After a charged debate, the Constituent Assembly of India settled for a “jus soli” approach to citizenship. The first Home Minister of the Republic and a key contributor to the debates in the Constituent Assembly, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, while arguing for a broad based, non-discriminatory criterion for citizenship, said “There are two ideas about nationality in the modern world, one is broad-based nationailty and the other is narrow nationality…It is not right for us to take a narrow view.” (CAD, 29th April 1947)
It should be kept in mind that even after being witness to the horrors of partition, the framers of our Constitution did not budge in favour of religion-based criteria. After the constitution was commenced and enacted, Patel again appreciated the framers for adopting an “enlightened modern civilised” approach for the Indian citizenship while stating the ethnicity-based citizenship as outdated. Sardar Patel and his colleagues from the Constituent Assembly, like Jawaharlal Nehru, BR Ambedkar, Maulana Azad among others crafted a framework for citizenship which could cater to diversity and historical experience of the subcontinent. Unfortunately, the duo from Gujarat who swear by the name of Sardar Patel is destroying the vision of the constitution towards creating this federal republic brick by brick.
Time and again, history has shown that religion cannot be the determinant of allegiance towards the nation. The principle of ‘Equality before Law’ irrespective of one’s religion, race, sexuality and gender is an absolute necessary precondition for the functioning of a just society. Making religion a criterion for offering citizenship and excluding one religion from it is an insult to the legacy of this country’s freedom struggle and the values it upheld, a fraud on our constitution and most importantly a nefarious attempt to institutionally otherise Muslims and plunge them into precarity and fear.
Many oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 on the basis of this criterion as this will fundamentally alter the secular nature of Indian polity and will have grave consequences but this falls on deaf ears. This Act, along with many other previous decisions of the Central government is part of a larger nefarious design of the RSS-BJP combine, of making India a Hindu-Rashtra. It should be pointed out repeatedly, that every freedom fighter of this country, from Moulana Hasrat Muhani to Subhash Chandra Bose, from Bhagat Singh to Chandrashekar Azad made sacrifices and devoted their lives in our great liberation struggle for the cause of a Secular Democratic India and not for Hindu-Rashtra.
Coming to the specifics of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, by discriminating between migrants on the basis of their religious affiliation, this Act divorces India of its rich humanitarian tradition of giving shelter to whoever is being persecuted without asking their religion. The choice of three countries, namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan is arbitrary as India shares border with many countries and not just these three. If the central government is really concerned about persecuted minorities, why then have they not extend this gesture to the Tamils from Sri Lanka and Rohingyas from Myanmar?
Similarly, Hazaras in Afghanistan, and Ahmadiyyas, Shias and Balochs in Pakistan are being persecuted for they follow a different sect of Islam. The human rights violations of Tamils in Sri Lanka and the war crimes committed against them are known to the United Nations and to the whole world. Atheists are regularly targeted in many theocratic countries. But the Act does not extend any protection to these groups for it includes people of only a certain religion. Giving shelter to someone who is being persecuted is a noble cause and giving it a religious colouring will only distort India’s humanitarian credentials worldwide. The Act is drawing flack internationally, including the United Nations.
The Act is in complete violation of Article 14 (Right to Equality) as our constitution specifically prohibits any kind of discrimination on the basis of religion. When this Republic was being built by our founding fathers, the question of religious minorities was one of the more sensitive ones. Many in the Constituent Assembly wanted to wait and see how Pakistan decides to treat their minorities before making any decision about the minorities in India. But our founding fathers were steadfast in their commitment to secularism. When this issue of relative rights to minorities came up, Dr Ambedkar vehemently rejected it saying “I must deprecate any such idea. Rights of minorities should be absolute rights.” He added further “If we find that certain minorities in which we are interested and which are within the jurisdiction of another State have not got the same rights which we have given to minorities in our territory, it would be open, for the State to take up the matter in a diplomatic manner and see that the wrongs are rectified. But no matter what others do, I think we ought to do what is right in our own judgment…”(CAD, 1st May 1947)
This distinction between India and Pakistan has served India well as a secular democratic states with safeguards and protections for minorities but the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 coupled with the Home Minister’s claim that there will be a nationwide NRC exercise breaches this commitment to minorities irreparably. Pushing for a Hindu-Rashtra, the RSS-BJP combine is indulged in witch-hunting of minorities with their rights being stripped away gradually and them being treated as inferior second-class citizens. They pay lip-service to Ambedkar but that cannot hide the contempt they have for his ideas and his cherished dream of equality.
The crises generated due to the blatant abuse of majority by the BJP government are unending. The CAB must be read in continuum with the NRC which too seeks to perform the ‘purification’ of the Indian citizenry by eliminating the Muslims and all other religious minorities. The war cries of Ghar Wapsi is still remembered, the wounds from Kandhamal and Godhra is still raw. The current government with its violent Brahmanical ideologies attack the very foundations of our democracy which is nothing less than undeclared subversion of the constitution. Hellbent on imposing the Hindu-Rashtra agenda while serving their corporate masters, the government is snatching away the amity people of this country have built on the solid bedrock of our freedom struggle.
The economy is in doldrums with mass unemployment and inflation making lives miserable for ordinary people. From Kashmir to Assam, reports of civil unrest and violence are common and the indifference of the government is on display. It is high time that all sections of society who care for democracy, freedom, secularism and equality come together to resist this assault on the idea of a humane, pluralist and egalitarian India before it is too late. We should oppose and rise against the CAB and NRC which divides and discriminates us. As a country, we should not be left with the guilt the Germans had when under the influence of Nazi propaganda, they supported the execution of state-sponsored hate and Nuremberg Laws.
By Arrangement with IPA