The quality of public discourse in India has plummeted to rock bottom. It is a harangue of incredible ignorance exacerbated by malicious disinformation, a Goebbelsian exercise par excellence that would make even Goebbels flinch. Especially disconcerting is the role of supposed intellectuals, who instead of putting a brake on this canard, fish in troubled waters. Nothing illustrates this better than the recent high-decibel brouhaha over the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens. In order to clear up the overwhelming atmosphere of misconception we need to objectively look at the CAA and NRC. The first question: Are we morally justified in granting accelerated citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and other minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan?
To answer this, we need to define who a refugee is. Refugees are defined and protected under international law. The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion...” Now let us examine the Constitutions of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Article 2 of Pakistan’s Constitution states “Islam will be the state religion”. The Bangladesh Constitution has an Islamic invocation and Article 2A indicates “state religion of the Republic is Islam”. Similarly, Afghanistan has an explicitly Islamic preamble and Article 2 declares the “sacred religion of Islam is the religion of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan”.
A constitutionally sanctioned second-class status coupled with a history of repression makes these non-Muslim minorities fit the definition of refugees as defined by the 1951 Refugee Convention—elements that the CAA incorporates making it a justifiable proposition. Muslims from these nations do not fit the UNHCR definition of refugees. So, the CAA cannot be axiomatically viewed as discriminatory. The second question: Is the NRC necessary and does it discriminate against Muslims? A nation state is not a chaotic free-for-all with open access to anyone and everyone. It is a defined political entity stipulated by norms that guide its ideological character, demarcate its physical boundaries and define its citizenship, all clearly laid down in the Constitution.
Articles 5-11 of the Constitution clearly lay down the criteria for citizenship. Several amendments have refined the criteria, notably the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2003 that defined an illegal immigrant and disallowed citizenship to their progeny. But these stipulations would be meaningless if there was no system to implement these requirements. So the CAA 2003 mandated the government to maintain a NRC. The NRC is not a new concept introduced by the BJP. In order to implement the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950, an NRC (Assam) was prepared in 1951 after the Census. The recent NRC update of 2019 was sanctioned by the Supreme Court.The NRC is a constitutionally mandated decree. Opposing it means opposing the Constitution and despite claims of upholding it, these protestors are sullying the sacred document and misleading the public. More egregious than this violation, which can be attributed to ignorance, are the combative resolutions passed by several state Assemblies; these hit Centre-state ties, the bedrock of our federal democracy by transgressing the seventh schedule of the Constitution. This poses the greatest threat to the fundamental structure of our democracy and our Constitution after 1975.
The charge that the CAA is a prelude to the NRC that will be used to disenfranchise Muslims is a myth of unmitigated proportions. No anti-CAA opponent has been able to explain how. The contention that only a poor illiterate Muslim because of his/her inability to obtain required documentation will be affected is not based on evidence; it is a provocative, incendiary political ploy. According to the 2011 Census, illiteracy rates among Hindus and Muslims were 36% and 42% respectively. When translated into actual numbers these figures amount to 30 crore Hindus and 7 crore Muslims. So, if illiteracy is the glitch more Hindus will be affected than Muslims.The NRC may not be foolproof and warrants further refinement to be more effective, but one thing it is not: an instrument that can be manipulated to discriminate against Muslims. By deliberate misinformation, an ideologically entrenched liberal lobby has wilfully fed into minority paranoia to stoke unwarranted concerns fuelling extremist elements. Liberals do not do the Muslims any good; they are creating an insecure, volatile and dangerous polity in the country.
Opponents of the CAA and NRC have gone to town accusing the BJP of an ulterior motive (read disenfranchisement of Muslims). By the same token it can be alleged that some parties and radical Muslim elements have a nefarious agenda that would be scuttled by the NRC. It is common knowledge that there has been a dangerous demographic alteration going on in the states of West Bengal and Assam since the 1800s, which has persisted after 1947 in the form of illegal migration from Bangladesh.Even way back in 1991, T V Rajeswar, an ex-IPS officer and IB Chief who served as West Bengal governor warned: “There is a distinct danger of another Muslim country ... emerging in the eastern part … at a time when India might find itself weakened politically and militarily.” So, is the current anti-CAA protest an attempt by radical Muslim elements to safeguard the advantage garnered by illegal migration, a ploy that has the blessings of some political parties?
Finally, detention centres are not concentration camps and not unique to India. In fact, they are present in every sovereign nation including the US, UK and France. A compassionate law meant to provide succour to persecuted minorities from India’s neighbouring Islamic countries has been turned on its head. It has been craftily distorted by violence, misinformation and exploiting insecurity among Muslims to project it as a divisive instrument of hate. It is imperative that those at the forefront of this travesty of truth look at themselves in the mirror: They will be surprised to see a grotesque demon covered with vitriol staring back at them.
The NRC may not be foolproof and warrants further refinement to be more effective, but one thing it is not: an instrument that can be manipulated to discriminate against Muslims. By deliberate misinformation, an ideologically entrenched liberal lobby has wilfully fed into minority paranoia to stoke unwarranted concerns fuelling extremist elements.
US-based academic and political commentator Email: firstname.lastname@example.org