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Challenging India’s secularism

  • Published at 06:03 pm December 30th, 2019
India CAA bill protest candles
Can India resist BJP’s Hindutva? / REUTERS

And how policies such as the CAA and NRC are making it that much easier

India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is one of the most criticized laws passed this year. 

The CAA states that Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Christian immigrants who have come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh on or before December 31, 2014 will no longer remain illegal immigrants but will be granted Indian citizenship.

The original Citizenship Act of 1955 did not consider religious affiliation as a differentiating factor in the matter of acquiring Indian citizenship. It only required for the applicant to have resided in India for 12 months prior to application, as well as for 11 of the previous 14 years. 

The 2019 amendment of the original act reduces the latter requirement from 11 to six years for individuals from most religious communities.

Except Muslims.

In order to justify this act, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah suggests, with characteristic belligerence, that this act is meant to protect the prosecuted minorities of the aforementioned Muslim-majority states by making it easier for their non-Muslim refugees and illegal immigrants to gain Indian citizenship. 

Expert opinions are against this law. By aiming to support persecuted minorities of non-Muslim backgrounds, the CAA directly ignores the rights of persecuted minorities who are Muslim. 

Experts point out that Article 14 of the Indian constitution aims to maintain equality among citizens of India. By making citizenship acquisition easier for non-Muslim minorities, the Indian government directly violates Article 14 of their own constitution. 

Article 14 also reflects the idea of a secular state, where it remembers the founding principles of India supported by freedom fighters like Subhas Chandra Bose, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, and Mahatma Gandhi, none of whom wanted India to be a religion-based state. 

They imagined an all-inclusive India, a state for all religions. 

This act ignores the founding principles of India as well as its constitution by remaining silent when it comes to the rights of persecuted Muslims, atheists, and other South Asian minorities. With the introduction of policies that discriminate based on religion, India can no longer be called a secular state. 

The Indian government claims that the CAA is the demand of the times, where persecuted minorities of Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Jain backgrounds are facing religious discrimination in their respective Muslim-majority states. 

By introducing the CAA, the Indian government aims to tackle and remove the disadvantages faced by these minorities and at the same time promote their basic rights and ensure their safety. 

However, the problem with the CAA is its exclusion of persecuted South Asian minorities who are from other religious backgrounds, including Muslims. They are also in need of aid and they are also facing discrimination. 

For example, atheists from Muslim-majority states, Tamils from Sri Lanka, and most importantly, the Rohingya from Myanmar. This act selectivity protects some minorities at the cost of ignoring others.

With this law, the Indian government faces a lot of challenges in terms of protecting their economic stability, creating a job market for the Indian people, implementing sustainable growth development, and ensuring rights to all people. 

On the other hand, even though the CAA protects the six above-mentioned minorities -- according to the 6th Schedule of Indian Constitution and Inner Line Permit (ILP) -- the outlined minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan will not take residence in North East India, except in a few areas of Assam. 

Other regions of India are not supporting this law either. 

It is important to raise questions about exactly how policies such as the CAA and NRC would benefit the Indian government.

Farhan Hasan is a law student at Bangladesh University of Professionals.

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