The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 was introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha on December 9, 2019 and is being discussed in the Rajya Sabha today. It is on its way to becoming a piece of legislation that will permanently define Indian citizenship on the basis of religious identity. With the proposed law in place, there will be little doubt about the age old anxiety of the Indian nation: ‘Can a Muslim be an Indian?’
Hallmarks of the Bill: The 2019 Bill seeks to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for citizenship in India through naturalisation: in other words, the Bill allows migrants of these six religious identities to acquire Indian citizenship and its added benefits after they have lived in India for a period of five/six years. The cut-off date from which residence in India will be calculated is given as December 31, 2014. Except specific tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura and states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland which are covered by the ‘Inner Line Permit’ regime, all other territories within the Indian state will henceforth become the natural home for six religious identities from three of India’s neighbouring states.
The Hypocrisy Surrounding ‘Minority Rights’: While presenting the Bill in the Lok Sabha, the Home Minister Amit Shah made several rhetorical points about ‘minority rights’. He stated that in the 2014 and the 2019 general elections, the BJP election manifesto had declared, “We are committed to the enactment of the CAB for the protection of individuals of religious minority communities from neigbouring countries escaping persecution.” The manifesto did not clarify the names of these “neighbouring countries” or which “minority communities” are escaping persecution. But the 2019 Bill has revealed the nefarious design of the BJP: by declaring that India will be made a safe space for persecuted minorities of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, all of which are states with Muslim majority populations, the BJP is pretending to be the champion of minority populations supposedly oppressed by ‘Muslim’ states. This is a conspiratorial appropriation of the discourse of minority rights. By claiming that Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are oppressing their minority populations, the BJP is furthering the trope of the unsafe-minority-in-Muslim-states. Does Amit Shah have any moral right to plead for the rights of minorities, for their health, education, employment etc? Why is the BJP standing on a moral high ground, shedding crocodile tears for minorities “displaced from villages, living in hell”, despite its own complicity in the Gujarat 2002 pogrom which displaced thousands of India’s Muslim minority population and deprived them of even the most basic rights? Why does the government have no sympathy for the minority communities in neighbouring states which have actually faced historical and extant violence and oppression: the Tamils of Sri Lanka, the Rohingyas of Myanmar, and most recently, the Uyghur Muslims of China? The answer is simple though foreboding: the BJP is interested only in saving those minorities who can be said to be victimised by Muslims, who can therefore be guaranteed supporters (read voters) of the BJP’s Hindu Rashtra. What a replay of Hitler’s policy of Lebensraum (‘living-space’)! What Hitler did for Germans through annexation of territories to increase the Nazi reign, the BJP is repeating through the vocabulary of minority rights. When a vile and vicious tyrant speaks of justice and rights, one must be very wary of sinister designs at play.
NRC, NPR, CAB are connected: The CAB is only the preliminary stage in a systematic nation-wide programme to exclude Indian Muslims from citizenship. The substantive aspects of being an Indian citizen have already been reduced to ashes, but the CAB will burn away even the notional aspect of being an Indian citizen. The BJP knows very well that despite facing endless humiliation from the law-enforcing and judicial agents of the state, Indian minorities still turn to the state for redress of injustice, even if that redress is delayed or withheld. For example, Bilkis Bano had to wait for fifteen years for justice after being gang-raped during the Gujarat 2002 pogroms; compare this to Priyanka Reddy, whose gang-rape was avenged by the Indian state itself within a week. But under the CAB regime, even the minimum right to seek redress will be taken away; under conditions of bare life, anti-minority violence will proceed unabated. The taking of minority lives will be of no concern whatsoever, since those lives will be irrelevant in the first place. How will this happen? Let us not forget that the National Register of Citizens (based on a national database or the National Population Register) is already on the anvil for the entire nation. In this mammoth programme of counting, enumerating and authenticating every single individual based on “documents”, countless people irrespective of religious identity will be excluded. The NRC is bureaucratically flawed and will inevitably result in mass exclusion. But with the safety-net provided by the CAB, everyone except Muslims will be assured of their citizenship status. With the NPR-NRC-CAB in place, Indian Muslims will no longer be able to formally call themselves ‘Indian’. And there is already a meticulous arrangement for these non-Indians of the future: a vast network of detention centres is coming up across the length and breadth of the Indian state. One fails to find the words to castigate the apparatus of dehumanisation fabricated by the modern state in India.
The Unfinished Business of Partition: While presenting the case for CAB in the Lok Sabha, Amit Shah said that if the Partition of India had not happened on the basis of religion, there would have been no need for this Bill. This statement actually reveals the revanchist agenda of Hindutva: the losses made by the Indian (read Hindu) nation during Partition must be reversed by making India the safe haven for not just Hindus but every religious minority from the three ‘Muslims states’ neighbouring India EXCEPT Muslims. Such a dangerous dialectic of exclusion and inclusion is at work here! The logic of the BJP is to exclude/undervalue the Muslim minority of India while including/welcoming the non-Muslim minority from outside India, to boast of Indian civilizational greatness of accepting the persecuted stranger from outside the border while slowly killing off the “anti-national” minority within. Just like the logic of Partition has inflected every anti-Muslim pogrom, massacre, extra-judicial killing, false arrest, the rhetoric of “But the Muslims got their Pakistan!” is being used to justify the anti-Muslim provisions of the CAB. As Asaduddin Owaisi said in his speech opposing the CAB in the Lok Sabha, the CAB will cause another Partition of the nation on religious grounds. Let us not entertain any doubt about the actual unsaid intention of the CAB: to grant citizenship status to all those people who have entered India until December 31, 2014, such that they will become citizens by 2020 (after six years of residence, as per the CAB) and valued pro-Hindutva voters by 2024, when the next general elections will take place. One can only guess what will be the value of the Indian Muslim vote then; one can even anticipate all the national parties vying with each other to grab the votes of the ‘new Indians’. Such a unique position Indian democracy will acquire then: all set to exterminate the value-less ‘ex-Indian’ and cherish the ‘new Indian’!
Before such a hapless state of affairs materialises, we must intensify our protests against the CAB and join the on-going movements calling for a rejection of the NRC-CAB. We can expect no saviour, no messiah who will save us: even the self-styled saviours of today will betray us tomorrow; if Muslims are removed from citizenship status, nobody will make even a pretended effort to stand by us. Before that happens, we must take up the battle to save ourselves.
YFDA , Youth Forum for Discussions and Welfare Activities , is a collective of Muslim students in JNU.