How are the protests in North-East India different from the rest? Is CAA anti-Muslim? Is CAA against secularism? Does CAA endanger Indian Muslims?
By Shikha Gautam
Ever since the Citizenship (Amendment) Act was tabled in the Lower House it has been criticized as another attempt by the Narendra Modi led government to turn India into a Hindu State. Passed by the Upper House and signed by the President Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 is now the law of the land. But a segment of Indians do not seem to accept this. CAA is being criticized by a section of both Indian and international media. However, the entire debate has been clouded by misinformation and propaganda.
The very first misconception about the CAA is to link it to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which recently took place in Assam. The NRC is a Supreme Court-mandated exercise and does not have much to do with the present government. The Prime Minister himself has clarified that the NRC is not related with the CAA and will not come any time soon. The CAA provides relief to the persecuted refugees coming from three neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Now before we move further and look into the details we need to differentiate between the protests happening in North-East India from those happening in the rest of the country.
The differentiation could be seen in the light of the Inner Line Permit which was introduced by the British government against the Indian citizens for upper hand in business. However, after independence, it was transformed into a protective system for the local population. It was further extended by the present government in the favor of the north-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur and to most parts of Meghalaya and Assam as well considering the diverse tribal population dispersed there. Hence the fear of demographic distortion by the migrant flow does not seem substantive. Also, it is important to underline that as per the CAA only 33,313 migrants will get citizenship whereas the number of illegal immigrants is numerically larger with 2 million in Assam itself.
Now, the protests in other parts of the country are completely the opposite of North-East.
These protests are against Muslims being kept out of the ambit of the Act. Groups taking to streets claim that CAA is against the principle of secularism as it adds religion as a criterion to gain Indian citizenship and by that it puts the citizenship of Indian Muslims in danger. Let's take this up point by point. The CAA provides relief to the persecuted religious minorities in the three countries where Islam is a state religion. The list of persecuted minorities includes Parsis and Christians, the two faiths that are not even remotely connected to Hinduism. Also, the CAA does not provide citizenship to Tamil Hindus from Sri Lanka, or any other country. So, the accusation that CAA 2019 makes India a Hindu state falls flat.
The second question that follows is why have Muslims not been included, especially Ahmadis? CAA 2019 is an attempt to provide relief to religious minorities living specifically in three Islamic states. For Indian state, Ahmadis are as devoted Muslims as Sunnis are. We all know that ‘Hindus’ in itself is a hugely heterogeneous category but whenever the Indian State talks of Hindus it talks of all the Hindus without making a distinction of castes, sub-catstes, regions, beliefs, practices, sects etc. Similarly, when talking of Muslims the correct approach is to talk about all Muslims without making the distinction of sects. Let’s approach the question of Ahmadis from another angle. If India makes a law for religious minorities and in that, it recognizes Shais and Ahmadis distinct from Muslims, will it not be another proof in the hands of Islamic fundamentalist who want to establish that Ahmadis are not Muslims and will it not lead to their further persecution? Moreover, those who are questioning the government's intent of not taking Muslims into the ‘persecuted fold’ have to understand that religion has been chosen as the base of this act and particular groups such as Ahmadisand Shias are considered Muslims all over the world and adopting them through this act will certainly question the identity of these groups not only in India but around the world.
This is not the first time that the concern towards the persecuted minorities in theocratic countries has been taken into consideration as at the time of freedom (1947), the Indian National Congress Party passed a resolution regarding the above-mentioned issue and former prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in 2003 supported the idea of extending refuge to persecuted minorities on moral grounds and accepted it on humanitarian grounds.
The question of endangering the citizenship of Muslims living in India is the most absurd of the lot.
It has been made clear not just by the government but also the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid of Delhi that CAA 2019 has nothing to do with the Indian Muslims. And, this is why when many of the protesters including celebrities, when asked to explain how CAA, 2019 puts a question mark on the citizenship of Muslim citizens, failed to answer. So, why these protests and who are the protesters?
The CAA protest is being led by illegal immigrants, Islamic fundamentalists, and political opportunists, the political players are simply joining the bandwagon as they don’t want to lose Muslim votes while fighting against Narendra Modi. The very rationale of the Act is that there are illegal immigrants are living in India and some of them need to be given citizenship because they are actually refugees. So, obviously, those illegal migrants who fear deportation will turn violent. Second, the Islamic fundamentalists' best example here is of Ladeeda Farzana, the student from Jamia Millia whose video appeared on the website of Time magazine. It is being reported by some media houses that Farzana is a member of the Student Islamic Organization (SIO) and has no faith in secularism. Third, political opportunists like Bhim Army’s Chandrashekhar Azad know that once they can get Muslims they can present a formidable force in a state like Uttar Pradesh and challenge Mayawati who currently enjoy the support of the same electorate. Uttar Pradesh is the largest state of India in terms of population and sends 80 members in Lok Sabha. In between all these developments, the losers are the people in whose name the protests are being carried out. Protesters are not the defenders of secularism but are defeating it all the way. Muslims have not only to save themselves from the fundamentalists among them but also from the political opportunists eyeing their votes.
(Author is a research scholar in JNU, New Delhi)