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The CAA and Uyghur Muslims: A fraught state of affairs

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I refer to the news about the CAA in India and Uyghur Muslims in China. Though the two issues appear far removed, I find that there are similar broad strokes and will be drawing attention to both in this piece.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), now Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) – as the bill has already been passed – in India has brought with it an intense debate, on both sides of the shore. Those who are in support or rather those who are against the protests against it, are of the mind that most people are not understanding the CAA in its entire context. We are simply reacting, following the masses. So, are we? Let’s look into what the CAA is, in a simple manner.

It is an “addition” of sorts to the Citizenship Act 1955. It appears, prima facie (on the face of it), to spell an integral shift in the concept or rather reality of what it means to be an Indian citizen. It brings a positive impact to the rights of citizenship of the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian religious minorities, giving them a face – where there was none codified in the Citizenship Act before. The problem (and this is no trivial problem: it is in fact reminiscent of the nationality laws for foreigners in Saudi Arabia) is that the bill (quite deliberately) deprives this right from Muslim minorities. This, in essence, would go against the (is ultra vires the) Indian Constitution and is likely to be a grave violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which India has ratified.

The CAA has caused a whole new debate on the National Population Register (NPR) and subsequently the National Register of Citizens (NRC). One of the voices, namely, Arundhati Roy (writer of The God of Small Things and activist) has become highly prominent in this debate, suggesting (perhaps in anger and an attempt to institute a movement) that names and addresses be forged in the Indian NPR to pull wool over the eyes of the government that has now passed a law that is – without a shadow of a doubt – anti-Muslim. Although Arundhati Roy was perhaps driven to say and do these things because of the nature of the CAA, some citizens and even the Indian government have instead gone against her, not realizing that her arguments are an almost unavoidable by-product of the CAA. Such is the power of media. Silence is appreciated (surprisingly, the worshipped Bollywood celebrities have failed to give a strong reaction to the CAA, I think the words of Albert Einstein is important here “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing”) and people who voice out are condemned, vilified and subsequently silenced. A truly sorry state of affairs.

In another stronghold Asian nation, there is the issue of Uyghur Muslims in China, for which the waters are evidently muddled. On the one hand, we have all read and become aware of the “apparent” issue in the continent: that Muslims are being put into “modern-day” camps (eerily resembling Nazi-era concentration camps). This is bad, we all know that, right? Alas, it seems that isn’t so simple after all. China has since then voiced out on the fact that this is simply the evil of Western media (they’re at it again!). This then becomes a wholly different issue, what is the truth and what is the lie? Is the viral (honestly, quite clever) video from an earnest young girl on Tik Tok to be believed? Are Uyghur Muslims truly being terrorized, deprived of their rights to practice religion or is all of this a fabricated crisis, one that is borne out of a “need” to stifle China’s growth as an economic superpower of the 21st century?

The facts and statistics released by China seem legitimate. According to China, they have invested in the Uyghur Muslims and the re-education camps are merely a means for them to be able to become on par with the rest of China’s society. So, does this mean that China is the next victim of the dreaded (supposedly obsolete) “yellow journalism”? The answer is one that cannot be found, it appears. When one Googles “Uyghur Muslims”, one only finds “data” and “research” that smacks of a one-sided media coverage (data and research are in quote marks here because there is no responsible journalism surrounding the facts). The source of most of it is speculative: primarily gained from members of extremist group (the main one being the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM)), terrorists and separatists. How then do we search for the truth?

The answer to that is: the truth lies somewhere in between. There perhaps is some level of control on the part of the Chinese government (as they are after all a unitary one-party socialist republic), and we all know that China is famed for its control over outside media.

This control, however, appears well-meaning, an action that became “necessary” due to the attacks on Xinjiang (notice that I am using the word “appears” and “necessary” here, because the truth is hard to find, especially in regard to Uyghur Muslims). We have been led to believe for ever so long, that there is a crisis in China, that there is a lack of transparency with information and this is with reason, no doubt. The question is: is the issue truly about Uyghur Muslims or is it simply that China is a conservative country that guards its doors against “Western” coverage? It could very well be that because China is so secretive about its goings-on that we are quick to believe any coverage on it (good or bad) because there is nothing else to fall back on? Perhaps.

If anyone were to ask: why should we care about issues that do not directly affect us? Why am I, a Malaysian citizen, talking about these issues? The answer would be in Martin Luther King Jr’s words, in a letter from Birmingham Jail “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.

Parveen Kaur Harnam

Kuala Lumpur Based Lawyer

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