In this era of globalization and open market economy, communal stability is a key element towards the development of a nation or a zone. But throughout the world, we are experiencing a negative mark in this area. Especially if we look into the South and Southeast Asia region, the situation is very alarming and the activities of South Asian giant India is making the situation worse with their new citizenship act which challenges secularism by injecting religion into national policy. Everyday thousands of people are being victims of religious persecution in this region and it will not be wrong to say that this will definitely hurt the economy and growth of the bloc in totality. Hence, the leaders must soon realize the critical impact of this new destructive trend over the stature of this bloc and must act to establish communal harmony.
The current Indian BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah has taken several drastic steps which willingly or unwillingly has disturbed the communal harmony of the region. The recent citizenship act by the Indian government has raised huge criticism and questions as the world’s largest democracy has erupted in protest. From Kolkata and Guwahati in the east to Mumbai in the west, and from New Delhi in the north to Chennai and Hyderabad in the south, tens of thousands of protesters across India are voicing their opposition to this controversial new citizenship law.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, which passed both houses of parliament recently and then was signed into law by India’s president, allows persecuted minorities a fast-track route to Indian citizenship. The law applies to immigrants from nearby Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who are Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Zoroastrian, or Buddhist. Muslims, however, are not included–even if they are Ahmadis, members of a sect of Islam that Pakistan considers heretical. Nor does the law apply to other persecuted minorities in the region, such as Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, or Uighur Muslims in China.
The law isn’t truly about protecting the region’s religious minorities. Instead, it challenges India’s secularism by making religion part of the basis for citizenship. While Muslims are not mentioned by name, they are highlighted by their obvious exclusion. The top leaders of the ruling BJP deny that the bill discriminates against Muslims. But BJP President Amit Shah has repeatedly made clear his desire to crack down on Muslim immigrants and to throw them out. For that, first, you have to identify them.
That’s where the National Register of Citizens comes in. In September, 1.9 million residents of northeastern Assam state learned their names were excluded from the register because they didn’t have documentation proving their citizenship. Many of those excluded from Assam’s register were Hindus. But with the new citizenship act, Hindus can potentially claim they are immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan and gain a route to citizenship. Muslims, on the other hand, could be at risk of being declared foreigners if they can’t produce documentation.
Shah has said he will extend the National Register of Citizens from Assam to the entire country. There’s every reason to believe he will succeed as a nationwide citizens’ register was part of the BJP’s campaign manifesto. Since his re-election in May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has relentlessly ticked off items on his social agenda, including revoking Kashmir’s autonomous status. All of this, critics allege, is part of the BJP’s master plan to turn India into a Hindu state, reducing the status of the country’s nearly 200 million Muslims.
If we look into the current oppression over the Muslims in India, then we might find some strong reasons at the core of BJP’s policy. The percentage of Muslims among the population of India has significantly increased during the last few decades. Because of higher birth rate, the percentage of Muslims in India has risen from about 10% in 1951 to 14% by 2013 and it has obviously kept increasing till now. The Muslim population growth rate was higher by more than 10% of the total growth compared to that of Hindus.
Moreover, as the education especially technology based education has become an open opportunity in today’s world the Muslim youths are getting more and more chance of competitive education. Hence, they are getting placed at different important positions in all job sectors. It has become impossible to deny the opportunities to the Muslims and that obviously caused trauma for the BJP which has always kept Hinduism at the core of its politics for ages. Their drastic actions in Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and now at every corner of the country can hence be driven from the intent to keep the Hinduism well-protected in India. But their actions are hurting the Hindus as much as the Muslims today.
It seems like there is a strong question over the secularism in India and the answer to that question will well determine whether India will remain the secular republic envisioned by its founding fathers or if it casts itself in the image of its neighbour and becomes a Hindu Pakistan. By excluding Muslims, the Citizenship Act infringes on articles of the Indian constitution which guarantee equality before the law and prohibit discrimination on religious grounds. The bill is an infringement of the Indian constitution, which, under Article 14, guarantees not just “equality before the law” but also “equal protection of the laws” of the country. Further, Article 15 prohibits the state from discriminating against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
The Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, argues that Muslims were not included in the bill because they could not have faced religious persecution in those Muslim-majority countries and thus would have come to India of their own volition as economic migrants. This is specious logic as the bill does not cover around 60,000 Tamil Hindus, Christians and Muslims who fled Sri Lanka during the civil war. There has also been a large influx of Rohingya Muslims into India due to religious persecution by Buddhists in neighbouring Myanmar. But this justification did not do well as the bill has resulted in widespread protests in India and condemnation from other parts of the world. India is already facing an international outcry after it abrogated Article 370, which gave special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill will further damage the country’s reputation internationally.
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has criticized the bill for being “fundamentally discriminatory” while the US’s federal Commission for International Religious Freedom has called for sanctions against India’s home minister and other top leaders for “creating a religious test for Indian citizenship that would strip citizenship from millions of Muslims”.
At a time when the government of India has planned a year-long series of activities to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the country is moving away from its rich tradition of cultural pluralism and syncretism. For centuries, India has given sanctuary to all people persecuted on grounds of religion, from Jews and Christians to Parsis and Bohra Muslims. Sadly, they are we now moving away from Gandhi’s secular India to an Orwellian state.
India was moving towards becoming one of the superpowers of the world based on its economy and competitiveness in all aspects. But it is disheartening that these ongoing issues will definitely hurt the democratic practices and economy of India. Though not expressed, we believe they are already facing a lot of challenges in this aspect.
Bangladesh, another South Asian country, is facing huge pressure from around one million Rohingya refugees, who fled from their home country Myanmar and took shelter on the Bangladeshi soil. These Rohingyas are mostly Muslims and were religiously persecuted as they were brutally tortured in their motherland by the Myanmar Army and their Buddhist allies. It was sheer generosity of the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as she opened the Bangladeshi border on completely humanitarian ground to save thousands of lives. But Myanmar is showing no clear intent for their repatriation despite diplomatic efforts. Bangladesh has upheld the motto of communal harmony during the last decade but its humanitarian consideration should not turn into a burden.
Pakistan, also another South Asian country, is also facing turbulences since its inception based on religious grounds. The country was even formed on the basis of religion. Being an Islamic country, it has been tangled in its own fascism related problems and ever remained in dispute with its greatest neighbour India. And now India also unfortunately seems to be moving towards that fascist posture. Sri Lanka has also religion and caste based issues.
Not only South Asia but also in other blocs of the world religious discrimination is being evident. US President Donald Trump is well-known in this context if we consider his openness of religiously discriminatory expression. He has not only showed disrespect for the Muslims but also for the Latin American people on several occasions. Moreover, few European countries also acted harsh over the Muslims. The Arab countries are divided among themselves over different sects of Muslims. Religious victimization is also taking place at different African nations as well as in China. But from all aspects the current scenario of South Asia and especially India remains extreme.
The last few decades globally were focused on humanity, women empowerment and gender equality, poverty alleviation, climate change and geological preservation, infrastructural excellence etc. Countries like; Bangladesh and India has performed well on those areas. Now, countries like China is working on ‘Ecological Civilization’ which involves a synthesis of economic, educational, political, agricultural, and other societal reforms toward sustainability. In contrast, India and even Myanmar is moving backward. We hope countries like India realizes the need for communal equality and stability for the welfare of their own and also that of this region so that we all and especially humanity can sustain.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)