India, that is Bharat, …” When the framers of our Constitution used those words in that sequence in its very first article, they were conscious of certain facts: One, India is just a new name of our country Bharat, the homeland of our millennia-old civilisation that gave birth to four major religions—Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism—which primarily informed our ancient civilisational ethos; two, the Indian state is the inheritor and trustee of our ancient civilisation; three, the Preambular exhortation of “unity and integrity of the Nation” has a civilisational connotation as deep ties bind us spatially and inter-generationally spanning yugas. Thus they were cognisant of India as a civilisational nation, whose unity and integrity was primarily informed by Sanatana Dharma eons before they framed the Constitution.
Even though Hindus constitute the world’s third largest religious group with more than a billion-strong population, there is not even one Hindu state in the world. India being the only country with a Hindu majority (except for smaller Nepal) and the only homeland for adherents of Indian-origin religions (except Buddhists), it goes without saying it has a civilisational responsibility towards them. It’s an unfortunate reality that Hindus (which includes Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs as per Article 25) suffer persecution in some nations. But even those who escaped to India have long been suffering for want of citizenship—essential for dignified living.
As per the TRIPS agreement, Parliament enacted Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, to protect material goods. If there could be so much anxiety for ephemeral material objects, should we not show an equal if not greater concern to protect the persecuted people who are carriers of religious traditions that originated in India and informed our ancient civilisation for millennia?
The BJP in its 2014 election manifesto promised, “India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here.” Accordingly, Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 (CAB-2016) was introduced in Parliament, which has since lapsed. Given that the final NRC in Assam has left the citizenship status of many in limbo, the passing of a new CAB assumes greater significance. In this context it is necessary to understand the shortcomings and national security dangers in CAB-2016 and overcome them in a new Bill so that it does not get mired in litigation, and the long-suffering persecuted people of Indian-origin religions get citizenship expeditiously.
Firstly, CAB-2016 dealt with religious persecution in only three countries, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It cannot be said that persecution of adherents of Indian-origin religions is or will be limited to these nations. There are reports of attacks on Hindus in Fiji, of the vulnerable status of Hindus in Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. So the law should factor in all eventualities and include all countries.
Secondly, CAB-2016 included all minorities in those three countries. This doesn’t make sense. For, India has no civilisational obligation towards persecuted people of non-Indian origin religions. We have been magnanimous to others like Jews and Zoroastrian-Parsis who were persecuted. But Jews now have their own homeland. And persecuted Christians and Muslims can seek refuge in any of the about 100 Christian or Christian-majority and about 50 Islamic countries respectively. We cannot afford to burden an already overpopulated India. The honourable PM in his 2019 Independence Day rightly flagged population explosion. So it is prudent to limit citizenship only to persecuted adherents of Indian-origin religions and Parsis.
Thirdly, extending benefit to all ‘minorities’ in the three nations is fraught with danger. It imposes an avoidable self-inflicted responsibility on India towards all minorities, whether or not they follow Indian-origin religions. If the aim is to reopen issues of Partition with regard to minorities on our borders, then Afghanistan’s inclusion defies logic. If it is to provide succour to persecuted people of Indian-origin religions, then the inclusion of Christians undermines that. The exclusion of Tamil minorities (mostly Hindus) of Sri Lanka, who also complain of persecution, is inexplicable. Thus neither classification (only three nations or minorities) meets the doctrine of intelligible differentia.
Fourthly, the word ‘minority’ in CAB-2016 has an inclusive definition. So, by simple interpretation Ahamdis can become eligible. And if Myanmar is included in the countries’ list, the minority Rohingyas can qualify for citizenship. Thus, a measure to protect persecuted people of Indian-origin religions could become a legal route for demographic aggression.Fifthly, experts have raised questions regarding CAB’s constitutional validity. For a law to survive judicial review, it has to have an enabling provision of the Constitution.
Lastly, since religious persecution is the basis for grant of citizenship, any subsequent conversion to non-Indian origin religions repudiates that very basis. Moreover, it is not difficult to fake one’s religion to gain Indian citizenship fraudulently. So, without stringent safeguards, it could end up as a legal route for demographic invasion, which CAB-2016 did not factor in.
A law of this nature cannot afford even a minor loophole. It has to be firewalled well to withstand judicial scrutiny. So it is imperative to amend the Constitution by inserting a new Article 11A to enable amendment to the Citizenship Act limiting citizenship to the persecuted Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Parsis from any country, with stringent safeguards against misuse by providing for termination of citizenship with consequent disabilities including deportation.