How Modi’s new ‘ethnonationalist’ citizenship law could make Indian Muslims second-class citizens

By KJ Sankara

INDIAN Prime Minister Nardendra Modi caused uproar within the country’s Muslim community after excluding them from an amnesty list.

The BJP put up and passed a law offering safe passage to illegal immigrants of six different religions from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Those of the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian faith will be able to take advantage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Muslims won’t.

As of today, the Bill has become an Act and will be enforced – to the horror of 200 million Muslims inside India and human rights organisations outside of it.

Dr Sanjay Ruparelia of Ryerson University told Redaction News: “Formally, the Citizenship Amendment Bill is a humanitarian measure, meant to provide a route to citizenship for illegal migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan facing religious persecution.

“But the fact that it does not offer this path to Muslims, even sects persecuted in these countries like the Ahmedias and Shias, or Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka, exposes its clear discriminatory basis and intent.

“It is part of the longstanding campaign of Hindu nationalists to eradicate the secular foundations of post-independent India, to overturn its constitutional vision as a multireligious democratic polity.

“The annulment of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir in August, demotion of the state to a Union Territory directly administered by New Delhi and continuing lockdown in the region, and the recent Supreme Court decision to allow the construction of a Ram mandir on the site of the razed Babri masjid in Ayodhya despite calling its destruction ‘an egregious violation of the rule of law’, is part and parcel of this militant political agenda.”

Credit: Pixabay

Yesterday the Prime Minister stoked further divisions when he said: “The Congress and its allies are making a noise, creating a storm. And if that doesn’t work, they are spreading a fire.

“From the visuals on TV, those setting the fire can be identified by their clothes.”

Dr Ruparelia claimed the move had gone down well in the BJP ranks.

He added: “It seems to be extremely popular given their desire to turn Indian democracy into a Hindu rashtra, their understanding that India should be seen as primarily a homeland for Hindus – ironically resembling the idea of Pakistan as a homeland for Muslims.

“Members of other religious communities, particularly Christians and especially Muslims, are seen as alien to this narrow ethnonationalist vision and thus will be reduced to second-class citizens. “

Modi’s re-election in May was a bitter blow to minorities who had already been in fear for the past five years.

However, grassroots resistance – while nullified by the sheer power of the Indian state – is still taking place.

Dr Ruparelia said: “It is twofold and reflects opposite political reactions.

“On the one hand, the opposition to the CAB in large parts of Assam is against a path towards naturalization for migrants from Bangladesh regardless of their religion, Hindu or Muslim. It represents a regional ethnonationalist vision.

“On the other hand, the opposition we see in the major cities outside the northeast is largely against the discriminatory character of the current version of the CAB.

“By excluding Muslims from its purview, most legal experts agree that it violates the right to equality before the law under Article 14 of the Constitution, as well as the so-called ‘basic structure’ doctrine, which the Supreme Court said includes the secular character of the Union, something that parliament cannot change.”

Credit: Pixabay

Left-wing groups have, expectedly, come out strongly against the act.

Redaction News spoke to the Socialist Movement in India, who demanded the revocation of the act.

A spokesman told Redaction News: “With the government threatening to conduct a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), there are fears that Muslims would be the only ones who stand to lose their citizenship in such an exercise, if the CAA actually creates a mechanism for non-Muslims excluded from the NRC to gain citizenship.

“Amit Shah, along with a number of top BJP leaders, have explicitly communicated that Hindus need not worry about the NRC.

“This is a great blow to the very fundamentals of citizenship in a secular democracy.

“We must demand the withdrawal of the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

“The workers must join hands with students against the police brutality and demand the withdrawal of the CAA.”

Indian Muslims have long been fearful of the BJP, and especially Narendra Modi, who oversaw the 2002 Gujurat Riots.

In 2012, the then-Chief Minister was cleared despite a failure to intervene in the chaos which saw thousands of Muslims die.

Asaduddin Owaisi, one of India’s most prominent Muslim leaders, said after Modi’s re-election: “Just hours after the results were declared, Muslims were publicly attacked in many places by those celebrating Modi’s victory.”

In the past five years, 44 people have been lynched in India, most of them Muslims.

The situation is especially accentuated after the Kashmir crisis, where Indian forces appear to be committing human rights abuses in the Muslim-majority region.

Dr Sanjay Ruparelia is the Jarislowsky Democracy Chair at Ryerson University.

His book, Divided We Govern: Coalition Politics in Modern India (Hurst, 2015) can be purchased here: https://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/divided-we-govern/

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