Muhammad Atif Sheikh
Persecution of Minorities in India-II
The Myth of Secular India Busted
Although laws are meant to thwart forced conversions, laws of religious freedom in India are generally known as “anti-conversion laws”. And, the ruling BJP is making all-out efforts to enforce such laws throughout the country. UK government’s Independent Advisory Group on Country Information (IAGCI) in its report titled “Country Policy and Information Note India: Religious minorities” says that these laws are “one-sided, only concerned about conversions away from Hinduism but not toward Hinduism.” BJP’s former president and currently his country’s Minister for Home Affairs, Amit Shah, keeps on advocating for a nationwide anti-conversion law. Moreover, in April 2005, another BJP member—now India’s Minister for Defence—Rajnath Singh had also called for banning religious conversion in India so as to preserve the so-called communal harmony in the Indian society, critics have termed such a policy as tantamount to curbing fundamental religious freedoms. It must also be noted that the laws that are presumably to protect Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes against discrimination and oppression cannot be called successful as the tendency to misuse the provisions of the Act against innocent people—a matter the Supreme Court of India had itself admitted and had ordered that “the Act cannot be converted into a charter for exploitation or oppression by any unscrupulous person or by police for extraneous reasons against other citizens as has been found on several occasions. … Any harassment of an innocent citizen, irrespective of caste or religion, is against the guarantee of the Constitution.”
Similarly, marriages of Muslim men with Hindu girls are being stopped on the pretext of Love Jihad and those who have already married are being separated through courts or even by use of force. Hindu nationalist groups, especially RSS and VHP are spreading false propaganda that Muslim men, under an organized effort, are duping women belonging to non-Muslim communities into marriage after conversion to Islam by feigning love, with an aim to increase the population of Muslims ergo decreasing that of Hindus. To counter this, they have launched ‘beti bachao, bahu lao’ campaign under which the marriages of Hindu girls with Muslim men are being discouraged while Hindu men, on the contrary, are being exhorted to convert Muslim girls into Hinduism and marry them.
The next background to this is the “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs) which account for 44 percent of India’s total population. Under the recommendations of the Mandal Commission (1991), the members of the OPBCs have a 27 percent quota in government jobs and institutes of higher education and no other person can be adjusted on seats reserved for them.
Other Backward Classes (OBCs) is a collective term used by the Government of India to classify castes which are educationally or socially disadvantaged. Most population of the Shudras, the lowest class of the Hindu social order, is part of this group—Dalits are not a part of Hindu caste system. As per the official statistics, 42.8% of Hindus, 41.3 percent of Christians, 39.2 percent of Muslims, and 13.7 of Zoroastrians, as well as some smaller chunkc of population belonging to other belief systems, are classified as OBCs.
Here two things are very important: first, this quota is for all OBCs, and hence it is not a quota granted on the basis of religion; hence, it is used to keep Hindus to stay within the ambit Hinduism and to lure OBCs of other religions to convert to Hinduism. Second, the basic definition of the OBCs is social and education backwardness. In this scenario, various methods like enticements, threats and oppression work well in keeping them within the folds of, or luring them to convert to, Hinduism. This is a political strategy used as a tool to keep OBCs under control. Under this policy, RSS and VHP have established Bajrang Dal under the leadership of people belonging to the OBCs—an OBC leader from Uttar Pradesh Vinay Katiyar was the founder-president of Bajrang Dal. They exploit physical power of homeless and impoverished people to promote the Hindutva agenda. BJP, which is ruling India currently, is a clear example of how OBCs have been allowed to enter leadership circles of nationalist and extremist parties—Current Indian premier Narendra Modi belongs to the Modh-Ghanchi-Teli (oil-presser) community which is categorized as an OBC by the Indian government.
Let’s have a look from another angle which is related to the demand for a separate religious identity. In India, there is a community called Lingayats. They were never enumerated as Hindus in any census in pre-partition India. But, after independence, the Indian government classified Lingayatism as a branch of Hinduism, hence they are included as Hindus in national census data despite the fact that they assert that they are not Hindus. As per a news report published in the Economic Times on Mar 19, 2018, “The Karnataka government has decided to favour recognition of one more religious minority in India—Lingayats, so called for their veneration of linga, the icon of Shiva. The state government today accepted suggestions of Nagamohan committee under section 2D of the state Minorities Commission Act. Now the proposal will be sent to the Centre for the final approval.” Later, on December 12, 2018, India Today reported: “[T]he union government … has rejected the recommendation of the [Karnataka] state government to grant religious minority status to Lingayat and Veerashaiva communities. Currently, this community occupies around 100 seats in a 225-strong Karnataka Legislative Assembly. As per a report published in the Times of India on October 10, 2013, “According to the Mahasabha’s senior vice-president and Karnataka unit chief N Thippanna … the community’s population is 4 crore across the country.”—3.3 percent of India’s total population according to 2011 census. Likewise, a number of other communities in nook and cranny of India want a separate religious identity for them. Kabirpanthi and Satnami communities, which were classified as non-Hindus in 1881 census, were later enumerated as Hindus.
