Indians fuming over Trump's Muslim ban, our government has similar plans

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill introduced in Lok Sabha is driven by the same hatred and fear of Muslims.

 |  7-minute read |   31-01-2017
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Scenes from New York’s JFK Airport are being broadcast all over the world, as citizens of the United States of America rally together to protect immigrants’ rights. President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending the refugee entry programme for 120 days, as well as the entry of Muslims from seven countries, namely Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and Sudan, was passed with the apparent objective of protecting US National Security. However, it is clear to most that these executive orders are underwritten by Islamophobia and xenophobia.

The Trump administration, with its repeated invocation of America’s past greatness, is clearly harkening to a pre-multicultural, predominantly white USA. Donald Trump has come to presidency by appealing to the only demographic he cares about — the white majority of America. The parallels with Hitler’s attempts at demographic cleansing are clear, and no one who followed Trump’s campaign should be surprised at the nature of these executive orders.

One lesser known aspect of the executive order is the prioritising of refugee claims on the basis of religious persecution, as long as the applicant belongs to a religious community which is a minority in their country of origin.

This means that, as the Guardian points out in this article, refugee applications from Christians in the Middle East may get prioritised over those of Muslims. While we Indians fume over the outrageous policies of the Trump administration, we should also turn to look at similar legislative provisions being proposed in our own country.

protbd_013117090227.jpg Citizens of the United States of America rally together to protect immigrants’ rights.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016 is a short, three-page document that seeks to amend Section 2(b) to the Citizenship Act. The Citizenship Act deals with the acquisition and termination of Indian citizenship. Section 2(b) of the Citizenship Act defines the term “illegal immigrant”. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill proposes to amend the definition of this term by adding this proviso:

Provided that persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of this Act.

This effectively means that persons from minority religious communities from our neighbouring Muslim-majority countries shall not be considered as illegal migrants and subjected to prosecution.

Further, the Bill also proposes an amendment to the Third Schedule of the Act, which would allow minority communities, namely Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to qualify for naturalisation as a citizen of India if they are resident in India or in service to the government of India for an aggregate period of not less than six years, as opposed to 11 years for everyone else.

The Preamble to the Bill, which seeks to explain the aims and objectives of the act, states:

Many persons of Indian origin including persons belonging to the aforesaid minority communities from the aforesaid countries have been applying for citizenship under section 5 of the Act, but are unable to produce proof of their Indian origin. Hence, they are forced to apply for citizenship by naturalisation under section 6 of the Act, which, inter alia, prescribes twelve years residency as qualification for naturalisation in terms of the Third Schedule to the Act. This denies them many opportunities and advantages that may accrue only to the citizens of India, even though they are likely to stay in India permanently. It is proposed to amend the Third Schedule to the Act to make applicants belonging to minority communities from the aforesaid countries eligible for citizenship by naturalisation in seven years instead of the existing twelve years.

The phrase “Many persons of India origin including persons belonging to the aforesaid minority communities…” is telling. It is clear that that this proposed amendment is not aimed at all persons of Indian origin but only some, namely religious minorities. What is even more interesting is that the Bill is not aimed at all religious minorities in all neighbouring countries, and it clearly excludes many communities that may be experiencing horrific forms of persecution.

rohingya_013117091156.jpg Rohingya Muslims are one of the most persecuted group in the world. (In pic: A Rohingya refugee camp in Jammu, India)

Moreover, there is an assumption that persons of religious minorities from Islamic majority countries would be more likely to stay in India permanently, which is based on the notion that Islamic countries are extremely oppressive of their religious minorities.

Identifying religious minorities in neighbouring countries as deserving of protection makes sense only in two cases. One, if the government aims at providing protection from possible persecution of these minorities. However, it is important to note here that if providing assistance to persecuted minorities was the stated objective of the government, then it need not have looked further than the existing frameworks of refugee law.

Central to the definition of a refugee in the 1951 Convention on Refugees is a well-founded fear of being persecuted on the grounds of religion, race, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion by the country of one’s nationality.

India has consistently refused to promulgate a central legislation on refugees, or be a signatory to the 1951 Convention, leaving decisions on granting of refugee status as matters of political expediency. Moreover, there are communities in neighbouring countries who deserve our immediate intervention and protection, such as the Rohingya Muslims of Burma, who would not be convered by this amendment. Therefore, if granting protection is not the objective, then the only other explanation is offered by the BJP’s election manifesto of 2014.

Page 37 of BJP’s 2014 manifesto states that “India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here”. Why should India be a natural home for persecuted Hindus, as opposed to persecuted Muslims or Christians?

Invoking the image of the “persecuted Hindu” is a masterful way of introducing the RSS’s agenda to transform India into a Hindu Rashtra, just as threats to national security, and the myth of a “white minority” is used to push forward xenophobic policies in the US. Interestingly, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 goes a step beyond the “persecuted Hindu” and includes Christians as well. All, except Muslims, in fact.

It is not as if Muslims are not being persecuted. Rohingya Muslims are not even recognised as an ethnic group in Burma, and are often described as the most persecuted group in the world. Sri Lanka saw extensive anti-Muslim riots in 2014, led by Bodhu Bala Sena, a Buddhist group. However, none of these groups would be covered by the proposed amendment.

On the other hand, suspicion of Bengali-speaking Muslims in several North-eastern states has led to disastrous consequences. Bengali-speaking Muslims are regularly arrested and prosecuted in Foreigner’s Tribunals in Assam, where they have to prove whether or not they are Indian citizens.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 would be in direct contradiction of the Assam Accord, which states that any person, whether Hindu or Muslim, as illegal, if they have entered after March 24, 1971. Moreover, In 2015, a Bengali-speaking Muslim man, accused of raping a young woman, and suspected of being Bangladeshi, was dragged out of a prison in Dimapur and lynched in public. This proposed amendment, therefore, simultaneously excludes communities that need protection, while fanning existing Islamophobic sentiments in the country.

It is clear, therefore, that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is only a step in a very well-executed plan at a demographic cleansing, much on the lines of what Donald Trump is attempting to do. Trump’s executive order explicitly identifies Muslims and bans their entry. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, on the other hand, explicitly and arbitrarily denies privileges to entire groups of people. That it uses the term “minority” without the slightest hint of irony is a testament to the obfuscative powers of legal language. 

It is also notable that while one is being protested across the world, the other has quietly been introduced into the Lok Sabha, without much debate or any outrage. Trump’s executive order and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill are driven by the same hatred and fear of Muslims — we just happen to be much more subtle about it.

(The piece first appeared on TheWire.in.)

Also read: Trump’s #MuslimBan and Modi’s #NoteBan are fascist policies hiding as national interest

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Darshana Mitra Darshana Mitra

Writer is lawyer and researcher at Alternative Law Forum.

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