The Citizenship Amendment Bill having occupied a prominent part of the political discourse in India in recent days has deservedly won its acronym, the CAB. Although, it has become one of those pieces of legislation which has been given interpretations beyond its scope and aims. It has become a vent for those who perennially believe that the Indian government has sinister motives at its heart and wants to make India a Hindu Rashtra. There is no denying that there is a section in the ruling dispensation that does want that, but the quintessential question is, as it always is, has the actions of the democratically elected and accountable government reflected those desires? People will agree to disagree on that question.
My objection is not to that disagreement but to the overarching misinformation that is going around about the CAB. Usually, I do not attach much importance to the reporting of foreign media outlets on events in India, since they are filled with biases and oversimplifications. But this time I was so outraged that I needed a vent and hence this post. On the eve of the landslide conservative victory in the UK, I sat reflecting on why across the world, the working class has slowly become estranged with its champions the socialists, and my eyes went on to this post of the Washington Post from 13th Dec, its headline read like an apocalyptic premonition for Muslims in India (and I quote verbatim): “India’s new law may leave millions of Muslims without citizenship “. The Post which runs under the tagline that democracy dies in darkness had come down to the level of the BJP’s troll cadre in its reporting. This is not a one-off instance, several political leaders, media outlets, public speakers have expressed views on the CAB which sounds more like wishful thinking than facts.
The facts as not too complicated, the interpretations about the ulterior motives of the government and so and so forth can be convoluted but not the facts. First, the Citizenship Amendment Act is an act only affecting illegal immigrants and not the ordinary citizens of the country be it Hindus, Muslims or any other religion. Further, its effect on the status and ability of Muslim illegal immigrants to acquire Indian citizenship is null. It’s as if the act never existed. The act only provides some relief to the immigrants who have faced religious persecution and are minorities in Islamic states of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The act is also retrospectively applicable to illegal immigrants who came in before the 31st Dec 2014 and hence is not a change in India’s policy on illegal immigrants.
Now come the questions of discrimination based on religion, and why is it that Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis require relief and Muslim immigrants do not. Objections based on Article 14 and 15 have also been reasonably raised. Legal opinion as far as I could discern is divided and ultimately the courts will decide the constitutionality of the act. Not being anywhere close to having any detailed understanding of the law I can only repeat the arguments made by former attorney general Mr. Harish Salve, which to me in my limited ability to reason sounded satisfactory and rational. He said that objections based on Article 14 can be countered by understanding the interpretations in long-standing judgements that the Supreme Court of India has given to article 14.
Not going into legal terms such as intelligible differentia and rational nexus with the objects of the bill, simply put these interpretations mean the following. The right to equality is not to treat everyone equally, it’s to treat equals equally, the basic difference between equality and justice. Are Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and other minorities in nations which declare themselves in their constitutions to be Islamic nations (and where the population of these minorities has gone down strikingly since the adoption of these said constitutions), to be treated equally with Muslims who form an overwhelming majority in these nations and who have protection of faith under the constitutional machinery.
Just as an example the percentage of Hindus in Pakistan ranged between 12.5-20% just after independence depending on what census data one uses but has now come down to less than 2%. Just to contrast and highlight the plight of these communities, Muslims in India have grown from 9.8% to 14.3% between 1952 and 2011. Further is it not a valid question to ask where in the neighbouring countries could the Hindus and Sikhs go if they were religiously persecuted. This plight of minority communities is not an issue which has come to light suddenly since the BJP came to power, it’s just that instead of mere statements of concern and solidarity they have acted to provide these people relief, obviously this suits their political agenda, but does that in any way reduce the objectivity of the plight of these minorities.
Former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, former Assam Chief Minister Mr. Tarun Gogoi, and the current Chief Minister of Bengal Ms. Mamata Banerjee amongst several other prominent leaders who oppose this act now had raised the same concern and legitimately so when they were in positions of power. People have also aptly questioned the government on its policy to provide relief only against religious persecution and that too to people only from these 3 countries, this is a valid point, but no bill ever solves all problems in one go.
Who is to stop this government or a democratically elected government of a later day from providing relief to Rohingyas, or Ahmediyas if it has the will and the mandate to do so? The BJP had the will and the mandate to implement what it had clearly promised in its manifesto. But again I ask how does that reduce the objective requirement and validity of this act, and how does it in any way have any detrimental effect on the status of even illegal Muslim immigrants in India forget those who have immigrated legally and/or are citizens? The answer again is that there is no change in their status CAB or no CAB. Why then this fueling of sentiments through misinformation.
I beg of the mainstream national media, which has so far behaved maturely on this issue to inform the people of what the Citizenship Amendment Act really is and not to provide space to extremist views both from the ruling dispensation and the opposition. Strongly held views based on facts and policy differences are always welcome in a democracy. The courts will ultimately take a call on constitutionality. The states will have their say when it comes to the implementation of the law, they will have the power to say no, and then the centre would have the power to go to the courts against them. All this happens under the umbrella of the constitution and hence is most appropriate.
Maybe our leaders could sit down for once and reach a consensus, who knows what miracle lies in the girth of time, but till then keep the dialogue going based on facts, information and rationality. Let’s not make a bigger devil out of the CAB than it really is. And once again shame on those outlets like the Washington Post, and political leaders and public figures who are selling fear for sales and popularity. This the reason why ordinary people are moving away from the mainstream media, and consequently more space is being created for extremist views and misinformation campaigns.