Homogenizing India: The Citizenship Debate

CapitolBeatOK Editor’s Note: Our contributing writer Dr. Nyla Ali Khan, respected professor at Rose State College in Midwest City and the University of Oklahoma in Norman, continues to shine light on the unfolding tragedy in the Kashmir region, recently the target of unwise and uncharitable actions from the government of India. A new Indian law provides refuge to some religious minorities, but ignores adherents of Islam who decry the treatment of their brethren (from, it must be noted, diverse branches of the Muslim world). This new law, in Dr. Nyla’s view and that of many others, has eroded the secular fabric of India. 

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has expressed concerns about the new Indian law, which we candidly share. Any serious examination of the world situation will bring compassionate consideration to the plight of the Uighur Muslims of China and the Rohingya Muslims of Burma. Further, soon the sympathetic eyes of Americans not yet aware of circumstances on the ground will find themselves attentive to the oppressed Ahmadi and Shia Muslims of Pakistan, as well as the Hazaras of Afghanistan. Yet, the new Indian government actions ignore these people, basing citizenship on religious identity. We offer for the consideration of Oklahomans of all political stripes Dr. Nyla’s recent analysis. Her words follow immediately: 

The federal government of India has yet to realize its obligations toward minorities.

India’s progress will be greatly hindered unless the federal government as well as the majority community assure minorities that their honor, liberty, and rights will be fully protected.
In a diverse country, it is not only for the majority community to approve laws, but the minority community should also feel that constitutional amendments and laws will bring peace, security, and honor to them as well.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which has been ratified by the Lower House of the Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha), but has yet to be ratified by the Upper House of the Parliament (Rajya Sabha), brings to the fore forces of fundamentalism with unabated vigor.

The CAB seeks to give citizenship to only non-Muslim religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, who are supposedly fleeing persecution. It does not accord the same privilege to Muslim minorities, who might be fleeing religious persecution as well.

In effect, the Citizenship Amendment Bill flouts the principle of secularism and rights relating to life, liberty, and freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution for non-Muslims and Muslims alike.

In the aftermath of Independence and Partition in 1947, administrative decrees exacerbated the religious divide. For instance, in September 1947, the government of India established the Military Evacuation Organization to get Hindus and Sikhs out of Pakistan in an organized and efficient fashion. This severance politicized not just religious identities but linguistic identities as well.

As Chandra Chatterjee points out in Surviving Colonialism (2002), “Democracy is India is itself protest-ridden. Ethnic and religious minorities protest against the singular definition of ‘nation.’ The politically marginalized groups protest against inadequate representation in government policies” (7-8).

For instance, in both Kashmir and Tamil Nadu the issue of a separate identity to counter internal authoritarianism has resurfaced in contemporary times with an unparalleled ferocity.

In 2019, Prime Minister Modi’s government is deliberately fostering religious and cultural differences in its efforts to create homogeneous subjects of state.
The politics practiced by Modi’s BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party – BJP), which necessitates a rejection of pluralism and a rich cultural heritage, needs to be challenged. The diversity of India is in danger of being neutralized within a nationalist polity that destroys the nuances woven by religious, cultural, and linguistic differences.

Note: Dr. Nyla Ali Khan contributes essays to publications around the world, including CapitolBeatOK and The City Sentinel newspaper in Oklahoma City.