India must not roll back citizenship law in the face of violent protests

The ongoing violent protests in some parts of India against a new citizenship law are a gross insult to more than 33,000 non-Muslims who fled there from neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to escape religious persecution over the years.

The Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) is not an all-encompassing law to address every issue related to citizenship. Its objective is limited and applies to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis who were discriminated, tortured and raped as minorities in the three Islamic countries mentioned.

These people living in various refugee camps in India are hoping to live a life with dignity once CAA is implemented.

Every Indian who opposes persecution of any kind and believes in human values should have wholeheartedly welcomed it. But the so-called secular parties, left-leaning intellectuals, rights activists and a section of media are up in arms against the citizenship law as they want to fulfil their narrow political ends.

Even before the details of the new law are made public, they have misinformed a large section of gullible Indian Muslims that it discriminates against them and will deprive them of their citizenship. Panic is created and a tide of anarchy is let loose in the minds of these Muslims.

Riots, instigated by political parties and fringe groups, broke out near Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi on Dec 15 challenging the law. 

Some leaders of opposition parties, vandals and illegal migrants with criminal background were behind the rioting and arson that took place near the university campus.

Ten people, all Muslims, were arrested and sent to judicial custody till Dec 31. A former Congress legislator Asif Khan, three local politicians and as many Jamia students were named in the police report.

Investigators have not ruled out the role of students in the riots and their possible arrest.

Media reports backed by videos suggest that some of the students are linked to Islamist groups. One such group was responsible for spreading the fake news that two students died in police firing at Jamia campus.

Police are examining video footage and trying to identify balaclava-clad rioters hurling bricks, batons and Molotov cocktails at government buses, and others, who do not look like students, running into the Jamia campus to take refuge.

On Dec 17, violence returned to Delhi when a riotous mob fought street battles with police after an anti-CAA protest march was stopped between Seelampur and Jaffarabad.

Rioters torched cars and motorcycles and destroyed other vehicles including a school bus.

Police were heavily outnumbered by rioters in the Muslim-dominated area. When officers tried to push them back, they were chased down and beaten.

Disturbing videos of mobs targeting police and destroying public property have emerged from Seelampur in the capital, Ahmedabad, Banaskantha and Surat in Gujarat and Lucknow, Sambhal, Gorakhpur, Bahraich and Meerut in Uttar Pradesh.

None of the opposition parties, intellectuals or rights activists are condemning the mob violence or appealing for calm. Instead, they are questioning the “anti-Muslim” citizenship law and “authoritarian” rule of the Union government.

What they are saying is completely baffling as the word ‘Muslim’ is nowhere mentioned in the Act.

The Union government had made it amply clear within the parliament and outside that the law does not affect any India citizens, including Muslims.

Congress-led parties want the law to be withdrawn by hook or crook as they are still seething over the current government’s landmark legislations that criminalised Muslim ‘instant divorce’ and bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir. They did not take such reformist steps when they were in power because they were more bothered about minority votes.

Now they think the mounting violence will ultimately force the Union government to abandon CAA or amend it to include Muslims who came to India from the three Islamic countries.

Allaying the fears of non-Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, Home Minister Amit Shah categorically said this week that CAA will never be rolled back.

If Congress and its allies find the new citizenship law unjust, let them explain why their leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were concerned about the safety of non-Muslims living in Pakistan after partition in 1947.

Congress was partly responsible for the partition of the country along religious lines. Had the grand old party rejected the idea, there would have been no need to introduce the citizenship law.

After the painful partition, Prime Minister Nehru felt a moral obligation to safeguard the rights of minorities in Pakistan.

Nehru’s deal with his Pakistani counterpart Liaquat Ali Khan in 1950 to protect the rights of minorities on both sides of the divide worked well for Muslims in India. But Pakistan totally ignored the deal and a large section of non-Muslim minorities in that country were converted to Islam or massacred. Others fled to India.   

Former Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and senior communist leader Prakash Karat had written letters seeking justice for ‘minorities’ of Bangladesh and Pakistan without naming the groups.

Spokesmen of Congress and left-leaning parties who dismiss these letters should tell people who are the minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh where Islam is the state religion.

If Manmohan and Karat were concerned about minorities there, why are their parties now opposing a law that ensures Indian citizenship to them?

Is it because a government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), their common enemy, enacted the law?

Successive Congress governments, which ruled India for some 55 years, had ample opportunity to bring such a law. Maybe, the governments never did it because these minorities did not constitute a major vote bank for the party.

The same vote bank politics is now prompting Congress to bat for Muslims over the citizenship law.

While attacking CAA, Congress and left-leaning parties are trying to connect it with the Supreme Court-monitored National Register of Citizen (NRC). 

NRC, which will be implemented across India, is aimed at removing illegal immigrants from India. While rules and procedures for NRC are yet to be decided and it will take time, Opposition parties, intellectuals, journalists are already discussing its potential impact. Some even claim they have already gone through the NRC draft bill.

This is, to say the least, ridiculous.

CCA is a law for non-Muslims while NRC is a mechanism to list names of all genuine Indian citizens. CCA applies to persecuted religious minorities from three Islamic countries while NRC has nothing to do with religion.

The agenda by Congress and other opposition parties is clear. They want to use the citizenship law to create anarchy in the country and bring down a duly elected government that works for the people.

To achieve this, they are using misguided Muslims and others.