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April 08, 2024

Why India's anti-Muslim citizenship law is so dangerous

topic:Islamophobia
tags:#citizenship, #India, #Islamophobia
located:India, USA
by:Safa Ahmed

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the position of FairPlanet.

When it comes to the topic of who does and doesn’t belong in India, Union Minister Amit Shah -  a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - has never minced words.

"Infiltrators are like termites," he told a rally of supporters in 2019. "A BJP government will pick up infiltrators one by one and throw them into the Bay of Bengal."

It was a clear dog whistle - everyone in that crowd knew "infiltrators" was code for "Muslims," 200 million of whom make up India’s most highly persecuted minority group. His comments were foreshadowing: Shah was speaking just months before the government would pass the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a law that fast-tracks citizenship for undocumented Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians - but not for Muslims. In other words, the CAA conditions citizenship on the basis of religion.  

The CAA was passed in 2019, stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, and is now finally rearing its head again with its jaws unhinged. In March - on the first day of Ramadan - Prime Minister Modi’s government announced rules for the CAA’s implementation, to the delight of its Hindu nationalist base and to the dismay of India’s allies, human rights groups and international authorities.

Not only will the CAA create a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions - one where millions of Muslims are stripped of their citizenship, rendering them vulnerable to expulsion and mass violence -  but it is also a vital step towards Modi’s goal of creating a Hindu ethno-state. 

Modi’s supporters in the US scoff at these warnings, arguing that this law does not affect anyone’s citizenship status, but that it’s aimed only at supporting "refugees fleeing religious persecution" from neighbouring states (like the American Lautenberg Amendment). But this claim ignores a few stark realities. 

The first is that India has no refugee law; the word "refugee" never appears in the wording of the CAA. Moreover, in a country where few people, regardless of religion, have documentation to prove their citizenship, the CAA most certainly impacts which Indians will be able to gain citizenship documents and which will be treated as outsiders - or, as Home Minister Amit Shah put it, "infiltrators."

The CAA must also be understood as the project of a government that openly champions the Nazi-inspired ideology of Hindutva or Hindu supremacy. This ideology believes India should be a Hindu nation, declaring Muslims as perpetual foreigners who should be subject to disenfranchisement, expulsion and even genocide.

This is the ideology that has been openly flaunted by Modi's party, the BJP, whose ministers loudly call for the erasure of Muslims and the establishment of a Hindu ethno-state.

As a result, anti-Muslim violence and hate speech have skyrocketed nationwide, leading to widespread mob lynchings of Muslim men, sexual harassment against Muslim women, punitive demolitions of Muslim-owned homes, routine attacks on mosques, in-school violence against Muslim children, and calls for a Muslim genocide - and this is just the tip of the iceberg. To claim that Modi’s government didn’t design the CAA to be anti-Muslim in this context is nothing short of laughable. 

Most alarming of all is that this law was not drafted in isolation. Rather, it complements the National Registry of Citizens (NRC), a list that only includes people who have the paperwork to prove their citizenship. Anyone left off the list is effectively rendered stateless, regardless of how many generations their family has lived in India. 

India has seen a glimpse of the NRC before when it was conducted in the northeastern state of Assam - a state whose Hindu nationalist leadership routinely claims that the state’s Muslim population was largely made up of undocumented "infiltrators" from Bangladesh. The NRC backfired, however, when millions of Hindus as well as Muslims were left off the register.

The CAA is the band-aid fix: while a national NRC can render any undocumented person stateless, the CAA can quickly re-naturalise them - unless they are Muslims, who are unwanted anyway. 

But why is it so frightening that the CAA is being implemented now, if it was a looming threat for over four years? The answer is simple - it’s election season, and Modi’s go-to campaign trick is attacking the fundamental rights of religious minorities.

Throughout his campaign, Modi has slowly taken steps to fulfill his base’s vision of a Hindu state - first by building a massive Hindu temple on the foundations of a demolished historic mosque, and now by codifying Muslim exclusion through the CAA.

This has only empowered his base even more, bringing hate speech and anti-Muslim violence to a boiling point that experts warn could end in genocide.   

On top of that, no one has to speculate about what will happen if the CAA is officially implemented. A preview is already playing out in Assam, where Muslim men, women and children left off the NRC have been forced into detention camps. Those who protest the CAA are charged with terrorism and arrested. Calls for Muslims to be exiled to Pakistan or killed are normalised.

The CAA will strip away what little protections they had left as Indian citizens, leaving them completely vulnerable to the Hindu supremacists calling for their blood. 

To prevent the dangerous escalation of anti-Muslim disenfranchisement in India, it is time for India’s allies, including the United States, to take a stand. It is not enough to merely condemn the CAA - US government bodies have already done so repeatedly over the years, to no avail.

Now, the US must utilise diplomatic tools - including sanctions, visa bans and freezing of assets - to send a clear message to the Modi regime. Citizenship is not, and should never be, conditioned by religion. This dangerous law must be dismantled before it creates a new refugee crisis that threatens the stability of the entire region - and before Indian Muslims pay for it with their lives.  

Image by Akash Yadav.

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