Keeping in view all these facts, as well as the increase in population of all religious minorities between 2001 and 2011, the possible scenario of Indian population in 2021 census could be as follows:
In 2021, the population of minorities in India, after an increase of 1.1 percentage points (PP), will be 21.3 percent of the country’s total population as against 20.2 percent in 2001. In that year, Hindus will constitute 79.2 percent of India’s total population while that of Muslims and Christians will be 15.1 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively. Likewise, the population of SCs and STs grew by 20.8 percent and 24 percent, respectively. If we take this growth rate as a barometer, their population in 2021 will be 243,360,000 (17.1 percent) and 129,613,000 (9.1 percent), respectively—an increase of 0.5 PP a piece.
The decrease in Hindu population while an increase in that of minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, is basically because of two main reasons: (1) natural growth; and (2) conversion of people oppressed by the rigid caste system to these religions. And, efforts to arrest this trend have already been started.
In 151, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was created as a tool to identify all registered Hindu citizens. Assam, being a border state with unique problems of illegal immigration, has a significant population of illegal immigrants. The process of updating the NRC started in 2015 and all people born after 24 March 1971 were obligated to produce the documentary evidence that they were citizens of India. In July 2018, the Assam state government published a draft list whereby more than 4 million people were excluded from the NRC for failing to provide the required documents. However, as per the final list published on August 31, 2019, this number is 1.9 million. And, these left-out people were allowed to appeal against their exclusion before specially formed courts called Foreigners Tribunals within 120 days. Assam government declared that unless these people are ruled as foreigner by the FTs, they will not be, in any case, arrested. A person dissatisfied with the verdict of the ST against him will also have right to appeal before a high court and Supreme Court. Those declared foreigners by the FTs will be kept in detention camps till their deportation. Media reports suggest that inmates in these detention camps are kept in inhumane conditions. Many people believe that the NRC exercise doesn’t have anything to do with religion but human rights activists allege that the Bengalis, with a vast majority of Muslims, have been a specific target—it is, however, true that a significant number of Bengali Hindus have also been excluded from the NRC. In June 2018, four special rapporteurs of the United Nations, including the one on freedom of religion or belief, wrote a letter to the Indian government wherein they expressed a grave concern and said, “[T]he NRC update has generated increased anxiety and concerns among the Bengali Muslim minority in Assam, who have long been discriminated against due to their perceived status as foreigners, despite possessing the necessary documents to prove their citizenship.” Modi’s BJP wants to extend the NRC to the whole country. On November 20, 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah has told Rajya Sabha that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be implemented nationwide.
Another activity that is soon going to be launched is the update of the National Population Register (NPR). As per the website of the office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, the exercise will be done from April to September 2020 in all the states/union territories, except Assam. The main purpose of the NRC is, reportedly, to identify and detain illegal immigrants—though there are concerns that it could arbitrarily exclude genuine Indian citizens. This exercise is also related to India’s next census that will be carried out in 2021. It will include 15 categories of demographic information while biometric details will be sourced from the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)—as per a report by BBC Urdu, the number of categories has been increased to 21. Experts within India term the NPR as a first step towards a nationwide NRC. As per a news report, once the NPR is complete and published, it will be used as a basis for creating a National register of Citizens (NRC) after the pattern it was done in Assam.
In addition, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, has also come into force, against which huge protests have broken out all through the country. The Act is meant to give Indian citizenship to people belonging to six minority groups (Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian) from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have lived in India without documentation. Under the CAA, such people of these communities who have entered India before December 31, 2014, will be granted fast-track Indian citizenship in six years. So far, 12 years of residence has been the standard eligibility requirement for naturalisation. Moreover, the requirement of naturalisation which previously was 11 years has been cut to 5 years. One most conspicuous feature of this bill is that the communities being offered Indian citizenship do not include Muslims.
In this backdrop, when we connect the dots, the whole picture that emerges is again the policy of Hindutva which seeks to build an overwhelming majority of Hindus in India. It is due to this policy that Muslims are being subjected to oppression and subjugation under a state-sponsored policy. BJP’s Modi government thinks that it will be able to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus living inside or outside of India and the Hindu citizenry will absorb them due to religious affinity and it will ultimately lead to a decisive Hindu majority in India. However, in many states, Hindus are also protesting against the CAA as they feel it an infringement of their rights and they fear that local Hindus will lose their majority status to those being granted the Indian citizenship. On the other hand, those adjudged foreigners will not only be stripped of the Indian citizenship but will also be deprived of their fundamental rights owing to which they may re-convert to Hinduism. Hence, it is all being done only to make the dream of mass re-conversions a reality.
And the policy the Indian government will adopt for it is evident from statements of Amit Shah. On April 22, 2019, he tweeted: “First, we will bring Citizenship Amendment Bill and will give citizenship to the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain and Christian refugees, the religious minorities from the neighbouring nations. Then, we will implement NRC to flush out the infiltrators from our country.” Later, addressing a rally in Assam, he said, “Those Bengali Hindus who are illegal immigrants in Assam need not fear; they will be granted Indian citizenship.” Keeping these pronouncements in view, now look at the nationwide implementation of NRC. The question that comes to every sane person’s mind is: Does the majority of STs, SCs and OBCs, which constitute about 70 percent of India’s total population, have all documentary evidence in support of their citizenship? And the answer is definitely a ‘no’. Then, will India strip such a vast majority of its population of the Indian citizenship? If not, then why this hullabaloo of NRC and NPR?