The debate about the Citizenship Amendment Bill has been raging in Parliament, media and social media. As is the norm of our times, it is yet again a deeply divisive debate where everyone is expected to choose and take sides in an argument that is framed on polarities.
Furthermore, it has been presented by its critics as an anti-Muslim Bill. However, those who are not in opposition to the Bill are so not because it is ‘anti-Muslim’ but because it is pro-persecuted religious minorities that have nowhere to turn to.
In 1947, when the country was carved up into two countries based on religion, India -- true to its Hindu (cultural) spirit -- chose not to have a state religion.
Let us also emphasise here that the Hindu faith preaches ‘secularism’ and it was not in conflict with the ethos of the majority religious community in India.
In fact, Indian history is rich with examples of providing sanctuary to persecuted religious minorities as well as opening its doors to all faiths: let us remember the first mosque in the world was built in Kerala. Hence, that we chose not to adopt a state religion was not an area of conflict.
However, Pakistan (east and west) that was quick to declare itself an Islamic state also had religious minorities who had not made the journey to Hindu majority India, with the understanding that their rights would be protected in their new country.
As time has shown us, this was not to be. After the creation of Bangladesh, also an Islamic country, religious minorities in both these countries saw their numbers shrink due to forced conversions and cleansing.
On the contrary, in India, the Muslim population grew and is now at 14 percent.
In Afghanistan, the third country mentioned in the Bill, decades of being at war has devastated the country and the brutal rule of the Taliban led to a cleansing of Sikhs and Hindus as the world watched on.
It was an undeniable act of persecution that was performed on the world stage and continues to this day. Hence, making the inclusion of this country outside the realm of post-Partition historical burden is a necessity.
Now there have been counter-arguments that have been offered that Muslims are persecuted in these countries and Myanmar as well. These are valid concerns and must be addressed.
Whilst the Ahmadiyas and Shias have been discriminated against in Pakistan, this discrimination is of a sectarian nature and both communities come under the ambit of the Muslim faith, which is the state religion of Pakistan.
There are undeniably human rights violations that need the intervention of the United Nations and the international community, since these communities are an integral part of Pakistan and were instrumental in its formation, the Pakistani state remains answerable for their well being and must be held to account.
The Balochistan persecution is one of a people seeking their right to self-determination and that is the basis of the conflict, not religious persecution.
The Rohingyas are a persecuted community and State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi has been asked to defend her country’s position on their status in front of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) since they are part of Myanmar and residents of Arakan state.
Let us also recall here that Hindus have been persecuted in Arakan as well by Rohingya terrorists. A few years ago a mass grave of about a 100 Hindus was discovered.
Sri Lanka which has Tamil Hindu and Muslim minorities have also not been included in this Bill. So it is a fair argument to make that the Bill is limited in its scope and focusses primarily on the burden of pre- and post-Partition history, with the exception of Afghanistan, which is a war embattled country and has exceptional circumstances.
Myanmar, it needs to be re-emphasised, is a functioning democracy and has a government which will have to answer to its people and the international community for alleged rights violations. The country has urged its Rohingya citizens to return and there is every possibility that an understanding will be achieved since this is a recent exodus.
In an ideal world we would not require any borders, but in these dangerous times, countries have to take their borders seriously, not only for security reasons but economic ones as well.
A developing country like India -- which has the challenge of a large population and of ensuring welfare benefits reach its poorest citizens, with goals like providing healthcare and a home for all Indians -- is constrained by how many immigrants it can accept.
Even rich and developed nations in Europe have to make these difficult choices. In the United Kingdom, the dominant political conversation is about leaving the European Union because open borders have not worked for them.
The porosity of our border to the east that we share with Bangladesh has created a situation over decades wherein we have an influx of economic immigrants who have in regions subsumed the local demography and created resentment in Assam and areas of West Bengal.
The blame for this does not lie with the poor people who are seeking a better life but with cynical politicians whose vote bank politics encouraged this unchecked entry.
Furthermore, it is not politically incorrect to speak of the very real security concerns with this unchecked influx, when intelligence services have established that extremist groups like HuJi have infiltrated this group and are actively recruiting, with the intention of fomenting violence and terror in India. A nation must not be apologetic about looking after its national security concerns.
However, as logical as all these arguments can be, there is also an emotive aspect to this. Because of the widespread criticism by Opposition parities, it is possible that Indian Muslim citizens may view this Bill as discriminatory, although it has no impact on their citizenship, as it doesn’t on Indians of all religious faiths.
However, perception matters. Hence, it is imperative for the ruling party and the government to conduct outreaches to the community and explain the need for the Bill at this point in our history. It is very likely that the bill will be passed in Parliament and will come into force, but in a democracy it is imperative that citizens have the facts about issues that they believe impact their lives.
Transparency and open communication will only increase trust not dilute the very strong reasons why we have to make the difficult choices that we do.