Dear New York Times,
This is in response to the opinion column “Modi Makes His Bigotry Even Clearer” by “The Editorial Board” published on December 18, 2019. The note above the article says that “The Editorial Board” is a group of journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate, and certain longstanding values. It will help if you also list what those longstanding values are because upon reading the article, I could not find any sign of expertise or research. In fact, it demonstrated a complete absence of the understanding of the context in which the Citizenship Amendment Act was made and why it’s doing what is doing? So I surmise, it must be those longstanding values that are behind the article and anything else matters little to the authors.
One thing the article complains about is why is the amendment covering only Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, which are all Muslim majority countries? Why doesn’t it also cover China and Sri Lanka which are also neighbours of India and are not Muslim majority?
So when India makes a citizenship law, it primarily looks at those people who have Indian roots, irrespective of their religion.
You can see how to the authors, religion is a major factor, and they are looking at it mainly from the prism of religion. Their major concern is, whether all religions being treated equally or not? To them, their concern of treating all religion equally can be satisfied by including China and Sri Lanka into the law and allowing accelerated citizenship to Muslim minorities of China and Sri Lanka into India. This will balance the accelerated citizenship to non-muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh into India.
Another way the authors see equal treatment of all religions possible is by allowing everybody from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh accelerated citizenship into India irrespective of their religion.
What a nonsensical idea both of those are? There is no concern for the requirement that the law needed to satisfy or the problem that the law is trying to solve. Laws are not made to demonstrate how secular a Government does a country have. Laws are not made to prove a point. Laws are made to satisfy a requirement or solve a problem.
First of all the authors need to understand that India is a civilizational country. The Hindu civilization was born here and evolved here in the last seven thousand years or so and still survives and is the basis for the Indian Nation. There are several so-called religions (as understood today, because religion is a term alien to India), like Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism, etc that were also born in this civilization. The two religions of Christianity and Islam came into India from outside as well. But religion is not an important factor in India. Because religion is a temporary attribute. Today just by their own will, someone can become a Christian, tomorrow can convert to Islam, day after can become an atheist, and finally be back into the so-called Hindu religion, while all along remaining a Hindu by civilization. What’s important is the civilizational roots that are common between all Indians. That is something that cannot be taken up or given away by anybody. That is something inherent and is inherited from our ancestors and is part of our DNA, our history, our culture, food, customs, language, and way of life. There is a wide range of diversity in the Hindu civilization and there are things that are common as well. This is what makes us Indian.
So when India makes a citizenship law, it primarily looks at those people who have Indian roots, irrespective of their religion. It doesn’t look at the Chinese people and say that let’s make it easy for the Muslims in China to be a citizen of India. That is not our primary concern, and we don’t want to make a law for that. The citizenship law already deals with that, and people from all over the world can apply for citizenship in India under it and will be considered. For example, there is a Pakistani Muslim named Adnan Sami who was a singer who applied for citizenship in India and got it too. Sonia Gandhi (the original name before marriage — Sonia Maino) is another example of someone from Italy who became a citizen of India due to marriage. But India doesn’t have a special duty towards people of China or Italy to provide them with accelerated citizenship and accept them as Indians.
Now we can ask what about the people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh? They have civilizational roots to India. Why not treat them all equally and give accelerated citizenship to all of them? This is a relevant question and the answer to this lies in the recent political history of India. This is also the context under which the amendment in the citizenship law needs to be understood because it is trying to solve a problem that was created during that time.
About seventy-two years ago from today, in 1947, on demands of the Muslim population of India, a new Islamic country of Pakistan was carved out of India because a large number of Muslims did not want to stay in one country with all Indians, and they wanted a separate religion-based Muslim country for themselves. At that time, despite the creation of a Muslim Pakistan, some non-muslim population stayed back and continued to live in Pakistan for their own personal reasons. They constituted about 12.9% of the population of Pakistan at that time, as per Wikipedia pages. In remaining India also some Muslim population continued to stay back and constituted about 10% of the total population at that time, as per Wikipedia pages.
In this context, the Indian viewpoint is that even though the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have as many Indian roots as the rest of the Indian people, India does not now have any special duty towards the Muslim population of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who demanded and got a separate country out of India, to give them accelerated citizenship in India again when the separate country for them also remains. But to the leftover non-muslim population of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, who also have the same Indian roots, India does still have a special duty towards and should accept them as Indian citizens with ease. Incidentally, these are also the people that are being persecuted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Making it even more important and an Indian duty to accept them in India with ease. This was also a view and a verbal promise of Mahatma Gandhi and many other Indian leaders who were alive in 1947 to accept all non-muslims into India whenever they decide to come back from Pakistan. Even Mahatma Gandhi had the sense that after religion-based partition only the non-muslims from Pakistan should be readily accepted into India.
But this was never done so far in law. Over the years many persecuted minorities have been coming to India from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and have been seeking refuge in India. India has only been letting them live in India as a refugee, and never gave them proper citizenship. These people have been living in India for years, and still are not citizens, cannot vote, cannot get a passport for travel, cannot get government jobs, or participate in Indian democracy in any way. This amendment is solving this problem. It’s making it easy for these people to get Indian citizenship. They already live in India as refugees.
The Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are on par with the people of the rest of the world who do not have Indian roots, and they can still be considered to apply for Indian citizenship under the existing laws. They will have to prove persecution, or get married, or do whatever else the law requires. There already are examples of people who have been getting Indian citizenship under those existing laws and those are not changing.
The percentage of the Muslim population in India has increased since 1947. India today has the second-highest Muslim population in any one country, after Indonesia. Many Indian Muslims (eg — Maulana Mahmood Madani of Jamat E Ulema Hind) proudly claim that Indian Muslims have been better off than the Muslims in many other Islamic countries, including the Muslims of Pakistan. This doesn’t mean that there are no Muslims in India who would complain. So its perhaps possible that some Muslims from other countries like China, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, or even rest of the world, may want to come to India. But India doesn’t have a special duty towards them and there is no need to make it possible for them to get accelerated citizenship into India. Because either they never had any Indian roots, or if they had, then they broke it off in 1947.
Please note that all countries are not the same, even if they are democratic. While India is a civilization based country, the United States is a country based on migrants. Pakistan is an Islamic religion-based country. They all can have different approaches in how they would deal with the question of citizenship.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.