Amid the protests, spare a thought for the persecuted

Amid the protests, spare a thought for the persecuted

India's new law on Citizenship has been introduced to offer asylum in India to persecuted minorities; it is about protecting human rights, not taking them away, writes India Inc. Founder & CEO Manoj Ladwa.

The world must be watching with somewhat mild bemusement as protests against the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) hit the headlines, but amid the shrill sloganeering it is important not to lose perspective of what lies at the core of the new legislation.

The tenets of India's nationhood are the envy of the world, including its democracy and pluralism. However, what is not the envy of the world is its poverty and hitherto lacklustre security. The Narendra Modi government's latest move is an attack on those very evils and nothing more and nothing less. It is intended to help create the stability that can offer the world the further confidence to invest in what has often been characterised as a bright spot in the global economy.

Mis-information campaign

Unfortunately, there has been a veritable 'mis-information campaign' on the new law. The CAA does not affect any Indian citizen, including Muslim citizens. It has absolutely nothing to do with any Indian citizen in any way. Indian citizens enjoy Fundamental Rights conferred on them by the Constitution of India. No statute including the CAA can abridge or take that away. Since the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) 2019 became law, it has received some of the most ill-informed and irresponsible - even biased - coverage possible.

The headlines are alarmist. They seem to suggest that India's largest minority, the Muslims, are being disenfranchised. Some reports even suggest that the new law will deprive Muslims of their Indian citizenship. This is a motivated lie being spread by some Indian politicians and an influential section of the Indian and foreign media. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The background

The Indian government has brought in a new legislation to modify its asylum policy to accommodate persecuted minorities in neighbouring countries. The operative words here being 'persecuted minorities in neighbouring countries'.

The law fast tracks Indian citizenship for Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Hindus in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Since these countries are all constitutionally Islamic republics, there is no question of Muslims being either persecuted because of their religions or being minorities. Hence, the classification. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a valid point when asked about the issue during his India visit for the 2+2 US India Dialogue this week: "We care deeply and always will about protecting minorities and religious rights everywhere. We honour Indian democracy as they have a robust debate on the issue."

No disenfranchisement

The CAA grants citizenship; there is no provision in it to take away citizenship from or deny its concomitant benefits to Muslims or any other class of people. It must also be noted that this law is not an over-arching refugee policy. India remains open to refugees of all religions and ethnicities, including Muslims. An inconvenient fact that none of the writers of the recent alarmist reports on the new law have mentioned is that more than 600 Muslims from Pakistan have been granted Indian citizenship over the past few years.

This law is an attempt to aid the hundreds of thousands of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Afghan people who have managed to flee from the religious persecution they faced back home and somehow found their way to India.

The numbers tell a story

Look at the numbers: Afghanistan had 200,000 Sikhs two decades ago. Now there are only a few hundreds. Most of them have wound up in India as stateless people. Similarly, there are thousands of such stateless people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin in India. At Independence, 12.9 per cent of Pakistanis were Hindu. That figure, according to Pakistani census figures, is down to 1.6 per cent now. The corresponding figures for Bangladesh are 24 per cent in 1947 versus less than 10 per cent at present. In India, Muslims, who constituted 14 per cent of the population at Independence have actually grown to 15 per cent now.

The CAA, thus, gives the persecuted minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan legal protection to make a new beginning. And, whilst the Opposition indulges in the most grotesque form of political point-scoring, spare a thought for these persecuted minorities who have a genuine need for sanctuary and certainty.

They seem to have conveniently forgotten former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's address to the Upper House of the Indian Parliament on the subject in 2003, during which he made an impassioned plea for these very minorities.

“After the Partition of our country, the minorities in countries like Bangladesh, have faced persecution, and it is our moral obligation that if circumstances force people, these unfortunate people, to seek refuge in our country, our approach to granting citizenship to these unfortunate persons should be more liberal," Dr Singh said at the time.

It isn't Carte Blanche

But mind you. The new law is not a free ticket for any resident of those countries to get Indian citizenship. There is a cut-off date - 31 December 2014. What this implies is that the law is a regularisation process. It facilitates the grant of fast track citizenship to people already resident in India. Fresh entrants will not get any benefits under this statute nor will those who are purely and obviously economic migrants.

The US and some European countries granted fast track citizenship to Jews, but not other religious denominations, after the Second World War. That was the right thing to do - just as CAA is the need of the hour now.

Correcting a historical wrong

A deep-rooted and completely neglected humanitarian crisis has been festering in India's neighbourhood since Independence. India has borne the brunt of the steady human influx from those countries. But the biggest victims have been the refugees themselves - persona non grata in their land of birth, they are stateless people in their adopted country. The new law is an attempt to treat them fairly. No one should grudge them that.

ManojManoj Ladwa is the Founder and Chairman of India Inc. Group.

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