Reading the Act
by Sandhya Jain on 04 Feb 2020 17 Comments

As agitators show fatigue with the unending Delhi-based protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, sending feelers for face-saving talks, Western media busybodies have rushed to the cause, alleging a sinister plot to render 200 million Muslims stateless. In a vacuous article, “Intolerant India”, The Economist of London alleges a plot to “transform India from a tolerant, multi-religious place into a chauvinist Hindu state”. (Jan. 25, 2020)


It adds: “the scheme looks like the most ambitious step yet in a decades-long project of incitement”. It clubs the demolition of a mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 with the “massacre of Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002, when Mr. Modi was chief minister”, which was “electoral nectar” for the Bharatiya Janata Party but “political poison” for India.


The snobbish colonial British know that the Hindu struggle for Ram Janmabhumi was part of a centuries-old struggle against Islamic iconoclasm, the justice of which was upheld by successive English administrators, even if they did not help the community. Possibly the British are appalled that the Supreme Court of India resolved the issue so well.


Regarding 2002, surely The Economist knows that the unrest began with the burning alive of 59 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya, near Godhra station. Much like the Azad Hind Fauj, these victims are simply erased from the narrative and (it is hoped) public memory. It says Modi and his party are “likely to benefit politically by creating divisions over religion and national identity”. Actually, this template was patented by another party.


Former vice chancellor of Ashoka University, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, reveals, “In India, the use of communal instigation has often been associated with the demands of electoral mobilisation – episodic violence as a means of securing votes. This was always a blot on Indian democracy. But in a strange way, we also used to find it reassuring: It somehow signalled that the use of violent provocation had its spatial and temporal limits. It will be used fleetingly, in local contexts, but will not become a continuous strategy”. (Indian Express, Feb. 1, 2020)


Having routinely benefitted from communal riots (Meerut, Sholapur, etc.), Congress should explain how these “spatial and temporal limits” were defined. Muslim leaders should explain the reason for sacrificing poor Muslims as electoral harvest for one party. Why did India’s avowedly secular party constantly need serial communal polarization to win votes from both communities? In 1984, only the minority changed.


There is general agreement that 2002 marks a watershed in Indian history. Mehta observes that violence declined sharply after 2002, but the Delhi events [Shaheen Bagh] show that one cannot read “past reassurances on the limits of violence” into the present, as the structure of Indian politics has changed. Mehta’s convoluted arguments cannot hide the change, viz., violence no longer privileges the once-dominant party; communal polarization wrought by non-BJP entities splits votes on communal lines and advantages the BJP.  


The Economist, meanwhile, peddles umpteen falsehoods. The Act offers fast track citizenship to persecuted minorities (not Hindus alone) from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and does not “explicitly vow not to take a single downtrodden Muslim”. Indeed, in recent weeks, several Muslim refugees from Pakistan were given citizenship, the provision for which remains on the statute. But The Economist is unfazed by facts. It scolds the Government of India for “smothering curfews” and internet blackout in Jammu and Kashmir, and hectors the Supreme Court to “show some unexpected spine” and declare the citizenship law unconstitutional.


The advice is venomous. The Citizenship Amendment Act redeems a pledge neglected by India’s leaders from 1947 onwards. Mendi Safadi of the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights says: “Bangladesh in recent years has become a country that has suffered from a high number of ethnic murders, the mass rape of Hindu women and girls by mainly Muslim men and a high number of Hindus being expelled from their homes so that the Muslims can take over their lands.” 


Afghanistan had a sizeable Sikh and Hindu population which slowly migrated to India, especially after the assassination of Presidents Daud (1978) and Najibullah (1996). The rise of Taliban would be a nightmare.


In Pakistan, intellectuals themselves denounce the daily abductions of schoolgirls, their forced conversion, and marriage to older men. In Sindh, there are two recent cases of brides being abducted from their wedding ceremony, converted, and married to Muslim men. Unsurprisingly, border districts are reporting the arrival of dozens of poor Hindu families, with whatever belongings they could carry. Much has been said about persecuted Muslims, mainly Pakistan’s Ahmadiyas and Shias, but these groups prefer the West. Recently, Gulalai Ismail, a Pashtun activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, escaped to the United States.


The real citizenship problem concerns Assam, where the crisis of illegal immigrants began. In 1950, the Illegal Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act was passed to protect Hindu refugees from East Pakistan and expel illegal Muslim infiltrators. But successive regimes dodged the issue. Then, in 1983, the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act clubbed Hindu refugees and Muslim illegal immigrants together as “illegal migrants” and put March 25, 1971 as cut-off date to detect illegal migrants.


The Assam Accord of 1985 retained 1971 as cut-off date (Section 6A of Citizenship Act) and thus legalized Muslim illegal migrants till 1971 as All Assam Students Union (AASU), that signed the Accord, fell into the Congress trap. But in 2005, the Supreme Court repealed the IMDT Act and revived the Illegal Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act 1950, thus protecting Hindu refugees and differentiating them from illegal immigrants. But just prior to the IMDT Act repeal, in December 2004, Congress amended the Citizenship Act and inserted “illegal migrant” into Section 2, so that illegal migrants (which then included Hindu refugees) cannot even apply for citizenship.


The Citizenship Amendment Act corrects this mischief and allows only persecuted minority refugees to apply for nationality. As the BJP came to power in May 2014, it fixed December 31, 2014 as cut-off date for applying for citizenship as the cut-off date has to be on or after July 12, 2005, when the Supreme Court gave its verdict on the IMDT and 1950 Acts, protecting Hindu refugees. Once these refugees receive Indian citizenship, they will be free to move to other States, and need not be a burden on Assam.


(The author is a senior journalist)

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