New Citizenship Law to a "Brazenly Divisive Agenda"
WOULD Malala Yousafzai make the grade for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's
high-octane promise of citizenship for a select few - a violent and divisive reality being breathed
into life by the heavily disputed Citizenship Amendment Act? No, she wouldn't
(not that she craves Indian citizenship under Modi's watch.) Malala - left for
dead by men often shored up by the state - would be shut out, despite a
near-fatal shooting by extremists. All on account of her identity as Muslim.
about Junaid Hafeez? Wasn't he handed the death
sentence last week by a Pakistani court for alleged
blasphemy? Barring an appeal, he would be hanged by the state, with private
operators just as eager to put him to the sword. Junaid is one of a steady
stream of intellectuals targeted by fellow Muslim adjuncts of the state and
private zealots. It may not have any meaning for Modi, but Junaid, an erudite
lecturer, was apparently targeted by extremists over an opening at the
university where they wanted their own to be placed instead. Junaid's gritty
and tireless lawyer Rashid Rehman was brutally murdered days before Mr Modi
became prime minister in May 2014. Fanatics threatened him for defending
Junaid. The lawyer remained committed to his cause.
former Punjab governor Salman Taseer's murder is
equally precariously placed against the poisoned chalice of the Indian
citizenship law. His security guard gunned down Taseer for defending Aasia
Bibi, a poor Christian woman accused of blasphemy. Aasia was convicted by a
Pakistani court for a crime she denied committing. Luckily, she was freed by
the Supreme Court, left the country with the help of well-meaning officials and
now lives peacefully in Canada. Aasia stands 'protected' under Modi's law of
citizenship, extended only to Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and
Zoroastrians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Taseer being Muslim,
would fail to qualify.
insult to injury, Aatish Taseer, (his son with an Indian journalist) was
stripped of his rights as a non-resident Indian recently. A New York-based
journalist-author, Aatish had called Mr Modi out in a Time magazine cover
story, a departure from his mother's flattering write-ups. The debate surrounding
Aatish losing his rights as a person of Indian descent could be elevated to one
with a higher purpose though. Not discussed enough is that laws governing
citizenship in India are pointedly patriarchal. Consider the fact that in the
case of couples with mixed nationalities, it is the father's origins that count
for their offspring's claim to citizenship in India, an abominably anti-women
assertion, and one that's worth questioning.
Muslims are excluded from India's promised citizenship bonanza. That's the
nature of the communal beast. Bangladesh has had its share of fine people
falling to violence inflicted by religious extremists. India says it wants to
help. However, if the survivor happens to be Asif Mohiuddin, a self-described 'militant atheist', what then? Asif was stabbed viciously by bigots but he
survived. Ahmed Rajib Haider's body, on the other hand, was found mutilated in
Dhaka, a victim of Islami Chhatra Shibir, a students' front of the country's
Jamaat-i-Islami. On Feb 26, 2015, Dr Avijit Roy, ostensibly a Hindu, and his
wife Bonya Ahmed, apparently a Muslim, both US citizens, were attacked with
machetes. Roy died but his wife survived. Another oddity in Modi's mission for
those that need to be saved from persecution are the Ahmedis of Pakistan. They
are missing from the Indian list even though Pakistan doesn't regard them as
in Afghanistan and the Rohingya in Myanmar abutting north-eastern India are
another set of people who belong to the Muslim faith, are persecuted, and
denied equality before the new Indian law because of how they identify. While
it was Nehru who gave sanctuary to Tibetan Buddhists fleeing communist rule in
China, Mr Modi is wont to take credit for it. What he won't do is speak up for
the Muslims in China who are being sent en masse to re-education camps. Bullies
are cowards, and the BJP is no stranger to the aphorism.
region that mocks India's mealy-mouthed citizenship overtures is Nepal. The
erstwhile Hindu kingdom has become a thriving secular democracy after
overthrowing a theocratic monarchy in a bloody struggle, a monarchy that had
the support of India's Hindu right. Run by its majority Hindus, Nepal has given
sanctuary to Indians escaping political tyranny for centuries. That impoverished
landlocked nation has displayed a large-hearted variant of Hinduism by
providing succour to Muslims from India. The icon of the 1857 revolt against
British rule, Begum Hazrat Mahal, lies buried in Kathmandu where she got
sanctuary from the Hindu ruler of the time.
new laws are blatantly not about 'helping people in distress'. Violently
disrupting lives woven into the fabric of India on religious and ethnic grounds
points to a brazenly divisive agenda.
protests led by students of every ethnic and ideological stripe sweep India,
fatalities from police action are multiplying. The protesters know that the new
law flows from a costly clerical error. The Modi government had planned to
evict Muslim 'termites' from Assam using the National Register of Citizens. The
NRC was meant to identify 'illegal immigrants', delete their names from the
register, and expel them to goodness knows where. The government then
threatened to expand the NRC to the entire country. The NRC in Assam, however,
trapped manifold more Hindus than Muslim migrants. The citizenship law was thus
proposed as a return ticket for those erroneously earmarked for expulsion by
the NRC filter. Only Muslims would be handed a one-way passage.
one glitch in the plot though. The Jharkhand assembly election results coming
in suggest that the new law has boomeranged on the BJP in the electoral
theatre. And that's a useful hint that Mr Modi's persistence with divisive
politics may be running out of steam.
writer is a Dawn's correspondent in Delhi.