India’s Citizenship Amendment Act: An Insidious Case of Bigotry by Modi

The racist new Indian citizenship law hides behind the skirts of refugee issues but in reality it intends to disempower Muslims in India. We in Pakistan are very fortunate to enjoy our own country’s citizenship. 

The right to citizenship is the right to have other rights, such as the right to vote. However, laced with discrimination, grounded in antipathy, on 11 December 2019, in order to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955, the Parliament of India passed a very controversial new law in the form of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 which will grant Indian citizenship to religious minorities such as Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Parsis, Jains and persecuted Hindus; but which pointedly excludes Muslims. This new citizenship law was championed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and effectively formalized on 12 December by President Ram Nath Kovind. It has been met with large scale protests across India with critics citing it as grossly divisive, exclusivist, discriminatory and likely to further polarise Indian society. Much is being discussed about the increasing possibility of India abandoning its foundational ‘secular structure’ and heading towards a regressive route marked by overt Hindu supremacy following the passing of this the new law.

President of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen Asaduddin Owaisi lambasted the Islamophobic new law, denouncing that ‘We are heading toward totalitarianism, a fascist state…We are making India a theocratic country.’ Acclaimed Indian author Arundhati Roy likened the new law to the 1935 Nuremberg Laws of the Third Reich: ‘Are we going to stand in line once again, obediently, and comply with this policy that eerily resembles the 1935 Nuremberg Laws of the Third Reich? If we do, India will cease to exist. We are faced with the biggest challenge since Independence.’ To provide a bit of historical context to this chilling comparison, it must be noted that the 1935 Nuremberg Laws were predicated on the ‘Protection of German Blood and German Honour.’

The Nazis appropriated the German expression ‘Volksgemeinschaft’ (roughly translating to ‘people’s community’) by tying it to racial-oriented – almost mystically unified – community which was bound by Aryan ancestry. Despite the ambiguity surrounding what it meant to be a ‘true German,’ community ‘outsiders’ (Fremdvölkische) such as Jews, Romanis and Blacks were to be excluded and marginalized in a bid to unite the ‘true Germans’ as ‘national members’ of this idealized community.

The prelude towards the ratification of these laws in Nazi Germany were marked by scores of violence and blatant discrimination against Jews, Blacks and the Romani people. In 1933, a national boycott of Jewish businesses was instituted along with the ‘Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service’ which saw ‘non-Aryans’ excluded from partaking in Germany’s civil services or legal professions. The aftermath of the Nuremberg had devastating consequences for the German Jewish community as it saw the state legitimization of racialism for Germany’s ‘non-Aryans.’ 

In the case of Modi’s India, Pieter Friedrich argues that ‘India’s Citizenship Amendment Bill mirrors those Nazi laws. Instead of segregating people by genetics, it segregates them by religion. It makes religion the basis for citizenship.’ It goes without saying that these are incredibly strong accusations to make. Likening the new law to the egregiously racist anti-Semitic laws which sought to institutionalise discrimination towards ‘non-Aryans,’ one shudders at that alarmingly perceptible parallels observed in the Indian state’s legitimization of discrimination against Muslims. In any event, in order to be reasonable, a law designed to protect those fleeing persecution must apply the same legal standard to everyone regardless of race, religion, nationality and membership of a political group. This is also consistent with the scheme created by the Refugee Convention 1951.

Members of the opposing Congress Party contend that the new law tarnishes India’s name as the ‘largest secular democracy.’ Senior leader of the Congress Party Rahul Gandhi argued that anyone supporting the new law was indirectly ‘destroying India’s foundation.’ The Preamble of the Indian Constitution – namely Article 25 and Article 28 – stresses on the ‘secular’ component of the constitution, emphasizing that ‘it is in this manner the concept of secularism embodied in the constitutional scheme as a creed adopted by the Indian people has to be understood while examining the constitutional validity of any legislation on the touchstone of the Constitution.’ However, an insightful article authored by Professor Pritam Singh named Hindu Bias in India’s ‘Secular’ Constitution: probing flaws in the instruments of governance seeks to challenge the ‘secular consensus’ of the Indian constitution, arguing that it is in fact, inherently ‘Hindu-tainted.’ 

Singh’s painstakingly conducted research delineates the underlying connotations of the Indian constitution, bringing the very notion of secularism into question: ‘The symbolic insertion of “Bharat” in the opening article naming the country; the provisions for strong centralisation supportive of Hindu nationalism; the active intervention of the state to consolidate Hindu identity through reform of the Hindu religion; the definition of “Hindu” supportive of a Hindu assimilative agenda towards Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs; cow protection; pre-eminent status for Hindi in the Devanagari script and special importance for Sanskrit are all features of the constitution which make its secularism seriously Hindu-tainted.’ (Singh, 2005: 921) 

By scrutinising the characteristic edifice of the Constitution, one can see how the BJP effectively found loopholes by which they could shrewdly bypass Article 25 and Article 28 in order to have the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act passed. Does this racist new law come as a surprise? Perhaps not – it was introduced in July 2016, passed by the Lok Sabha in January 2019 and was pending approval but was halted following the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha. After the 17th Lok Sabha’s formation, the path towards the passage of the new law was effectively eased and it was subsequently passed on 11 December.

Following Narendra Modi’s re-election (which saw a dramatic landslide victory) in May 2019, it was only expected that India’s path towards the achievement of a Hindu state would only steadily (if not dramatically) accelerate. Professor Pritam Singh, however, contends that ‘Hindutva in India is widespread and deeply rooted and goes beyond what is represented by the Hindutva group of organisations known as the sangh parivar.’ (Singh, 2005: 921)

What may one make of the fate of secularism in Modi’s India? Is it nearing its unfortunate demise or, as Pritam Singh argues, was the secular edifice merely adorned as a convenient cloak? If one were to reflect on the latter point, could it be argued then that the BJP is, then, simply removing this cloak? This is, perhaps, one of the many existential crises which looms over India as fears remain heightened in an already polarised society. Make no mistake about it, India’s Citizenship Amendment Act is nothing more than a piece of racist legislation, it is an insidious case of bigotry by Modi who is a phenomenal Muslim hater.

Ana Tawfiq Husain is a student at Habib University.

Works used:

Singh, P. (2005). Hindu Bias in India’s ‘Secular’ Constitution: probing flaws in the instruments of governance. Third World Quarterly26(6), 909-926. doi:10.1080/01436590500089281

J.C.Johari — The Constitution of India: A Politico-Legal Study (Greater Noida: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. 2013).

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Filed under Citizenship, Discussion, Human Rights, Immigration, India, Islamophobia, Legislation, Pakistan, Politics, Refugees

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