India’s secular fabric should not be torn apart - GulfToday

India’s secular fabric should not be torn apart

Narendra Modi

Anger and worry have been mounting across the country and abroad over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill.

India has for long been known as a vibrant land that set flawless examples in the cherished values of pluralism and unity in diversity, but a controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) being introduced by the Narendra Modi government reeks of a narrow agenda aimed at marginalising the country’s 200 million Muslims.

With secularism under strain, anger and worry have been mounting across the country and abroad.

Major opposition parties have already dubbed the move an attempt to “kill secularism and Constitution of India”, “another attempt of partition” in the country in the name of religion and “violation of Article 14 of the Constitution.”

Calling the legislation “a dangerous turn in wrong direction,” a federal panel on religion has even urged the United States to weigh sanctions against India’s Home Minister Amit Shah if the nation adopts legislation to exclude Muslims from a path to citizenship for religious minorities from its neighbours.

The measure goes against India’s constitution, which guarantees legal equality to people of all faiths, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has stated.

Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi too has described the move as an attack on the Constitution and affirmed that anyone who supports the Bill is attempting to destroy the foundation of India.

India’s lower house passed the bill following a fiery debate that saw one member of parliament compare the government to the Nazis.

On Monday, almost 1,200 scientists and scholars at institutions in India and abroad published a joint letter expressing their “dismay” at the legislation, saying the constitution called for members of all faiths to be treated equally.

The legislation, set to go before the upper house, will fast-track citizenship claims from immigrants from three neighbouring countries — but not if they are Muslim.

Therein lies a blatant bias that raises serious questions about attempts to rip apart the country’s treasured secular ethos.

Once law, it will make it much easier for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians fleeing Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to become Indians.

Modi’s government says Muslims from these three countries are excluded because they can choose to go to other Muslim countries.

Also excluded are other minorities fleeing political or religious persecution elsewhere, such as Tamils from Sri Lanka, Rohingya from Myanmar and Tibetans from China.

Under Modi, several cities perceived to have Islamic-sounding names have been renamed, while some school textbooks have been altered to downplay Muslims’ contributions to India.

In August, his administration rescinded the partial autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, and split it into two.

People in northeast India too are furious, fearing that large numbers of Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, who they say are intruders, will swamp their homeland.

That’s not all.

Amit Shah has stoked further fears among India’s Muslims with his aim to conduct a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) that he says will see all “infiltrators” identified and “expelled” by 2024.

This is the first time India is weighing religion in granting citizenship, although it must first pass the upper house of parliament, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party lacks a majority.

The government’s defence of the bill, saying it was only aimed at flushing out infiltrators, does not hold water.

The government’s approach makes it obvious that it is attempting to divert people’s attention away from a slowing economy and other issues.

Actions that undermine the secular foundations of India’s democracy should be discouraged and contested by all peace-loving people.