The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 makes the provision to provide citizenship to all the religiously persecuted minorities of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh — Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and Christians. The only notable omission here is Muslims. The government believes that since these three countries are Muslim-majority states, there is no question of Muslims being persecuted there. Also, if some Muslim groups like Ahmadiyas in Pakistan are being persecuted, that persecution is based on ‘sectarian lines’ and not on ‘religious lines’.
This explanation would have been largely accepted by people without questioning the intention of government had Home Minister Amit Shah not chronologically explained the linkage between CAA and National Register for Citizens (NRC). The process of NRC was first implemented in Assam: About 1.9 million people couldn’t find their names in the register of citizens after the process of NRC was done. Of these 1.9 million people, a staggering 1.4 million were found to be Hindus.
Therefore, CAA, which was passed as an Act of Parliament in December 2019, paves the way for anyone (except Muslims) whose names don’t feature in the NRC if they claim that they have been persecuted as a religious minority in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan. This above-mentioned argument is stated and disseminated among the masses by the BJP’s political opponents.
The BJP had not expected so many Hindus to be left out of the register because the popular perception was that illegal immigrants from Bangladesh had kept entering India since 1971, many of whom got their documents of citizenship made over the years through corrupt means by bribing local politicians. This mass influx of immigrants from Bangladesh changed the social demography of the area, as claimed by locals in Assam.
So, the argument used by the BJP’s political opponents led to the formation of anti-CAA-NRC fronts throughout India; they genuinely believe that those who wouldn’t be able to prove their citizenship in the countrywide NRC process would get a backdoor entry via the provisions of CAA, except Muslims. This is exactly the point where Muslims feels threatened to lose their citizenship and find this combination of CAA and NRC discriminatory in its nature and character.
Those who argue in support of NRC and CAA say that all this leads back to the unfinished trauma of India’s Partition; while in India all religions thrived post-Partition, in Pakistan and the later-day Bangladesh Hindu population dwindled over the decades. The supporters of CAA believe that this Act when enacted properly will help undo this historical wrong. Two years have passed since CAA was notified on 12 December 2019 and came into force on 10 January 2020, but for all practical purposes, this law remains largely defunct.
Scholars have been arguing that a large section of Hindi-speaking Hindus has become radicalised lately, but the opponents of this view believe that this radicalisation is in reaction to radicalised Islamist groups that through their brute force and majority have done immense harm to Hindus. Kashmir, for instance, has been the only Muslim-majority state in India and there three decades ago Kashmiri Pandits were pushed out of the Valley, thereby changing the entire social demography of the region. No other state has seen such a mass exodus of people.
The supporters of CAA argue how minorities are persecuted in areas where Muslims are overwhelmingly in majority. They cite the examples of Kashmir in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and large portions of Middle East, where they say there is no space for secularism. The Shariah law is practised in many of these countries. People from non-Abrahamic faiths, which include Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, etc, are called ‘Kafirs’. The CAA supporters ask why the onus of secularism, creating brotherhood with other communities lies with Hindus alone. All these arguments are referred to as Hindu Right-wing argument, Sanghi arguments or Islamophobic arguments, but mere name calling won’t change the psyche of the masses. Civil society, media and politicians have failed resoundingly to counter these arguments with logic.
One needs to understand that the Hindu-Muslim divide is not just on the political level but also penetrated across the country. People are not ready to forget the trauma of Partition, exodus of Hindus in Kashmir, changing demography in places in the Northeast, etc. Also, the two Muslim nation-states carved out of India — Pakistan and Bangladesh — are constant reminders of a traumatic past, a past whose pain still hurts many in India. Time has come to look at the issue holistically.
The writer is a Doctoral Fellow at School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.