The recent passage by the Indian Parliament (December10/11) of an amendment to its constitution to allow members of minority communities from predominantly Muslim neighbouring countries who are not Muslims to acquire Indian citizenship on easier terms, subject to some conditions, is immoral, invidious and insular.
The amended law only applies to refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who are Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Parsi and Sikh who had entered India before December 31, 2014.
The amendment is the utter repudiation of a longstanding and laudable tradition of authentic Indian and predominantly Hindu heritage and hospitality which has historically accepted waves of different people fleeing other lands or forcing themselves on India. After independence India upheld this history by embracing the principles of secularism, pluralism, inclusiveness and endeavoured to achieve the full participation of all its people regardless of creed, colour, caste or even country of origin.
Two particular icons of India, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B R Ambedkar, who were also perhaps the two principal influences and inspiration for the Indian Constitution reaffirmed the embrace of people of all kinds of stock and slant. It showed a universal spirit of acceptance of myriads of cultural and religious practices demonstrating that a modern India denoted in its essence the eternally free, broadminded and borderless Indian.
The present Citizenship Amendment Bill specifically discriminates against a community that is larger than the Indian population. The discriminatory legislation is actually aimed at a small fraction of the world’s Muslim population but it creates misgivings, suspicions and genuine fears in the minds of a much larger world community that the BJP-run Indian Government discriminates against Muslims. It also places the Muslims in India in an invidious position that the current government of India feels threatened, embarrassed or is uneasy about them and also about a minimal or natural growth in the population of their Muslim compatriots. The passage of this bill will heighten the apprehensions of patriotic Indian Muslims that they are not as equal, integral or as acceptable as Indians who follow other faiths.
My own understanding of the new citizenship provisions is that it is defiantly and definitely engineered by extremist Hindu sentiment. It does not encompass the universal concept of Hinduism which consistently reiterates the manifold paths to enlightenment.
If the extremist impulses which have driven this amendment are unchecked they will turn against other Hindus and other faiths because there is the danger that fringe orthodox right wing extremist forces will always attempt to cleanse Hinduism of perceived shortcomings to build a so-called authentic version of textbook Hinduism. These right wing extremist forces have damaged the inclusive spiritual pluralism of India and their logical trajectory could be to go after perceived threats to Hinduism, which is Hindu pluralism. Then there will be divisions consisting of authentic Hindus, deviant Hindus, discarded Hindus, discredited and possibly massive numbers of dead Hindus. If India is not careful there will be pogroms against some Indians and pressures to prove that they are authentically Indian. History is full of examples of countries and societies rent asunder by controversies and disputes within certain religions over issues of authenticity. India’s highest ideals of Hinduism should protect itself from such chaos and civil strife.
India’s strong secularist outlook must be upheld as a cardinal, irreversible and overarching goal.
While there has occurred a fall in the proportion of the Hindu population within some of India’s geographical neighbours that factor should not have been the basis of consideration for this poorly thought out, seemingly vindictive and vile piece of legislation. Two wrongs do not a right make. It suggests that a street mob accustomed to lynching perceived deviants and minorities and emboldened by that success has now taken over New Delhi and is using its parliamentary strength to undermine the core cosmic values of peace, pluralism, unity, equality, respect, tolerance and the spirit of nonviolence enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
That Constitution was a model for those countries that had become newly independent from the rule of Caucasian powers which had practised indiscriminate pigmentation-based policies. That carefully crafted consensual Constitution has now been desecrated.
South Africa was the only political entity in the then Third world that not only wanted to strengthen and consolidate that White Supremacy but wanted to perpetuate it. The Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference held in London in 1961 had to make a difficult decision on whether apartheid South Africa led by Dr H F Verwoerd would still be part of the Commonwealth after it became a republic in 1961. While they could accept that republics could be part of the Commonwealth with the Queen as their head (the precedent being India in 1949) most Commonwealth countries including Canada, Ghana, India and The Federation of Malaya (as it was then) could not accept apartheid, although it was considered a domestic matter, as it excluded the majority South African population from voting and representative government. This dispute led to South Africa’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth.
Sir Robert Menzies, who was Australia’s prime minister, with intervals, in the 1940s, 50s and 60s in his ‘Afternoon Light’ (1972) reproduces correspondence with Verwoerd on the issue of apartheid being a domestic matter. Australia itself then had a White Immigration policy which Menzies alludes to in his letter to Verwoerd in these words:
“ In Australia, as you know, we have a very strict immigration policy, primarily because we don’t wish to see created in our own country the tremendous racial problems which you have to encounter.”
India does not have that luxury of a homogenous population. The sudden imposition of a strict immigration policy based on religion at this stage signals that India is bent on becoming less of a plural entity where citizens enjoy equal status in a legal, social and cultural sense. It also signals that the current government is under much pressure for celebrating India’s rich diversity.
Undoubtedly the recently passed citizenship amendment is a retrograde and regrettable step.
Generally the Commonwealth countries have had a much better record of handling issues involving minorities. Independence was granted to to entities which had polyglot populations and immigrant communities brought in to serve Britain’s commercial interests.
In 1972 Uganda, a Commonwealth member, for instance, was the focus of negative attention for its expulsion of Asians. Uganda’s military leader, General Idi Amin Dada was a dictator and he had no qualms about expelling Asians as his country was neither a democracy nor a decently administered polity under his rule.
For the first time since 1961, India, the Commonwealth’s most populous country,
a champion and proponent of democracy, universal human rights and the equality of its citizens is today in the spotlight for mishandling a delicate domestic matter but one that concerns all of mankind in a changed and more politically correct international environment.
India has been proud of its diversity and its capacity to treat every citizen as equal.
Is this being changed to allow the mob instincts of makeshift majoritarianism aided by a pliant parliament and a pliable president?
To an outsider it would seem that Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ has temporarily replaced an iconic India’s essential symbolism of a splendid spiritual and humanistic heritage so well encapsulated from the Brihadaranayaka-Upanishad, which provides the closing lines of T S Eliot’s poem, The Wasteland:
“Be charible, Be compassionate and be self controlled “ or, as in the original,
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Dato’ M Santhananaban
Dato Santhananaban is a retired Malaysian Ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of The Independent Singapore. /TISG