Citizenship Amendment Act of India a hope for refugees

Under the narrow definition of justice and minority, the non-Muslim minorities have been facing religious persecution in some of the Muslim nations for decades.

Demonstrators are detained during a protest against a new citizenship law, in Delhi, India, December 19, 2019 (photo credit: DANISH SIDDIQUI/ REUTERS)
Demonstrators are detained during a protest against a new citizenship law, in Delhi, India, December 19, 2019
Do the non-Muslim minorities of Islamic nations have a right to life? Can those minorities be left to their fates, living as refugees in India from decades and unwilling to return to their homeland? And how many more generations should pay the cost of the political neglect of the past?
These were some of the questions before the Indian government when it decided to introduce the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019. After passing with the majority in both houses of the Indian Parliament, the CAB now turned into the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which reflects that despite routine disagreements and differences overall, an element of sensitivity prevails in Indian politics.
At the same time, the nature of the misinformation campaigns and the violent protests that started in different parts of the country after the passing of the bill show that the task of communicating the right information to the masses is becoming more challenging with time.
Some interesting reactions surfaced immediately after the passing of this act, particularly from those same countries from where these minority refugees migrated. Instead of explaining under what conditions these non-Muslim communities were forced to flee from their homes, their political leaders have questioned the move of the Indian government itself. By asserting the concerns on why the Indian government has not included Muslims in the CAA, these reactions have elevated the scale of the problem to a different level. If these Islamic nations can neither protect their minorities nor the majority, then these places are merely safe zones for the radical extremist elements. To deal with the problem of this scale an international call would be needed.
Under the narrow definition of justice and minority, the non-Muslim minorities have been facing religious persecution in some of the Muslim nations for decades. It is a harsh reality of our times that their voices often fail to draw the attention of the global community. Somewhere an urge exists (in parts of mainstream media and academia) that any discussion on minority issues should include the Muslim community, even if the demographic/political realities of a region suggest something else.
India’s Citizenship Act brought new hope to the refugees living in India. The CAA 2019 seeks to grant Indian citizenship to refugees belonging to the six minority communities – Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian – which migrated to India (before December 2014) after facing violent religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, three Muslim-majority nations belonging to India’s immediate neighborhood.
The key fact about the Citizenship Amendment Act is that it is about granting Indian citizenship to the refugees living in India, not revoking any community’s citizenship status. There are already different provisions in the Indian law to grant citizenship to any religious community (including Muslims) on reasonable grounds, and this act does not affect that. In the last five years of the Modi government itself, some 600 Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh were given Indian citizenship. India is home to the world’s second-largest Muslim population, which is living a dignified life. But the situation is completely opposite in India’s neighborhood.
Pakistan, where 96% of the population is Muslim, is not merely an Islamic state, it also is an exporting hub of radical Islamist ideas. Thinking that an Islamic state of such character treats its non-Muslim communities with a better approach is nothing less than a fantasy.
AT THE time of India’s partition in 1947, Pakistan’s non-Muslim population was 23%. Today that has declined to only 3%. Pakistan’s Sikhs and Hindus were brutally killed during the partition riots in 1947 and the situation has not yet improved. News reports regarding forced conversions, kidnappings and suicide attacks on the minorities in Pakistan appear regularly in the media.
According to some reports, from 2013 to 2017 – in the frequent suicide and bomb attacks on Christian churches, schools and other places of community gatherings – close to 200 people have been killed and hundreds severely injured. In the 2009 Gojra riots, seven Christian community members were burned alive and more than 50 houses were set on fire. In 2005, hundreds of Christians were forced to flee their homes when the mob attacked their schools and churches in Faisalabad City.
There are also many reports of how minor girls of Hindu and Sikh communities are frequently abducted, forced to convert to Islam and face sexual harassment. These communities are not allowed to celebrate their religious ceremonies or rites with freedom. The Hindu and Sikh women refugees coming from Pakistan tell stories about widespread fanaticism in the country. Ironically, the same outlets that have reported such incidents in the past are now framing the decision of the Indian government as an “unfair move.”
The scenario in Afghanistan is quite similar, as the constitution of Afghanistan also recognizes Islam as the state religion. The non-Muslim communities of Afghanistan were exploited by Islamic Jihad and Taliban rule. Many Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh families who were living in Afghanistan for generations have fled from their homes due to severe religious violence.
Several Hindu temples, Sikh gurudwaras and Buddhist statues were brutally destroyed. We have witnessed a series of attacks on Buddhist statues in 2001 by the Taliban, which hit statues from the 5th-6th century with anti-tank guns, rockets and dynamite as the helpless world watched for several weeks.
During the debate on the bill in parliament, the home minister of India highlighted the religious persecution of minorities in Bangladesh and said that “after the death of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the situation of minorities got worse,” and “a wave of violence and persecution against minorities started.”
He also mentioned the rapes of 200 Hindu women in the Bhola district of Bangladesh in 2001. According to a 2017 report of the Bangladesh Minority Council, for the past 45 years “a silent ethnic cleansing of Hindus is going on.”
When the Indian Parliament enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act, refugees living in different parts of the country celebrated with joy and expressed their gratitude for the decision of the government.
India is an ancient and continuing civilization. The ideas of “Unity in Diversity” and religious tolerance are part of its cultural national identity. It is the impact of India’s positive image that common people living in its surroundings consider India a place where they can get safe shelter during any kind of religious violence in their homelands, and India has always proved true to their expectations.
The writer promotes advanced technologies, start-up ecosystems and the Indian government’s business and technology-related initiatives.