The unequal Citizenship Amendment Bill ought to be stayed by the Supreme Court
India has had a thing to be proud of for a while now. As many Indians look to escape to the developed west (US, UK, Canada), there are many more non-Indians who have looked to infiltrate Indian borders seeking a peaceful haven; many fleeing religious persecutions. The most (incidentally also the poorest among immigrants) come here looking for livelihood and survival. I have seen it first-hand near Petrapole in North 24 Parganas, West Bengal.
Located on the India-Bangladesh border, the several straw hutments huddled together mark the mid-way homes of several illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They wait patiently for their turn to come when some political benevolence, small fees, and skilled locals will furnish them with ration cards, voting cards, and other papers to mark their right to stay on this side of the border. After receiving these, they leave Petrapole and move to other parts of Bengal and the rest of India looking to make a life.
Illegal immigrants, such vermin I had thought, draining out the resources of an already poor state like Bengal and then becoming a leech on the country's resources. We have enough poor of our own to support, don't we? But when you visit places like Petrapole and see the immigrants' acute poverty and listen to their reasons for coming into your country, you can only be filled with pity for their pathetic lives.
Is there a need to plug illegal immigration? There absolutely is. Not to mention the security threat caused by porous borders. But the problem of illegal immigration cannot be solved by draconian laws such as National Register of Citizens (NRC) or the latest Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) that is inequitable in both tone and tenor. The CAB goes against the Indian Constitution (Articles 14 and 21) by awarding citizenship on the lines of religion and that too, not to all religious minorities. As per the amended law, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Jains, Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists from neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan can become Indian citizens. The government's logic is that all three nations are declared Muslim states, so, Muslims, being the first citizens there, are exempted from this law. But if our hearts should bleed for minorities, shouldn't we also shed tears for other minorities that face persecution in our other neighbouring states? The Rohingyas from Myanmar, for example, cannot stake claim to Indian citizenship and being Muslims can have no claims to the Indian government's munificence.
So, what exactly does CAB establish here? Obviously, it is saying that all Hindus are welcome to India, even if they may threaten to dilute the culture and ethnicity in North-Eastern states, particularly Assam. The North-East is burning, two lives have been lost in Assam, and in a repeat of what happened in Kashmir, internet and SMS services have been shut down in Meghalaya.
The CAB is also saying that as a secular nation, Jains, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, and Christians (of course, otherwise the western world would be furious, right?) are welcome in India. But our secularism extends only to these religions and we draw a hard demarcation line for Muslims. If this is not Islamophobia, I don't know what is. The CAB also sorts out the Central government's other 'headache' by awarding citizenship to the purported 13 lakh Hindus who have been declared as illegal immigrants in the NRC.
There are increasing reports of nationwide protests but the common man is not part of Parliament's majority. The toothless Opposition was unable to quell this contentious bill in Parliament. As always, it is up to the Apex Court to uphold the tenets of the Indian Constitution. Politically, the CAB will have repercussions in poll-bound Delhi next year, and Assam and Bengal in 2021. Three states (Punjab, Kerala, Bengal) have already declared their aversion to this law and refused to implement it; more state governments must follow.
Earlier this week, I judged an essay writing contest. The topic was 'Empathy is the soul of humanity'. Today, while writing this column one realises how relevant and most needed it is today; empathy towards all minorities and not a select few.
Shutapa Paul is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are strictly personal