South Asian Insider
The protesters have got it wrong. Understand the logic of the CAA
The Centre must continue explaining the law; the opponents must engage in rational discussion The protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have been so emotive that it has been impossible to have a rational discussion on it. Many of the protesters seem to have a deep suspicion of the government's motives, to the extent that they do not bother to properly engage on the CAA's history or rationale. Yet, it is crucially important to do so, with cool heads and reason. While opponents believe the CAA is biased, it is, in fact, not uncommon to identify religious minorities as facing serious threats in their home countries. For instance, the Barack Obama administration had identified a community of Iraqi Christians as facing genocide, many of whom found refuge in the United States. That is exactly the case with the religious minorities in these three neighbouring, theistic nations - Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. By definition, theistic states' constitutions grant primacy to one religion. While we can engage in rhetoric about what constitutes genocide, and how to ascertain whether refugees have been persecuted, there is no denying the non-stop reports of these people being subjected to kidnappings, forcible conversions and marriages, and murders. Finally, that their share of these nations' population has collapsed, from well above 20% to the low single digits, should be proof enough. Since most of these populations were part of undivided India, there is a moral obligation incumbent on us to shelter them from the genocide they are experiencing. In fact, that is explicit in the many utterances of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and others. Many opponents of the CAA seem to have reacted to appearances of bias, rather than thinking it through, let alone going deep into its history and logic. Why, some ask, should it not include Muslims? The reason is that this particular scheme of sanctuary - notably supported by Manmohan Singh and others in earlier years - is specifically to provide shelter to persecuted minorities in neighbouring theistic states. Though it would be odd to include Muslims in this specific scheme, because they are the majority, and also have constitutional primacy in these theistic states, there is nothing in the CAA that otherwise prevents them from seeking Indian citizenship. In fact, during the Narendra Modi government, 600 such Muslims from neighbouring countries have become naturalised Indians. The underlying principle of the CAA is that, globally, persecuted refugees are inherently seen as deserving more accommodation than illegal immigrants, who are mainly seeking economic opportunities. While political, sectarian and economic discrimination are all matters of concern, religious persecution is even worse. It is on this basis that India accepted thousands who were forced out of Uganda, not to mention the millions who escaped civil war in the then East Pakistan. But then, what about Ahmadiyas or Shias or Sri Lankans Hindus or Rohingyas? Again, this is worth thinking through, rather than automatically assuming that their exclusion must indicate bias. While these categories of people may indeed face some political or sectarian discrimination, it is not the constitutional, fundamental, systemic degradation that the religious minorities have experienced in those theistic countries. To top it all, there is something about the idea of Muslims wanting Indian citizenship on the grounds of facing discrimination in Islamic countries, which were carved out of India to give them a religious homeland, that is galling to many. The violence accompanying many of the protests seems to have ebbed. It was appalling to see some sections of protesters unabashedly indulging in arson and vicious attacks on police. On their part, the police have largely exercised restraint, to the extent of mostly not retaliating despite themselves suffering gruesome injuries. Nevertheless, in their taking the steps necessary to stop the situation from spiralling, there have been terrible casualties. To be sure, not all the protesters have been violent, and have included many students, activists and others. But there is simply no denying the large number of attacks by lumpen mobs, many clearly quite clueless what they are agitated about, who are undoubtedly being incited by certain vested interests. The Supreme Court (SC) was correct in declining to immediately intervene on police action, insisting that the violence by a section of the protesters must first be curbed. Whether the police were right to have gone inside a university in hot pursuit of a violent mob may be examined in due course, but the first order of priority must always be to maintain law and order. Subsequently, there have been large rallies in support of the CAA. Nevertheless, its opponents have expanded their targets, extending the protests to both a possible National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the decadal Census-related National Population Register (NPR). Though space constraints prevent a detailed, objective, and rational discussion on the NRC and the NPR in this edition of Plain Speaking, clearly much of the angst of opponents is based simply on suspicion of the government's motives. The government must increase its ongoing efforts to communicate the history and the rationale behind these issues too, not to mention its own bonafides. And indeed, that is happening, with the home minister himself repeatedly clarifying the facts. But equally, opponents must also engage in rational discussion, not just rhetoric. Most importantly, they must introspect what their position might be, purely on the merit of the issues, and not merely on who is advocating them.
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