The brouhaha over Citizenship Amendment Act would surprise any rational person interested in debating on facts and understanding the context of this momentous decision. This is a legislation that empowers persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, namely Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists and Jains. Those from these communities that have come till December 31, 2014, would not be treated as illegal migrant and would be granted citizenship subject to their stay in India for five years.
This is an enabling legislation that has come in a particular context of these minorities being persecuted in these three countries that are declared Islamic States. This sense of persecution can be judged from the fact that the population of minorities in Pakistan has come down from 23 per cent in 1951 to 3.7 in 2011, where as in Bangladesh it came from 22 per cent to 7.8 per cent.
There have been many stories of rape, torture and conversion of these minorities. Should India keep a blind eye to this, knowing fully well that this was a sovereign guarantee given to these minorities when they left India during the Partition and settled in Pakistan? Many factors drove them to choose Pakistan of which the prime factor definitely was their ancestral homes.
Pakistan that time had promised that minorities would be given full protection. The Nehru-Liaquat Pact signed after the Partition was meant to ensure that minorities were safe but not enough safeguards were forced in place to implement this promise. Radicalisation of Pakistani society was not lost on Indian leaders of that time. Most of them including Mahatma Gandhi, Dr BR Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad and Dr Rajendra Prasad had argued that if these people found it difficult to live life of dignity and as per their faiths, India would welcome them.
On November 25, 1947, the Congress Working Committee met and passed a resolution urging citizenship for refugees of Pakistan and said: ‘Congress is bound to afford full protection for all those non-Muslims from Pakistan who have crossed the border and come over to India or may do so to save their life and honour’.
Maulana Azad had realised that it would be difficult for Hindus to stay in Pakistan and predicted that Hindus will either flee or will be made to run away. Mahatma Gandhi had said that Hindus and Sikhs who do not want to live there (Pakistan) without doubt they have the right to come to India. In this matter, the Government of India is bound to provide them citizenship, employment and facilities to live a comfortable life.
Jawaharlal Nehru was concerned about the rights of the minorities in Pakistan. He said, “I want to make it clear they belong to us, and shall belong to us. Their welfare is uppermost on our minds. I want to assure them, Hindus and Sikhs of Pakistan they are free to come here. Whenever they choose to come to India, we shall accept them.”
In recent times also, many Congress leaders including Dr Manmohan Singh have argued that suffering Hindus from Bangladesh should be given citizenship to ease their plight. Dr Manmohan Singh had said: “Minorities in countries like Bangladesh have faced persecution. It is our moral obligation that if circumstances force people to seek refuge in our country, our approach in granting citizenship to these unfortunate people should be more liberal.”
In 2015, at an executive meeting of Assam Pradesh Congress committee (APCC), then APCC President Anjan Dutta said, “We will take up the unresolved issue of citizenship for the Bengali Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and people of other minority communities who came to Assam after being subjected to inhuman torture post the partition of India.”
Dutta further added, “These people were citizens of undivided India and they were forced to flee their own homes for saving their lives after being subjected to atrocities on the grounds of religion. The APCC urges the Centre to grant citizenship to all such people, taking into consideration historical reality and the humanitarian aspect.”
Those who claim that the situation in Pakistan was not as bad as it was being presented should know the fate of Jogendranath Mandal who was one of the founding fathers of Pakistan and became the minister for labour and law. He was a Dalit leader who tried to make common cause with Muslims. He was aghast at the persecution of Hindus and bias against them and resigned from the ministry and came and settled in West Bengal.
Thus on the ground of historical context and the promises made by constitution makers, the CAA is fully justified. All these issues were argued at length when the bill on this was presented by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in both houses of Parliament. After that it should have been accepted but the same opposition that failed inside Parliament decided to oppose the CAA by fuelling protests on streets by spreading rumour that this Act was against Muslims. Congress leaders openly exhorted people to protest. Arguments were crafted ignoring facts.
Indian Muslims have no reasons to complain. The CAA is not against them. It neither closes the doors on Muslims to get Indian citizenship through other routes. Close to 600 Muslims have been granted Indian citizenship in the last five years. Indian Muslims have not faced any persecution ever in Independent India to harbour any such suspicion. They should rather have sympathy for the persecuted minorities in these Islamic States. Contrary to what happened to these minorities, Indian Muslims have thrived well. Their population in India have increased from 9.8 per cent in 1951 to 14.3 per cent in 2011.
Some often argue that this is discriminatory against Muslims. But how? Definitely one cannot argue that Muslims are being persecuted on the ground of religion in Islamic State. One can argue that why should Muslims not be given citizenship on the line of other minorities. Are we then not arguing that all Muslims who come from Pakistan and Bangladesh should be given citizenship? This is not possible. In that case this would be like granting citizenship to people from Pakistan and Bangladesh without any real basis.
Those who chose Pakistan as their destiny should struggle to make Pakistan and Bangladesh better countries economically and politically. They should fight for true liberal democracy rather than trusting Islamic State to deliver the goods for them. Indian Muslims should know that they are a distinct category and they are respected the world over because they are Indians. Becoming radicalised and trying to speak for Muslims the world over rather than their own conditions would paint them in negative light.
The CAA is not pro-Hindu or anti-Muslims since it talks of other persecuted minorities as well. It does not talk of Hindus from other places such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal or other parts of the world. The historicity of the Partition cannot be taken away to understand the real intent.
There are two instances when citizenship was given — to Hindus from Uganda and to Tamils from Sri Lanka. This would throw further light of the context now. In August 1972, Ugandan leader Idi Amin, ordered expulsion of South Indian Minorities. Although Idi Amin argued this was for the benefits of the ethnic Ugandans whom he said were exploited by the rich minority, his close supporters said that he had a dream in which Allah came and asked him to expel them and also take vengeance against British for not giving support to invade Tanzania. The Hindu minorities mostly Gujaratis were subjected to torture — both physical and sexual violence. Those who came to India were granted Indian citizenship on persecution of minority community in an Islamic State.
In 1964, an agreement was signed between then Indian Prime Minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri and Sri Lankan Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike to resolve problems of granting citizenship to Tamils in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was to grant citizenship to 3 lakh Tamils where India was to absorb 5.25 lakh. The status of close to 1.5 lakh Tamils was to be negotiated later. The basis was that the Tamils were of Indian origin and there was a lot of resentment to their settling down in Sri Lanka by local Sinhalese population.
Now the fear voiced by certain Muslims leaders. The CAA would be used to grant citizenship to Hindus and expel Muslims if they fail to prove their bona fide when the National Register of citizens would come. This has already been clarified that CAA is a different exercise and would not rescue anyone in the NRC which is yet to see light of the day. No government can take any step that would take away citizenship of those who chose India as their destiny. Absence of any document would definitely be addressed too.
But this should not become a reason to allow infiltrators to stay in this country. They are already a drain on our resources and in many cases security threat. No country can afford to march ahead without knowing who all are staying in this country. Needless to say that both Pakistan and Bangladesh have Citizenship Card. Those spreading rumours are either conspiring or becoming a part of the larger conspiracy to destabilise India. We can stand in queue in US immigration and be ready to be stripped to enter the United States but we will say we will not cooperate with the government that is determined to make every Indian strong.
(The author is national spokesperson and in-charge for media relations of the BJP. He is author of biography on Indian Prime Minister called ‘Narendra Modi: The GameChanger’)