Sometimes there comes a watershed moment in nation’s history that not only decides its future but also corrects the mistakes of the past. The year 2019 has been one such watershed “moment”, which has seen the course of Indian history being corrected in a decisive manner. Be it the “abrogation” of Article 370, the push to build the Ram temple at Ayodhya and now the Citizenship Amendment Bill (now Act), India is witnessing history unfolding, page by page. Whatever be the “liberal” anxieties about CAB “destroying the Idea of India” i.e. the syncretic nature of India, the fact is that these anxious voices were nowhere to be heard when a Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, made the statement that minorities had the first right to resources, thus ignoring the fact that poverty cut across religious lines. No Idea of India was violated to such people when a community was allowed to maintain their separate religious law—in fact is still being allowed to do so—which resulted in married women being thrown out of their homes on the uttering of three words, “talaq, talaq, talaq”. What happened to syncretic culture when certain minority communities were allowed to maintain their own places of religious worship, while the government retained control of such places belonging to the majority community? Why is it that Right to Education does not apply to educational institutes run by minority communities when no such privilege is accorded to those under the control of the majority community? No amount of pretence about India being religion neutral will change the fact that India was partitioned on the basis of religion, that mass migration did take place, and those who decided to stay back in what became Pakistan, not only became minorities overnight, but were meted out the worst kind of fate possible in a country that took the path of radicalisation. There is also no escaping the fact that the minorities in the three countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh have not enjoyed the kind of freedom that minorities in India have experienced. There is statistical proof of this: while the percentage of the Muslim population in India has increased over the years, there has been a drastic decrease in the percentages of the Hindu population in both Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many of these persecuted Hindus either have fled to India, or have got converted, sometimes forcibly, to Islam to escape leading a subhuman life. The Hindu women—as well as Sikhs and Christians in some cases—have faced the worst kind of violence possible. Their places of worship have been desecrated, their land has been grabbed and they have been made to face terrible communal violence—and all because they are Hindus. If India does not give them shelter, which country in the world will do so?
It’s obvious that the CAB is about protecting the persecuted minorities who have entered India from Muslim majority countries. The bill is not about excluding Indian Muslims. However, there is no denying that the bill is about excluding illegal infiltrators from among the Muslim community. The complaint is that a distinction has been made between religious refugees and infiltrators who have entered this country illegally for economic reasons. But this is not the first time that this distinction has been made. The common complaint among activists in Assam is that right from 1947 this distinction has been made, when Assam, to preserve its own culture and ethnicity wants every illegal migrant branded as infiltrator. There is no doubt that the idea of India is about inclusivity, but in the name of inclusivity the situation should not come to such a pass that demographic changes take place, something that has happened in the border districts of Bengal and Assam. Inclusivity should not lead to a situation where certain religious groups—in this case the Hindus—face an existential threat. Inclusivity does not mean deliberately allowing the changing of demography and creating a vote bank in a cynical attempt to grab power.
The problem of Assam and the rest of the Northeast is of course more delicate and needs to be handled with care. CAB is about protecting religious identity, which is in direct conflict with Assam’s demand for protection of ethnic identity. Large areas of Assam and several of the northeastern states are protected by either by the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution or the Inner Line Permit. What is surprising is that the northeastern states that do not come under CAB are also witnessing violent protests. So it is obvious that politically vested interests are at work in these states. The Central government could have communicated the provisions of the bill to these parts in a much more effective manner. That states like Bengal too are witnessing violence, is because of vote bank reasons. The government’s immediate job is to ensure that the states restore law and order. Also, a major communication drive should be launched to allay fears among the legal citizens of the country about both CAB and National Register of Citizens (NRC), be they majority or minority.