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Dharshini, aged 34 years, one of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living at a camp in Tamil Nadu’s Gummidipundi, is really disappointed these days. (https://www.news18.com/news/india/fear-of-deportation-looming-large-sri-lankan-tamil-refugees-play-wait-and-watch-in-hope-of-indian-citizenship-2419791.html). She was hoping against hope that the government would finally decide to grant citizenship rights to her and her family members after waiting for all these years.

Somebody had told her that the government is revisiting its citizenship criterion in the parliament and a new law is being put on the table. The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB 2019) which was passed by both the houses of the parliament and has received presidential sanction has belied all her hopes.

She knows that like many others she has to continue to live under the fear of deportation.

How and why it is that the bill which sounds ‘inclusionary’ in its stated objectives ended up disappointing thousands of people like Dharshini who are living as refugees in India and who had to flee their home country actually because of persecution. Remember according to a rough estimate there are still “more than 107 refugee camps and over 65,000 Sri Lankan Tamils have been residing in these camps across the state, as per the official record” ( -do-) and barring a very few most of them would prefer to live as citizens here.  Actual figure of refugees is definitely more.

Dharshini had fled Sri Lanka – along with her mother – when she was hardly five years old.

She can still recall the incidents then when news came in that her father had died and her house may also come under attack at the hands of Sinhala dominated militia. She is still scared to go back because despite the ‘normalcy’ in her country of birth, the ground reports are not encouraging.

The arbitrariness of the bill is not limited to keeping the Tamil refugees out – a majority of them are Hindus only – or keeping the island nation Sri Lanka out from its purview but limiting itself to three Muslim majority countries namely Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh despite the fact that India shares its borders with Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka and other countries and it is widely known how a section of minorities in these countries are facing persecution. e.g. It has also refused to take into consideration the plight Ahmadiyas and Hazaras of Pakistan, Bihari Muslims of Bangladesh and Rohingyas which according to the United Nations form ‘world’s most persecuted minority’ who all are facing systematic persecution in their country.

Amnesty International – the international human rights organisation – has as put it very succinctly how this bill “[a]mends the Citizenship Act of 1955 to enable irregular migrants to acquire Indian citizenship through naturalisation and registration. However, it restricts the eligibility to only Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered India on or before 31 December 2014. The Bill also reduces the requirement of residence in India for citizenship by naturalisation from 11 years to 5 years for these particular communities” and has demanded that this ‘Bigoted Law That Must Be Immediately Repealed’

This law has received condemnation from different quarters.

It is being said that how under the garb of humanitarianism the bill has basically tried to upturn the Constitution of India by slyly trying to introduce religious right-to-return. Remember unlike Israel, Korea (both South and North), and few other countries, Indian law and the Constitution had not recognised any notion of ‘Right to return’and this has been for the first time, when a sort of religious ‘right to return’ has not only been advocated by the law-makers but with brute majority in the parliament has hurriedly made into a law which basically runs contrary to the secular fabric of the Constitution

United Nations has called CAB ‘fundamentally discriminatory in nature’ (https://www.freepressjournal.in/india/united-nations-call-cab-fundamentally-discriminatory-in-nature) and how it would further undermine its commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India’s Constitution. Remember the new law also tends to put question marks over “[I]ndia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to which Indian is a State party, which prohibit discrimination based on racial, ethnic or religious grounds” ( -do-)

It can be noted that while rushing through the law the government has not even thought over the fact that merely 12 months ago India endorsed the Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration. The focus of this compact is that it commits States to respond to the needs of migrants in situations of vulnerability, avoiding arbitrary detention and collective expulsions and ensuring that all migration governance measures are human rights-based.

What does the bill boil down to?

  • Any Hindu, Sikh, Buddha, Christian, Parsi from these three countries who has come to India before 31 st Dec 2014 because of ‘religious persecution” would be automatically granted citizenship.

  • It has been declared on the floor of the house that even if such a person does not have any identification papers say ration card etc then also s/he should not bother.

  • Interestingly while the draft bill talked about ‘religious persecution’the final bill passed by the parliament does not have any such word.

The government has neither tried to collect facts and figures to show how many such ‘victims’ have come to India from these three countries in last few years. The fact is that it has no such figures available. Secondly, the Modi-Shah government has also refused to acknowledge the fact that its enactment would have a very negative impact on the non-Muslim minorities living in these Muslim majority countries – the very minorities which it claims to protect.

The hurried manner in which CAB has been pushed has raised lot of questions and queries.

