Time to understand the CAA, with reason
Emotions cloud the mind and hijack reason. They’re powerful. It’s futile to attempt debate without addressing emotions. For they must subside for the mind to work. Around the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), heightened emotions are ripping asunder social compacts. I was heartbroken by the cruel words used by some Hindus on the great cricketer Irfan Pathan’s twitter timeline. Irfan jaise watan ke wafaadaar pe shaque karna adharma hai (It is sacrilege to doubt the loyalty of Pathan — a proud son of this nation). Equally, as an idol worshipper, I was outraged by some of the sloganeering at Jamia Milia Islamia such as: “All idols will be removed and only Allah’s name will remain”. These words may belong to Pakistani poet Faiz, but to hear them in India, which has suffered horrific iconoclastic violence by barbaric fanatics such as Mahmud Ghazni, Sikandar Butshikan and Aurangzeb, is cruel. These heightened emotions have led to heartrending violence. We must calm down; we are all children of Mother India. Every other identity we carry is of lesser consequence than this.
Calming down will also open space for reasoned debate on this amendment to our Citizenship Act. It must be understood that all it does is open an accelerated path to citizenship for minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who have already sought refuge in India before December 2014. This does not close the door on the Muslim majority in these three republics. They can seek refuge in India as per the existing standard process. Individuals such as Adnan Sami have applied for and received Indian citizenship. In 2015, India granted citizenship to nearly 15,000 Bangladeshis, mostly Muslims as a part of the Land Boundary Agreement. So why was this amendment necessary for the minorities (Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis) of the three Muslim-majority republics of the subcontinent? Because they face extinction-level persecution. It’s the same principle on which refuge was given to Jews during the Nazi era or Yezidis during Islamic State rule in Syria.
Countries that offered this refuge were not perfect in their treatment of minorities. The United States gave refuge to many Yezidis, but their treatment of African-Americans is a work-in-progress. Also, these countries did not “establish fairness” by offering a similar accelerated path to citizenship to everyone from beleaguered Syria.
So what was the principle here? That all minority rights, like equality, protecting language/culture, are built on a very fundamental right: the Right-to-Life. If minorities are wiped out, through mass-murder, forced conversions, expulsions, all other rights become redundant. Has the Right-to-Life of the minorities in Pakistan been attacked, and has extreme oppression been a long-term State pogrom, rather than short-term politics of a particular regime (in which the external world could interfere and help)? Base your judgment on data. Minorities are disappearing fast in these three subcontinental Muslim-majority Republics. According to the Pakistani scholar Farahnaz Ispahani, around 1947, minorities comprised 23% of the West & East Pakistan population. This has now fallen to 3% in Pakistan (former West Pakistan), and a little over 9% in Bangladesh (former East Pakistan). The greatest fall occurred in 1971, when 3 million Bangladeshis, mostly Hindus, were massacred by the Pakistani army. Extrapolate the reduced percentage of minorities to the present population, and there are over 60 million missing Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and other minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
In 1950, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru signed the Nehru-Liaquat pact with Pakistani PM Liaquat Ali Khan, in which India promised to look after its Muslim minority and Pakistan, its non-Muslim minority. India has honoured its half of the pact. During this period, the population proportion of Muslims in India has increased from under 10% to over 14%. But in Pakistan & Bangladesh, perhaps one of the biggest ethnic cleansings of the past century has occurred with 60 million fewer minorities than there should have been.
This amendment attempts to protect six besieged minorities from extinction. It does not prevent individual refugees from the Muslim communities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan from continuing to come to India through the normal process, which many Afghan Muslims have already done. And it certainly does not affect any Indian citizen, Muslims included. All claims to the contrary are false.
To criticise India for this amendment would be akin to criticising those countries that specifically took in Jews in the mid-20th century to save them from extinction, by claiming it as an anti-Christian act.
Surprisingly, none are questioning the Muslim-majority republics in the subcontinent for the 60 million missing minorities. Bangladesh and Afghanistan are at least working at protecting their remaining minorities now. But Pakistan’s record is for all to see.
Lies travel half way around the world before truth can even get its shoes on. Misinformation around this amendment has claimed lives. Property has been destroyed indiscriminately. This is appalling. According to the Joint Committee of the Indian Parliament, only a little over 30,000 Hindus (mostly backward caste and Dalits), Christian, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis will immediately benefit from this amendment, and that too after rigorous vetting from Indian security agencies. Persecuted Muslims from these three nations can continue to come into the arms of Mother India as per the standard individual process. Now what would you say to those who say that India is losing its secular ways, while at the same time ignoring the burning issue of 60 million missing minorities in the three Muslim-majority republics of the Indian subcontinent?
Truth must be told. With calmness. But it must be told.
Amish is an award-winning bestselling author and a diplomat based in London. @authoramish
The views expressed are personal