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The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is Detrimental to India’s Minorities

The Indian government recently announced its decision to implement the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was passed by parliament in 2019. The decision to implement the new citizenship act had then set off nationwide protests and deadly violence in Delhi and other parts, receiving significant backlash from civil society and the public.

However, times have changed now significantly. A general election is around the corner in 2024, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to set off with a thumping victory. In that vein, several changes have come to the fore.

Background to the implementation of CAA

There is an increased and assertive use of the term “Bharat” over the so-called secular “India”. Anti-Muslim rhetoric is at an all-time high, with vigilante groups on the loose, targeting Muslims in the name of “love jihad” and smuggling of cows.

In the north Indian city of Ayodhya, the Prime Minister recently inaugurated a new Hindu temple in the same spot where the Babri mosque once stood. In the context of these background events, the decision to implement CAA does not surprise the observers and onlookers.

The new citizenship act seeks to amend an earlier act passed in 1955. In doing so, it employs a religious test for the migrant question: to expedite the Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jain, Parsi, and Christian minorities who escaped persecution in Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 31, 2014.

However, Muslims are excluded from seeking such refuge, with the rationale that they belong to Muslim-majority nations. Narendra Modi-led government has also argued that the act itself is an obligation towards the Pakistani Hindus as agreed upon in the Liaquat-Nehru Pact of 1950.

But there are significant problems.

Flawed minority assumption

For one, the act assumes that Muslims cannot be persecuted as a minority within a Muslim-majority country. In Pakistan, for instance, Ahmadiyya are constantly persecuted under anti-blasphemy statutes and have been disenfranchised since 1973. A similar story could be told about Hazaras in Afghanistan and Rohingyas in Myanmar. Therefore, the citizenship amendment is set to marginalise its 200 million Muslims further and reshape the country into a Hindu nation.

Some even fear that the new act is only the first step and that it may follow an exercise of a national register of citizens that could render many citizens stateless. In its disappointing pilot of NRC, first released in August 2019, some 4 million people’s names went missing—some of whom were Hindus and even, surprisingly, some BJP members. Therefore, many poor and backward sections of Indian society may find it difficult to present documentation to support their nationality.

The Hindutva logic

Secondly, Citizenship Amendment Act is a larger project of the “numerical preponderance” of Hindus, as espoused in the Hindutva writings of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar. In Savarkar’s writings, three critical elements make for “Hinduness”: “common race”, “common nation”, and “common civilisation”.

A similar narrative trope follows in Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts, who does not shy away from lamenting that Muslims are the enemies of the Indian nation (and the other two enemies are Communists and Christians).

Golwalkar writes: “It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that [Muslims] have turned patriots overnight after the creation of Pakistan”. For Golwalkar, Mosques represent “miniature Pakistans”. These ideas, however dangerous, have come to make for today’s India—and the new citizenship act is one such.

Against secularism and conditional hospitality

Thirdly, implementing the Citizenship Amendment Act will alter the fundamental character of the Indian state. Despite its fuzzy characteristic as an almost failed project, Indian secularism has come under direct attack from Hindu nationalism in recent years. Secularism has been critiqued as not adequately representing the “Hindu” character of an assertive Bharat. What is even more concerning is how the Indian state is becoming more and more like Pakistan, a theocratic state.

With the new citizenship act, the Hinduness of the Indian state will come to triumph over other socio-political issues. To evoke Jacques Derrida’s conception of “conditional hospitality”, the citizenship act will reinforce the logic that Muslims are sheltered and tolerated in India as guests while constantly reminding them that it is not their home.

The new citizenship act harbours the everydayness of shared anxieties among Muslims by setting religious criteria for the secular foundation of the Indian constitution. Therefore, implementing the new citizenship act can be detrimental to the Indian nation-state.

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