The foremost point being BJP government’s desperation to lessen the fallout of the whole NRC excercise and its repeated assurance to the affected people mainly Hindus that they need not worry. NRC has counted 19 lakh people as ‘illegals’ and contrary to BJP’s expectations it was revealed that merely 5 lakhs from this total were Muslims and rest were Hindus.

The concerns and condemnations over this law are not merely limited to words this discriminatory law which effectively attacks the basis of the Constitution has given rise to tremendous mass resistance across India at various levels. Marches and rallies have been organised in different parts of India which have at places culminated in violent confrontations with the police and security forces. Many non-BJP governments – CPM, TMC, Congressetc have even declared that they would not implement it in their states. The most militant resistance to this law has come up in different states/ regions of North East. A marker of the situation prevailing there can be gauged from the fact that a significant part of this area has been cut off from internet and many trains reaching this part of North East stand cancelled. It is a manifestation of India’s diversity and plurality that this resistance has taken multiple forms in different parts. While in North East, this bill is being construed as an attack on their language and culture, in deep South the once powerful Dravid sentiment against rulers in Delhi is also seeing  revival whereas in rest of India it is clearly seen as an attempt to make Muslims secondary citizens of India and throttling the constitution and driving India closer to the Hindu Rasthra dystopia.

It is rather difficult to know whether the RSS-BJP expected or not about the scale of resistance being put up by people, formations and opposition parties but perhaps they have calculated that how such a move would bolster its vote bank ‘to grow by 1.5 crores thanks to CAB’ (https://thewire.in/government/1-5-crore-of-our-people-will-get-citizenship-under-new-bill-says-rss) In fact, it is being reported that they plan to take up a nationwide campaign to make people aware about this move.

Question arises why did the Modi-Shah duo kept the focus of the bill on three neighbouring Muslim majority countries and did not include Sri Lanka or Mynamar etc? Remember as we write these lines Aung San SuuKyi, the key leader of Myanamar government is facing International Court of Justice at Hague over allegations of genocide over its treatment of the Rohingya minority.

A possible explanation is that the government’s concern to establish greater rapport with the Mynamar government as well as Sri Lanka government and thus not take any steps to ruffle their feathers.

One can recall PM Modi’s visit to Myanamar last year and the joint statement he and Myanmar’s State Counsellor and de facto leader, Aung San SuuKyi issued which remained silent on the mass cleansing of the Rohingyas but expressed grave concern on the ‘terrorist’ activities of a section of Rohingyas in self-defence. It read:

“It is important to maintain security and stability along the long land and maritime borders of India and Myanmar…India stands with Myanmar over the issue of violence in the Rakhine state which has led to loss of innocent lives.”(https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/16/opinion/deadly-alliances-against-muslims.html)

Or how it went the extra mile to establish better relations with the new dispensation in Sri Lanka led by GotobayaRajapaksa and his brother MahindaRajapaksa and it did not matter to it that elected President has been  under scanner for his alleged role in human rights violations while dealing with Tamil militancy  (https://theconversation.com/sri-lanka-gotabaya-rajapaksas-election-victory-sparks-fear-among-minorities-127302).

It is also a reported how a section of Hindutva leaders have written comments sympathetic to Buddhist extremist elements in both these countries led by Wirathu’s group 969 in Mynamar and BoduBalaSena ( Buddhist Power Force), Sri Lanka – who are said to be involved in anti-Muslim violence – and these formations themselves have reported how they are in touch with their counterparts in India working on a Hindutva Supremacist agenda to form “a “Hindu-Buddhist peace zone” in South Asia  ( https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/16/opinion/deadly-alliances-against-muslims.html) against the ‘common enemy’ ( read ‘Muslims’)

Of course the foremost reason is that BJP-RSS wanted to project “[a] macro-historical conviction on behalf of Hindutvarightwing that India is in essence a Hindu country and deserves to be a Hindu Rashtra”. (https://thewire.in/religion/citizenship-amendment-bill-hindu-rashtra) Remember “[H]indutvarightwing maintains that Akhand Bharat included Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Hindus in India have a special obligation to accommodate religiously persecuted Hindus (and other non-Muslim minority groups) as Indian citizens. ” (-do)

Welcome to Hindu Rashtra via CAB !

Subhash Gatade is the author of Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2010) Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India,(2011) and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India(2011). He is also the Convener of New Socialist Initiative (NSI) Email : subhash.gatade@gmail.com


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