India’s Citizenship Law
ignoring national and international furore, both houses of Indian parliament, i.e. Lok Sabha (House of the People) and Rajya Sabha (Council of States), passed a controversial amendment to the country’s 1955 citizenship law. The controversial as well as highly discriminating against the Muslims, the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019, which received presidential assent on December 13 to become an act, naturalises non-Muslim refugees as Indian citizens, but excludes Muslims. The opposition parties, spearheaded by the Indian National Congress (INC), pilloried the bill as a violation of the Constitution (Articles 25 to 28: Freedom of Religion). These articles provide that all religions are equal before the State and no religion shall be given preference over the other. Citizens are free to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice—Article 25 (1) clearly states that “…all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.
Here is a brief commentary on different aspects of this discriminatory law.
Ultra vires the constitution
The law, no doubt, violates the fundamental values of the Indian constitution and spreads the wings of “Hindutva” or Hindu nationalism, in this so-called secular country by making religion the key to citizenship. In 1994, a five-member bench of the Supreme Court of India, in its Ayodhya Case judgment (Dr M Ismail Faruqui v Union of India), had already noted: “It is clear from the constitutional scheme that it guarantees equality in the matter of religion to all individuals and groups irrespective of their faith emphasising that there is no religion of the State itself. The Preamble of the Constitution read in particular with Articles 25 to 28 emphasises this aspect and indicates that it is in this manner the concept of secularism embodied in the constitutional scheme as a creed adopted by the Indian people has to be understood while examining the constitutional validity of any legislation on the touchstone of the Constitution.”
The bill, thus, clearly is ultra vires the constitution of India and is a serious blow to its secular character.
Even the independent bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed ennui on the law—then on the anvil. According to a press note released on December 09, the bill amounted to a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction” and ran “contrary to the secular values enshrined in India’s Constitution”. The Commission also said that if the bill passes, the US government “should consider sanctions against the home minister (Amit Shah) and other principal leadership.”
Obviously, Modi followed Hitler and Mussolini’s fascist play book, dot for dot. Fear, terror and intimidation are their favourite fascist tools. Modi wants to create fear so that his incompetence and dismal economic performance remains out of focus. Fascist ideology envisions a regimented nation in grip of a totalitarian ruler. It extirpates everything inimical to monolithism. Fascists abhor a free-thinking civil society, political dissent, brave journalists, fearless academics and independent judiciary.
Five-yearly censuses took place from 1871 onwards in the newly-founded united Germany under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The 1930 census was postponed due to the Great Depression. Adolf Hitler began the census shortly after seizing power on April 12, 1933. It was a huge enterprise without computers. By the end of 1939, all orthodox Jews had been identified, pinpointed to their abodes, twice over. The purpose of Census was to first locate the Jews (67 million, or one percent of the populace) and then “cleanse” them. The Citizenship and Denaturalisation Law of July 1933 empowered Nazi Reich to divest the “undesirable” of citizenship. The Jews, even in professional services were outlawed, and pauperized by seizing their belongings. The object of both the 1933 and 1939 censuses was to isolate Jews both in the German heartland and the occupied territories before they were ghettoised, deported and eventually liquidated.
Hitler’s fascist comrade Benito Mussolini too introduced a racial census for both the Jews and the Roma people of Italy. The headcount enabled Mussolini to initiate xenophobic laws in 1938.
The religion-based amendment may be in keeping with Bharatya Janata Party’s manifesto, but it violates the Indian Constitution. Indian parliament enacted the Citizenship Act in 1955. It did not lay down religion as a criterion. But, the newly-enacted Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 does. It amended certain provisions of the 1955 Act.
Towards a Hindu Rashtra
Almost a hundred years back, Savarkar scribbled these words on the walls of a prison, later published in 1923 in his book on Hindutva. “With India for their basis of operation, for their Fatherland and for their Holy land … bound together by ties of a common blood and common culture (Hindus) can dictate their terms to the whole world.” He envisioned inevitable civil war with Muslims. So, he exhorted Hindus to join the British Army, not to fight fascism, but to prepare for the eventuality. He declared Muslims and Christians could never be loyal citizens. Not all those who are residents are a part of the nation, and not all outside the territory are outside the nation.
Where should the excluded go?
Muslims in India are already ghettoized, not ‘termites’ on economy as Amit Shah thinks. Islam did away with caste superiority. Yet, Muslims in India could not remain immune from Hindu caste-system. They are divided into ashraf (Muslims of foreign lineage) and ajlaf (local converts). Some scholars use another category, arzal, to denote the Muslim who converted from the lowest strata of society (bhangi, doom, choora or sweeper). Would Amit Shah detain them in internment/concentration camps akin to those in Germany? For how long? Could Bangladesh, already under Rohingya burden, or India retain the stateless people under international covenants, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizen’s rights?
Kashmir under Hindutva citizenship
The laws in the Occupied state grant hereditary (pushtini) certificates to its citizens. As such, only the hereditary residents are entitled to express their voice in a plebiscite to be held to determine future fate of the disputed state. To scuttle UN mandate and to dilute the demography, Modi government has decided to grant domicile certificates to even non-Kashmiris.
Muslims in India are highly stratified. The upper affluent layer is sold out to ruling party. They never expressed sympathy with Kashmiris under Indian yoke. Similarly, Christians are indifferent to Hindutva onslaught on Indian Muslims. The minorities need to coalesce to avert extinction.
The Muslims should learn from the Christians. To ruling BJP’s chagrin, Christians are the second most-educated religious group in India after the Jains. Today, the Christians live all across India, particularly in the South and the southern shore, the Konkan Coast, and north-eastern India. They include former and current chief ministers, governors and chief election commissioners.
The paradox of belonging to Islam, a religion that is premised on the notion of equality, and at the same time imbibing local traits which affirm inequality has to be admitted. Muslims are segmented into different status categories on the basis of income, occupation, education and lineage.
It is the Muslim himself who can change his lot by following Islam in full. They should resist stratification and demand equality from their community. The Muslim world at large should help them with funds. Unless they are united, they can’t survive Hindutva aggression, manifested in legislation or in social life.