STRATEGIC EYE: A column on current affairs – relating to global issues
Act Only Aims To ‘Right To Life With Dignity’ For Persecuted Refugees From Non-Secular Countries
By Abhishek Pratap Singh
The passage of the Citizen Amendment Act (2019) by the parliament of India has led to the emergence of new debates and discussion in India and abroad, over its constitutionality, suitability and applicability in the Indian state model.
Two faces of Protests
While the ruling government remains reasonably clear in its attempt to protect the rights of minorities in three neighboring Islamic republic states like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, the liberal groups in India have criticized the step as being against spirit of constitution and discriminatory against Muslim groups.
However, they fail to acknowledge that this Act is in conformity with India’s long-cherished values of assimilation, tolerance and belief in humanitarianism.
The passage of new law has also raised some relevant questions around the issues of India’s civilizational links, cultural identity, moral obligation and ethos, governance concerns and need for humanitarian justice.
It has also exposed the limits of vote-bank politics and minority appeasement in post-independent India. While the liberals have raised the voice against this act on grounds of discrimination, they subsequently face the question of their ‘unperturbed silence’ on religious massacres of Bengali Hindu Dalit refugees, in the Sunderban estuary region of Marichhjhapi in West Bengal.
As the two sides protest, the Indian right-wing school remains honest and clear about its ideological convictions, while the losing appeal and grip of left-wingers in India often finds some hypocritical motivation behind every opposition in general to the Modi government.
Impressions from history
Firstly, we need to understand that the origin of this kind of act lies in the history of ‘failed promises’ made by the state of Pakistan way back in 1950 subject to the principles as agreed upon under the Nehru-Liaqat Pact.
With no protection to its religious minorities, Pakistan over a period of time has transformed itself along with the likes of Bangladesh and Afghanistan into a state of Islamic fundamentalism with its impact on the history, polity, economy and social system within a state.
This has led to systematic and planned persecution of other religious minorities in these states. To say, as the numbers speak the number of Hindu population declined from 2 lakh in 1992 to around 500 in present-day Afghanistan; the decline of Pakistan non-Hindu population from 23 percent in 1951 to 3.70 percent in 1998 and from 23 percent in 1951 to around 10.40 percent in 2001 in Bangladesh (East Pakistan).
Acting in good faith
The CAA as designed is aimed to correct the historical inaccuracies and problems being faced by refugees in these countries.
To point out, the ‘fear-mongering’ built around CAA stands on false notions as the law aims to allow citizenship rights for the refugees in three neighboring states facing religious persecution. Since these three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh are declared Islamic republics, this preempts any question to include Muslims under the law as facing religious persecution. Also, the citizenship is not for all illegal migrants but is restricted to the cause and purpose as defined under the Act.
If we look back, leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Nehru had given a clear promise and word about the duty of the people and the Government of India to always consider the protection of minority groups in these countries.
The Jana Sangh, the precursor of present Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in its December 1953 all India session at Kanpur, referred to the “continuously deteriorating condition of the Hindus in East Bengal” and Pakistan.
To the concern of Northeastern states in India, the bill aims to protect the social and linguistic uniqueness of these regions. The classification in the Bill well qualifies the test of ‘Reasonable Classification’ for giving preferential treatment as has been laid down for Article 14 and is in consonance with the fundamental law of the land. In sense, it makes no discrimination against Muslims nor does it aims to disenfranchise citizenship rights for any Indian. As reported by Times of India, more than 1000 of academicians and scholars from across the Indian Universities have supported the Act on humanitarian grounds.
In the given circumstances, the necessity is to look into this matter with ‘reasonable assurances’ and without any ideological prejudices from state and society both.
Also understanding the fact this Act aims to restore ‘right to life’ with dignity’ for those homeless refugees who for long have faced persecution and discrimination in the name of propagating religious chauvinism in these states.
* Abhishek Pratap Singh holds a Ph.D. in China Studies from JNU, New Delhi and teaches at the University of Delhi, India.