The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the Indian Parliament on 9 December 2019 has kicked off strong national and international reactions. The CAA, followed by NRC and NPR has caused serious misgivings and fear among the minorities, especially the Muslims. Most of them are deeply apprehensive that Muslims will be put under “doubtful categories” and will be deprived of several rights, including perhaps the right to vote. That is why they are in a ‘do or die’ situation and are protesting for the revocation of these three Acts.
The chronology of these Acts, is, by deploying NRC in the state of Assam, the hotbed for contestation on citizenship and illegal immigrants, it was found that about 13 lakh Hindus and 7 lakh Muslims were illegal immigrants. At this point, CAA was brought in to offer citizenship to Hindus immigrants, and excludes the Muslims. The principle invoked is that Hindu minorities in Muslim majority countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan were persecuted and hounded out of their countries. Since India is the only Hindu majority country in addition to Nepal, the persecuted Hindus should be accommodated for the sake of humanity and justice. Muslims can go to 50-odd Islamic countries.
It is argued that CAA will not affect the Indian Citizens including Muslims, as it refers to providing citizenship to the immigrants. But Muslims fear that NRC and NPR will affect them; both these exercises are meant to ethnically segregate the population and isolate the Muslims. The government says: CAA is enacted on the basis of “reasonable classification”. Under such provisions the Scheduled Castes, Tribes, and OBCs, Minorities have been given special support.
In the meantime, the protests continue in different parts of the country. A Central university in Delhi, Jamia Milia Islamia was subjected to severe police operation to quell the so-called violent protest. The students of the university are still protesting the ‘brutal action’ by the police. The student repression provoked a silent protest by women in the neighbourhood of the university, a small enclave called Shaheen Bagh. The sit-in protest mainly by women has gone over 50 days and is still continuing, drawing national-international attention to the determination and tenacity of the women. It is another matter that the opponents of the protest are apportioning conspiracy by the vested interest through the protesters to bring disharmony in the country. The Indian Prime Minister said so too in an election rally.
There have been quite a bit of reactions from the foreign media and the overseas student’s community. The reaction stems from the interpretation of an article in the Indian Constitution, Article 14 which reads, “The state shall not deny to any person equality before the law within the territory of India”. Denying citizenship to Muslim immigrants violates the fundamental principle is the complaint and criticism hurled at the ruling party in India.
Sampling some reactions; the Harvard University students said we are, “with the protest regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019” and in “deep condemnation of the violent suppression of student protestors at the Aligarh Muslim University, at the Jamia Milia Islamia University, and elsewhere.”
Emphasising the fact that protests and dissent are essential for the secular and democratic fabric of the nation, the students wrote – “The violent suppression of protesters by the police, the use of teargas, lathicharges, and physical assault in response to peaceful dissent, and the police forces’ forceful entry into university campuses and consequent Internet blockades there are all deeply reprehensible,”
In an article, The New York Times, raised questions on the intentions of the Act and the curbing of dissent, pointing out that the police beat “unarmed students.”
It suggests that Indian Muslims are feeling increasingly desperate, and so are progressives, many Indians of other faiths, and those who see a secular government as fundamental to India’s identity and its future.”
In a scathing attack on Narendra Modi, it said, “The campaign waged by Modi and his fellow Hindu nationalists has done immense damage to the legacy of Gandhi and Nehru and their vision of a secular Indian state. As the demonstrations there are proving, democracy may be the one thing that can save it.”
The BBC said, “Indian police have denied shooting people during protests in Delhi – as anger at a citizenship law spreads across the country. The daily newspaper The Guardian, in an article also put into question the wider international implications of the conflict as it played itself out over the last few days.
It further said, “The images of students and Muslims, two groups who claim to be targeted by the Modi government, coming under attack by police, appear to have crystallised a wider feeling of unease about the direction of the world’s largest democracy. In an extraordinarily diverse country, they may provide a rare national rallying point for discontent.
The Economist ran a cover story this month “Intolerant India”: Narendra Modi stokes divisions in the world’s biggest democracy. It said “Students, secularists, even the largely fawning media have begun to speak out against Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister, for his apparent determination to transform India from a tolerant, multi-religious place into a chauvinist Hindu state.”
The United Nations Human Rights Office has also condemned the CAA, claiming that it is “fundamentally discriminatory in nature,” as it promotes exclusion of Muslims. The UN-HR spokesperson Jeremy Laurence called for the Act to be reviewed, saying- “We understand the new law will be reviewed by the Supreme Court of India and hope it will consider carefully the compatibility of the law with India’s international human rights obligations.”
The strongest reaction came from the European Union from 28 countries where six groups of Members of European Parliament representing 626 of total of 751 Members drafted a resolution criticising the new Act passed by India. The Resolution described the CAA as “fundamentally discriminatory in nature, with one group amongst six saying the Act had the potential to “create the largest statelessness crisis in world”.
The vote on the Resolution was postponed, apparently in deference to the Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Brussels on 13 March, for a bilateral summit. Some observers would also suggest that it would leave a bad taste for both Union of India and European Union if a Resolution censuring India were passed on the eve of Modi’s visit.
Another point of view was that Donald Trump was visiting India in February. When India and America may move even closer, European Union did not want to be left out. Japan, a close friend, has also been concerned by the developments in India. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s important visit to the North East of India was cancelled last December in the wake of turmoil created by the NRC in Assam, India certainly lost investment opportunities from Japan.
Another friendly country, our immediate neighbour Bangladesh has been upset by New Delhi’s reference to Hindu persecution in their country. Afghanistan quite in good terms with India may feel the same.
India has been known world over for her spirit of tolerance, accommodation and cosmopolitanism. The new radicalisation of the majority Hindu community may not go down well for the international community. Given the large size of minority population and large economic stakes at home and abroad, whether such division is called for! This is a question Indians will have to decide.