Citizenship Bill, along with an NRC, is worrying PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 10 December 2019 00:00
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The security concerns are real, but the idea that India will welcome only non-Muslims will deepen communal divide


It is certainly true, as those defending the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) argue, that while Muslims have both Bangladesh and Pakistan as Muslim-majority nations, the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians have no other country to call their own in the neighbourhood; so, the argument goes, it is perfectly justifiable that the Citizenship Act be amended to grant citizenship to these illegal non-Muslim immigrants who fled to India, possibly due to being persecuted in these countries. It is equally true that, were this automatic citizenship to be opened up to Muslims, there is the possibility that the ISI can send decoys into India on the pretext they are being persecuted in Pakistan. But, any Citizenship Bill which implicitly states that religion is the basis of citizenship is problematic. Apart from the fact that it goes against India’s secular fabric and the prohibition on discrimination on the basis of religion, it is also telling the country’s Muslim population that they are welcome only due to the fact that they—or their parents—lived in India, or migrated to it, at the time of partition. With one stroke, Muslims have been reduced to second-class citizens; that’s a self-inflicted blow on a country that, unlike Pakistan, was not founded as the homeland for a particular religious group.

What makes the CAB even more worrying is the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that the government has said is now going to be implemented all over the country. The NRC was a colossal failure in Assam since, contrary to expectations, more than 60% of those who couldn’t prove their citizenship were Hindus; and that is why the process is to be repeated though it is not clear how, the second time around, the result will be materially different. But, what is worrying is the potential damage the NRC will cause and whether this will deteriorate into a communal problem particularly if there is a fear—the CAB does a lot to trigger that fear—that Muslim immigrants can be deported or put in detention camps. Indeed, the government itself has been vague about what it plans to do about those who cannot prove their citizenship, apart from general assurances that no one needs to worry. If, as is likely, Bangladesh or Pakistan don’t take back the illegal immigrants, are they to be housed in detention camps or what? If there was clarity on this, it is likely the reaction to the NRC could be quite different.

How are the poor and unlettered, and migrants from within the country, to prove their citizenship since, often enough, they don’t have the documents required to prove citizenship such as birth certificates or bank/post-office accounts, and then records to prove their link with their parents/grandparents; the latter includes birth certificates, land documents, school-leaving certificates, ration cards etc. Since India has never had citizenship papers, millions will now have to go back to their villages to get these documents; and there is no certainty they will succeed. If all of this helps make India terror-free, it may still be worth it, but surely a move with such large ramifications needs a broader discussion? Nor is it immediately clear that it is only Muslim immigrants who are responsible for—or are an integral part of—terror activities in India. Along with the NRC, the CAB is likely to exacerbate communal tensions in the country; that can hardly be desirable.


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