India’s parliament passed a bill on Wednesday, December 11, 2019, that intends to grant Indian citizenship to immigrants from their bordering nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan (Reagan, Helen. “India Passes Controversial Citizenship Bill That Excludes Muslims.”). The Citizenship Amendment Bill, also known as CAB, will invite a number of religious minorities, seeking refuge from persecution in their home countries, to obtain citizenship in India. The bill extends its benefits to a wide range of religious groups, such as, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and Christians; however, CAB specifies that Muslims from the same countries will not be included in the bill’s protections.
Through the course of its modern history, India has become a case-study of majoritarian politics. Religious diversity in India is severely lacking, as 79.8% of the population identify as Hindi. The two most prominent religious identities after that are Muslims and Christians, who account for 14.2% and 2.3% of the population, respectively (“Religion Census 2011.”). Ultimately, this has led to a super-majority within elections that has enabled Hindu Nationalist parties to dominate the political scene and push forward a Hindi agenda. Since the rise of multiparty electoral systems in India, the attention to religion in political proceedings has led to the disenfranchisement of many minority populations. In some eyes, the CAB is just the latest example of the Hindi government enacting legislation that transgresses against the Constitutional principles of India’s history.
India’s constitution calls for secular politics, so, the nature of political association in the country, along with the modern history of Hindi policies, has left opposition members infuriated. In an article on CNN’s website, a human rights activist and author in India, known as, Harsh Mander, highlights the contrast between the recent legislation and the Constitutional history in India, “Mander said the very nature of the Indian constitution is that it is based on secular values. ‘Central to the idea was that your religious identity would be irrelevant to your belonging, and it’s that which is being turned on its head. It’s extremely worrying.’” In addition, Mander expresses fear for the impending ramifications of the law, calling it “probably the most dangerous piece of legislation that we’ve [India] had” (Reagan, Helen). Mander’s sentiments encapsulate how criticisms of the country’s ruling party are primarily based on the practice of majoritarian politics that further the conception that India is fundamentally Hindi as a country and state.
Alternatively, the BJP and the ruling elite have maintained that the bill primarily serves the purpose of religious inclusivity and the omission of Muslims is reasonable, denying the existence of any hidden scheme to establish India as a purely Hindi nation. Amit Shah, the president of the BJP, has come out publicly to state his support for the law and what it means for religious inclusivity. In CNN’s article Shah is quoted saying, ‘“It is well known that those minorities who chose to make Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan their home had to constantly live in the fear of extinction. This amended legislation by Modi government will allow India to extend them dignity and an opportunity to rebuild their lives”’ (Reagan, Helen). In relation to the exclusion of Muslims from the bill’s protections, the ruling party has provided justification under the assertion that Muslims do not experience religious persecution in the countries that are within the bill’s confines. Ultimately, framing the legislation with humanitarian rhetoric has allowed the ruling party to create a level of positivity around the law. In addition, it has allowed them to conceal any hidden agenda to advance the disenfranchisement of Muslims, the second-largest religious population in their country.
While the majority may be
prescribing an encouraging outlook on the legislation, its consequences are
certainly not lost on activists, as well as international observers. Given the
recent history of the government’s attempts to disadvantage and weaken the
Muslim population in the country, many individuals believe the CAB is evidence
of the BJP and Hindi Nationalist parties attempting to advance majoritarian
politics. In 2018, Amit Shah referred to Muslim asylum-seekers from Bangladesh as
“termites” and vouched to rid the nation of them. This year, the Indian
government stripped two predominantly Muslim states of their autonomous
statuses and also granted Hindus permission to build a temple on a site that
holds religious significance to both Muslims and Hindus (Reagan, Helen). It is
hard to ignore these aggressive anti-Muslim policies that have been utilized by
the government. As the Muslim population constitutes the second biggest
religious identity in India, it is obvious that Hindi Nationalist parties are
interested in preventing their growth. The CAB permits citizenship to all
religious populations, except Muslims, because they want to prevent the Muslim
population from consolidating strength, thus helping the Hindi majority
perpetuate their dominance. Ultimately, the BJP is enacting legislation that
will advance the Hindi hegemony within India’s political sphere; however, it is
worth wondering if the Indian government will maintain legitimacy if they
continue to blatantly advance Hindi politics at the expense of others.
Regan, Helen. “India Passes Controversial Citizenship Bill That Excludes Muslims.” CNN, Cable News Network, 11 Dec. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/12/11/asia/india-citizenship-amendment-bill-intl-hnk/index.html.
“Religion Census 2011.” Religion Data – Population of Hindu / Muslim / Sikh / Christian – Census 2011 India, Census Organization of India, 2011, www.census2011.co.in/religion.php.