Kolkata: India has a long history of showing generosity towards persecuted people and should not turn on one community now, Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee has said weighing in on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act which is perceived by critics to be anti-Muslim.
According to the new law, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 and are facing religious persecution there will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship. The exclusion of Muslims from the Act and its alleged implications when seen in conjunction with NRC and NPR exercises have triggered vociferous protests across India.
Questioning the exclusion of Muslims, Banerjee, who was awarded Nobel Prize in Economics along with fellow economists Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer last year, said, “They are mostly poor and poorly educated people. They are a small minority of the population. I don’t see why we should not be magnanimous towards them. I don’t understand the theories as to why majority of the rich and educated should not be magnanimous towards them.”
Speaking to News18, Banerjee added that the minority does not constitute any threat. “I think we have a long history of being generous to outsiders. Jewish settlers who came from the Middle East were welcomed by the Kings of Travancore and Cochin. Like in America, minorities in India are nowhere close to being dominant. That is why I feel it is baseless to think Muslims will take over in India.”
He added that the Hindu tradition is to “welcome everyone”.
Asked about the government’s position that the new law is meant to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees and not take it away from Indian Muslims, Banerjee pointed to the persecution faced by Ahmadis, Shias and Rohingya in India’s neighbourhood.
“We have given a home to desperate people throughout. Why not now? These people are desperate enough to be in our economy. They are escaping persecution. Pakistan has prosecuted a large number of Muslims — the Ahmadis and Shia. Just think about the Rohinyga. They are classic case of prosecution in Myanmar. And, we have a history of being generous to such people. I don’t know why we would give up our long tradition of absorbing these people.”
“The Hindu tradition is to be generous to those who want our help. If the Rohingya people want our help, our tradition is to be generous towards them,” the Banerjee added.
The economist also pointed to a positive correlation between migration from Bangladesh and the Indian economy. “This is mostly economic migration. You get young, talented and energetic people. It is good for the country because migrants not only sell labour but also buy food and pay for everything which is required to survive with their new earnings.”