The nation faces serious and critical human rights challenges, involving India’s treaty obligations as well. Realizing institutions of governance are failing them and the judiciary has as yet not issued any orders heralding succour to besieged masses, greatly disturbed citizens, particularly Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Dalits, and informed academics and thinkers world over, believing recent NRC-related events merit urgent interventional attention, voiced serious concern at the headlong rush into anti-Constitutional actions, guiding heads absent, and heedless to intellectual critics.
Indian laws regulating status, Citizenship Act, Passports Act, Foreigners’ Act, have been amended from time to time, but never in such a manner as to threaten India’s pluralistic and secular traditions. Though fairness in the laws’ implementation has frequently appeared suspect, they stand openly threatened now, to first exclude Muslims, then other minorities.
Over time a National Aadhaar database was created, touted as a single-card identification under UIDAI, where biometrics were collected. In recent years, realizing that that did not serve a hidden agenda to deprive Muslims etc., of status as citizens, additional exercises commenced, implementation of which has caused serious misgivings about religious profiling.
Documented records of announcements by political leaders of the ruling right-wing party, BJP, and its powerful controlling affiliate the RSS, an outfit which follows fascism as legitimate ideology and glorifies Hitler and the Nazis, have been clearly to the effect that India should house only Hindus. Minorities are deemed foreigners, and by 2024 India calls are to declare India a Hindu Nation, non-Hindus denuded of civil rights. More partisan voices call for their largescale death or deportation, achieved via time-tested Nazi techniques of brainwashing illiterate and semi-literate masses, distortion of history, blaming ills on minorities, demonising and attacking them, and now creating a seemingly legal framework to first disenfranchise and then annihilate them.
Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), ostensibly easing citizenship for immigrants from three nations restricted to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, excluding Muslims. Government functionaries and ministers have openly stated there would be a link between National Register of Citizens (NRC) and CAA. Presently a National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) is sought to be created which it is stated would be mother database for NRC and CAA.
Burden of proving citizenship is cast on citizens, and detention centres have been created in various places to hold those unable to prove their citizenship. There are, based on the BJP Government’s partisan minority-hostile approach perceptible from 2002 Gujarat genocide, legitimate apprehensions that following the Israeli model adopted in Palestine, using methods reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
BJP and RSS have routinely denied facts, to such an extent their voices carry little credibility anywhere. Seeing through covert agenda, protests erupted all over the nation and the brutal crackdown akin to any dictatorial repressive regime was seen and is reported world over. Like the Nazi foot-soldiers, goons are let loose some allegedly sporting police uniforms, brutally assaulting opponents including girls in university hostels and libraries and, alleging these are “rioters”, protesters’ properties in some States are illegally sealed and sought to be confiscated, to suppress voices of democratic dissent.
The bulwark of oppressed citizens, the judiciary, appears to be watching the damage done to the Constitution and ideals of secularism and pluralism. Babri Masjid judgement met considerable criticism in informed circles. Judicial restraint after abrogation of Art. 370 saw millions suffer incarceration, arbitrary arrest and detention, with even mainstream politicians placed under house arrest, an unprecedented media black-out, which hid facts from international scrutiny.
In this situation, the fact that petitions challenging the law are before the Supreme Court, is of little real value or solace. Such proceedings remained before the Court, and still do, despite nearly 150 days of the Kashmir lock-down, with little relief from the Courts.
While every nation has the right to pass laws that it deems suitable, laws that run contrary to the spirit of its Constitutional ideals and principles, and internationally recognised human rights subject of treaty obligations India is bound by, cannot be passed. Supreme Court has held secularism and rule of law are essential, not negotiable, parts of Constitution’s basic structure.
Conduct reveals intention, and the present regime’s conduct in the past, be it in relation to mob-lynching, selecting Governors of States, statements of hate and demonisation from constitutional functionaries including Governors, stand-offs regarding appointment of judges, selective official appointments, intimidating undertones in speeches of PM and Home Minister, winking at destruction of churches, attacks on Christian and Muslim worshippers, all point to a regime that is heavily partisan and biased against minorities. The Constitution is denigrated as “foreign”. This is not good for any nation.
Demonisation is not of Muslims alone, as Christians are the next most-blamed community for conversion (work by Christian missionaries among the poorest sections has seen many embracing Christianity freeing themselves from oppressive caste untouchability that enslaved them).
In a significant step towards fragmentation of opposition to intended Hinduisation of India, i.e., its “purification” from persons of other faiths, the first target is the Muslims. Thereafter, segment-wise each non-Hindu section, Christians, then Sikhs, and so on, will be similarly isolated and targeted. Any delay in responding suitably to bring this Machiavellian exercise to an end could be disastrous for India’s, and the region’s stability.
Legislation now passed seems innocuous, but indoctrinated partisan officialdom will implement it with religious discrimination. The stand that it is aimed at easing entry to some persecuted minorities is whitewash because, for instance, Rohingyas from Myanmar, heavily persecuted, stand excluded.
States that raised voices against NRC, must consider passing legislation declaring NRC process as presently structured would not be implemented in the State and seek Presidential assent to these laws. (under Art 254 (2) Constitution of India if a State Act receives Presidential assent it would prevail over Central legislation). Census and population feature in Union List of Constitution Schedule VII but Law and Order remains a State subject. Seeking such consent carries the message “urban Naxals” are being anti-CAA protests, but the opposition is from the entire populations of several States speaking through their entire populations’ elected representatives.
Get this clear: if just 31% vote makes BJP representative of all India, these states’ CMs represent over 50% of entire India’s electorate, and 90% of entire India’s intellectuals and Constitutional experts. Such laws can and must be made, as no State seeking status of preferred foreign investment destination can afford civil strife. Law and order, already severely affected by NRC implementation, fracturing society causing foreign governments to issue advisories cautioning citizens, would further deteriorate.
It is important CAA be recalled, and till national debate on need and feasibility, suitably amended to ensure insulation from subsequent reversal amendments denuding vested rights presently enjoyed by India’s non-Hindus, nor otherwise dis-incentivise people subscribing to other faiths, either by redefining “citizen” and/or “foreigner” or other indirect means: today’s curative steps, countermanded tomorrow, would re-inflict Constitutional damage.
If at all NRC is finally approved by the nation’s population it must stand suitably amended to ensure its forms do not identify people’s religious belief, exposing them to direct or indirect hostile discrimination, facilitatingsuspectcarving up of States a la Kashmir into demographically majority favourable electoral pockets.
Shafeeq R. Mahajir is a seasoned lawyer based in Hyderabad.