• Raajveer Singh Bisht

Citizenship and its Many Faiths

Is the CAB truly as monstrous a legislation as the opposition might have us believe?

The Citizenship Amendment Bill has unleashed a new wave of left-right rhetoric that has now wrapped up the far flung ideals of secularism, nationalism and human rights into its ambit.

The political spectrum itself has gone haywire with regional and state level politics leading to a compromise on ideology. The issue has been muddled, shifted, altered and modified with various fronts of opposition on different points being mobilised throughout India.

However looking beyond the chaos and noise we must pinpoint the actual origins of this bill and the viewpoint behind it. Through this we can hope to actually understand both sides of the story and perhaps conclude as to whether this piece of legislation is actually as evil as it is being purported to be.

Regardless of the communal flavour being added to the mix, the official version has very vehemently pointed out that Muslim foreigners can still apply for an Indian Citizenship through the normal procedure. The CAB in and of itself constitutes as a blanket citizenship give away to all non-Muslims who have entered India prior to December 31, 2014. This however is limited only to three nations, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Why these three nations only?

Well, besides the geopolitical proximity of these three nations to India another striking feature is that these nations have a majority populace of Muslims. Afghanistan and Pakistan have a spotted history of state sponsored religious violence against minority communities.

Afghanistan is still struggling to throw the yoke of the Taliban, a political movement characterised by its vehement opposition to everything non-Muslim. Even without the influence of the Taliban, Afghanistan still remains a region populated with traditionally orthodox people who are often hostile and reactionary to minority communities.

Pakistan itself was established with the identity of a Muslim nation. Its second Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin stated: "I do not agree that religion is a private affair of the individual nor do I agree that in an Islamic state every citizen has identical rights, no matter what his caste, creed or faith be". This statement is a perfect example of the hostile rhetoric against minority communities that has been a constant part of the political sphere of Pakistan. Blasphemy laws, forced conversions, state mandated discrimination and a general sectarian outlook in the social sphere have been the bane of the minority communities of the nation which have shrunk significantly over the past 40 years.

Bangladesh was a nation founded on the hope that Pakistan’s characteristic Islamic State identity would be left behind as a relic of the past forged in the crucible of darker more ignorant past. However with Islam being declared the State religion, Bangladesh almost immediately slipped back into the abyss. Today with an education system geared towards the teaching of religious ideals and faith based mythology over scientific theories and a growing political platform based on the supremacy of Islam over other faiths have put Bangladesh on par with Pakistan in terms of sporadic violence against minorities. Before Bangladesh became independent the Pakistani military was responsible (to varying degrees) for multiple riots and spats of violence against both religious and ethnic minorities. This pattern however continued after independence. The 1989 pogroms, the Nasirnagar Incident and the continued waving ebb and flow of violence against minorities over the past decades is a clear indicator of how religious minorities are definitely at risk in Bangladesh.

Overall this analysis paints a rather clear picture of the persecution of non-Muslims (Zoroastrians, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Jews) in these three nations. Rather than a lucid communal angle, a deeper pattern of violence against these communities perhaps helps us better understand the spirit behind this bill.

The allegations of anti-secular rhetoric may be found true on the fringes of the current political establishment’s organisation however at the same time the bill itself does not constitute this particular ideology. The specificities of these three nations itself is a clue as to the main motivation behind this bill. Instead of denying Muslims citizenship it instead wishes to extend a helping hand to the minority communities in these three nations that may wish to accept India as their refuge from this persistent persecution.

Indeed, judicial supervision and the mobilisation of civil society to keep a vigil against the exploitation of this bill for nefarious agendas is necessary and in fact must be encouraged by the government to further rope in support for this piece of legislature which could very well help India strengthen its foothold in the region and create the image of a bastion against the persecution of religious minorities in South Asia.

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