Citizen Amendment Bill (CAB): A New Assault on the Muslim Identity

Untitled 506 8Today, liberalism is in a severe crisis. Its various postulates are very pleasant to hear, yet they remain confined to academic halls and are not as readily absorbed by the people as the call for nationalism. Indeed it is surprising that Hillary Clinton, a seasoned politician, lost to Trump, and Boris Johnson, another nationalist, won the 2020 Britain elections by a large margin. Similar trends can be observed in other parts of world as well. However, Narendra Modi is taking his ideology for Hindu nationalism to an extreme level which is indeed taking a very lethal shape as the Muslim minority of India is under a severe threat.

The fanatic Hindutva ideology of Modi doesn’t seem to take a break from executing discrimination against Muslims. On 9th December, the Indian Parliament passed the Citizen Amendment Bill 2019, which allows the persecuted minorities of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to attain Indian citizenship yet Muslims are exempt from this provision. The BJP government tried to pass this bill in its first term in 2014 yet was not able to attain the support of the Upper House.

Narendra Modi hailed the passing of the bill as a landmark event on his twitter. Modi is delivering on his election promises yet they remain limited to suppressing the Muslims and paving way for a Hindu Rashtra. Earlier in October, Home Minister Amit Shah defended the bill by saying that it will ensure the protection of Hindus and Non-Muslims minorities and stated, “I want to assure all Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Christian communities that you will not be forced to leave India by the Centre”.

This bill comes ahead of the nationwide citizen verification process, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which apparently is to identify illegal immigrants, however, the rationale behind it is to alter the citizenship criteria in order to devoid a large number of Muslims from their citizenship as about 2 million could lose their citizenship. It is the combination of these two bills which will aid BJP in targeting the Muslim minority and accommodate the Bengali-speaking Hindus who are not eligible for NRC in Assam as was apparent in the statement given by BJP MLA Dilip Kumar Paul, “Our BJP’s stand is that Hindus can never be foreigners”

The bill has resulted into massive protests throughout India, particularly in the state of Assam which has witnessed three consecutive days of protests in which six people have lost their lives. In Guwahati, the government had to impose a 10 pm curfew apart from blocking cellular networks and shutting down schools and roads. This is the 89th time in 2019 when the government had to shut down internet services in number of cities especially with Muslim majority such as Kashmir and Aligarh. The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was due to arrive in India for a summit with Modi in Assam, however the visit was cancelled in the light of the uprisings. Meanwhile, UK and US have issued warning to its citizen to exercise caution if visiting the North-east region.

Assam is one of the states that would be affected the most as it has a copious number of  Hindu-Bangladeshi refugees which the government is trying to accommodate and secondly, Assam is the state with the second-largest Muslim population i.e. 32%  (second only to Kashmir), and the bill has the potential to shrink their presence. The government didn’t apprehend the protest in Assam as it was considered a BJP constituency.

A number of protests also occurred in Kolkata, Kerala, Amritsar, West Bengal and even Gujrat, the home state of the Modi. The protest in Delhi turned violent where a number of students protesting against the controversial bill were fired with teargas and whipped with batons which ultimately lead to them being rushed to hospitals. Furthermore, protestors have said that they would defy the curfew and stage protests throughout the country. Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of Bengal has opposed the bill along with the Chief Ministers of Punjab, Kerala and Chhattisgarh, who have refused to implement this bill in their respective states and have called for more rallies to be held against it.

Ironically, India claims that it seeks to protect minorities yet it has deported a number of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar despite an imminent threat to their lives. Moreover, it is also not a signatory of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention which posits that minorities should not be returned to their home country if they face any threat. The bill has raised questions as to why Muslims are being discriminated in a country where they are present as the largest minority group and which could demote them to second-class citizens. The government has drawn a prominent line with the categorizations of “Hindu refugees” and “Muslim infiltrators”. Furthermore, Amit Shah, the BJP president even went on to tag Bangladeshi refugees as “termites”, as they utilize resources that belong to Indians, and asserted that they are a source of instability in India as they execute bomb blasts and other militant activities.

This Indian step defies international law as according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), deprivation of citizenship on the basis of race, color, descent or ethnic origin should not be practiced. Moreover, it also goes against the constitution of “Secular India”. Whether the bill will be challenged by the Supreme Court of India is yet to be seen. Amnesty India also highlighted that the bill is extremely discriminatory and is not in accordance with the Indian constitution.

The international community has also expressed their reservations regarding this bill, even the United Nations showed concern over the bill and termed it as ‘fundamentally discriminatory in nature’ and urged for its revision. Furthermore, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has condemned the move and even suggested that US should invoke sanctions against the home minister Amit Shah for this step.

The next destination for those who are not considered Indian is the detention camp, one of which is under construction. They can even be deported, which can commence another refugee crisis. The Human Rights Watch has warned that this could turn out to be a horrific humanitarian disaster.

The bill adds another postulate in the list that draws a comparison between Modi and Adolph Hitler, as in 1935 there were citizenship laws to protect people with German blood. In the same manner, Modi has introduced the bill which will dictate who is entitled to Indian citizenship on the basis of religion. The suppression of Muslims is  imperative for  BJP,  be it triggering violence against them, eliminating them from history textbooks, Isolating them in Kashmir or snatching away their citizenship, the fascist dictator is keen to leave no avenue to appease the Hindu hardliners.

The two-nation theory stands vindicated today as Modi’s actions have validated the fact that Hindus and Muslims constitute separate nations. Jinnah foresaw the various challenges that the Muslims of India would encounter, as today, apart from having to prove their loyalty to India, their citizenship is under threat. Under Modi and his fanatic leadership, India needs no other enemy. At a time when unemployment rate is the highest in the 45 years, consumer spending is falling for the first time in four decades and economic growth is declining in the longest slowdown in 23 years, the BJP government is putting India at war with itself.

The Muslims of India didn’t stage any protests when a curfew was imposed on Kashmir, neither did they contest the controversial Ayodhya Judgement, it’s about time they realize that there is no end to the Hindutva ideology. Modi has always employed the rhetoric of “either you are with us or with them” (them implying Pakistan), and Indian Muslims have always been muted as a result. This gambit might no longer work, rather it has the potential to backfire in perilous and unpredictable ways.

 

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Shaza Arif
About Shaza Arif 20 Articles
Shaza Arif is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), Islamabad, Pakistan

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