elections indicates that the ruling party wants to capitalise on the law electorally in eastern India, especially West Bengal and Assam. Second, the CAA model, with a narrow focus on a few religious communities, makes the approach akin to that of countries whose national identities revolve around religion, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran. Third, by openly adopting an exclusionary approach, the executive could potentially create problems in future. This becomes a minefield for current as well as future governments at international fora, where India has consistently advocated for an inclusive approach in terms of addressing humanitarian needs of communities in distress. Four, an inclusive citizenship remains the best way to protect social cohesion and uphold national unity. Apart from the disconnect between the CAA and the core values of the Constitution rooted in secularism, it is stoking fears among minorities as they see it as part of the exercise of the National Register of Citizens.

The focus on some communities has made the goals and objectives of the CAA devoid of a humanitarian impulse because of discriminatory clauses and evidence in the neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan and Myanmar. A BBC report dated May 8, 2019, citing data given by Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace, shows that 776 Muslims, 505 Ahmadiyyas, 229 Christians and 30 Hindus were accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law from 1987 to 2018. Herald, a Pakistani magazine, reported that in 2017, the count of extrajudicial killings of members of various religious groups for alleged blasphemy was: Muslims 39, Christians 23, and Ahmadiyyas nine. A serving Governor of Pakistani Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, at an Islamabad café in 2011 after he had appealed for the pardon of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy (but was acquitted later). If the CAA legislation had been inclusive in its scope, it should have included communities like the Ahmadiyyas. This would have been in line with the foundational principles of our Constitution, which debars any kind of discrimination on account of one’s faith.

The trajectory of the Ahmadiyyas’ persecution in Pakistan is noteworthy as it brings out the long-term perils of a nation’s narrow vision and policy-making. British historian Ian Talbot in his seminal book, Pakistan: A Modern History, says that “there is strong evidence that Punjab’s Chief Minister Mian Mumtaz Daultana (1951-53) viewed the anti- Ahmadiyya movement as a useful distraction from the deteriorating economic situation”. His tenure was marked by large-scale violence in 1953 and street protests, which became unruly but were finally quelled by the army. There were also demands that the Ahmadiyyas, who apparently had a higher literacy rate than other sections of the population, should not occupy high government posts. The first foreign minister of Pakistan, Zafarullah Khan, had to resign as he was an Ahmadiyya. Both blasphemy laws and the laws governing the Ahmadiyya community were passed during the tumultuous period of the country’s political history between 1971 and 1990. The period was marked by the majoritarian populist politics of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who gave a new Constitution to the country in 1973. In 1974, Parliament made amendments to Articles 106 and 260 of the Constitution and declared the Ahmadiyyas non-Muslims. The military dictatorship of Gen Zia-ul-Haq furthered this process as his rule coincided with the rise of extremist groups in the backdrop of the US-sponsored Afghan jihad, in which Pakistan was a key ally.

Myanmar is another neighbouring country where the exclusionary citizenship approach towards Rohingyas created mass hysteria. The 2016 and 2017 military violence in Rakhine that led to the mass expulsion of the Rohingyas to Bangladesh was a direct consequence of this process. The seeds of the exclusionary citizenship project in Myanmar were sown by Gen Ne Win, a military dictator who ruled the country from 1962 to 1981. His administration identified 135 national races in Myanmar, excluding the Rohingyas. Building on that, his successor, President San Yu, passed a citizenship law in 1982.

The authorities in Myanmar argued that the Rohingyas were not a distinct ethnic group and that they were ‘Bengalis’. Numerous historical claims and counter-claims over the presence of the Rohingyas in Rakhine, also known as Arakan before 1824, were made. Till 2010, the Rohingyas even participated in national elections, though they had been declared non-citizens in 1982. It was only in 2015 that the authorities took away their voter cards. This was concomitant with communal clashes, forced ghettoisation, germination of violent extremism within sections of persecuted communities and a disproportionate response of the military. As a consequence of various cycles of violence, just over half a million Rohingyas are now left in Rakhine. The number of those living abroad, particularly in Bangladesh, as a stateless population, is more than two million.

Myanmar is facing a trial at the International Court of Justice for alleged genocide, apart from being the subject of several human rights reports at the United Nations. The long-term impact of the CAA can lead to undesired outcomes, including violence, which may not be obvious at this stage, as we have seen in the neighbourhood, apart from denting India’s image as a secular polity.

#Afghanistan #Bangladesh #Citizenship Amendment Act CAA #Pakistan #Sikhs


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