India’s CAA: Another Move Toward A Hindu-First Nation

The United Nations High Commissioner filed for intervention in India’s Supreme Court. The basis for this intervention was the discriminatory nature of India’s Citizen Amendment Act (CAA). 

What is the CAA?

The CAA, passed in December 2019, is an amendment that has religiously discriminated against Muslims. The act allows citizenship for undocumented immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. However this only applies if they are of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, or Parsi religious minorities, excluding Muslims.

The majority of the population in the three countries are Muslim. If an immigrant is Muslim, they will not receive citizenship. The Indian government said the purpose of the CAA was to protect the minorities who fled to India to escape persecution. 

India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, strived for a secular nation. His daughter, the third Prime Minister, enacted the 42nd Amendment to India’s constitution. The amendment laid the foundation for India to be a “socialist secular” state.

Muslims and liberal Indians have responded to the act with opposition. However, their petition to the court has been suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

In February, U.N. special rapporteurs wrote a letter to the Indian government stating that the exclusion of Muslims and other minorities would “perpetuate discrimination against [the minorities] and perpetuate a climate of uncertainty, including fears of prolonged statelessness, detention, or even deportation.”

The Indian Ministry on External Affairs said the act was a case of domestic jurisdiction and “no foreign party has any issues standing on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty.” 

Other Recent Events Regarding Muslims in India

Discrimination against Muslims is nothing new with the current government in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election in 2014 brought forth a wave of Hindu nationalism.

In Modi’s first term, Muslims were massacred by Hindu vigilante groups for allegedly killing cows – a sacred animal in India. Modi critics say his election is to blame for the uptick in crimes against Muslims.

Assam, a state which borders Bangladesh, had the first citizen’s registry in India. The National Citizens Registry (NRC) was used to document original Indian citizens. Since 2015, all Assam residents had to prove they or their relatives had been living in Assam since the day before the Bangladesh Liberation War – March 24th, 1971. This was in order to receive citizenship.

However in August 2019, two million Assam residents were left off the citizen list. In a campaign in West Bengal, another border state of Bangladesh, Modi’s right-hand-man, Amit Shah said through the process of NRC: “We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs.” 

A year later, the Indian government began the process of doing such. 

The History Behind India’s Ruling Party

The current ruling party of India, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is a Hindu nationalist and right-wing party. Many of its members are linked to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an organization that promotes a Hindu-first India.

Historically, many RSS members admired Adolf Hitler and Mussolini during WWII. A past RSS member assassinated Mahatma Gandhi for helping Muslims during the Partition of India. The RSS and like-minded groups demolished the Babri Masjid in 1992, a 16th century mosque that shared grounds with the birthplace of Rama, a Hindu deity.

India is Contradictory

India’s response of domestic jurisdiction is an excuse nations have been using for a long time to justify wrongdoings. When the U.N. was forming, members of the Security Council were against the formation of an international court due to domestic jurisdiction. 

But just because India claims this issue as a domestic issue, does not mean they are free from international interference. 

Although members of the RSS are opponents to the Indian Constitution, the Constitution recognizes the right to equality and equal protection under the law. 

India is also a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

Independent India’s founders, including but not limited to Gandhi, Hansa Mehta and Nehru, would be ashamed at the state India is currently in. These individuals fought for equality and human rights and the BJP seems to be going backward with their policies.

Taking Away The Only Muslim-Majority State

Along with the Assam NRC revisions, 2019 was also the year the former state of Jammu and Kashmir lost their autonomy given to them by the Indian Constitution.

Jammu and Kashmir, a majority-Muslim state, was granted special status in 1949. This status granted the state its own constitution, flag and autonomy – respecting cultural differences. 

This dissolution not only takes away Muslim’s right to their autonomy and a safe space, but allows non-residents to purchase property and apply for jobs that had been reserved for the Muslim population. This especially affects the Kashmir valley which is 97 percent Muslim. 

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, compared the loss of the state’s autonomy to the concept of Lebensraum – the Nazi idea that a certain territory is needed for a nation’s development – on Twitter

What should be done?

News organizations should treat the issue of Muslims in India as seriously as they took Trump’s Muslim-ban and making the story front-page news.

The Indian government is legitimizing religious discrimination and without much contest from those outside of India. 

Even when Donald Trump visited India during the height of CAA protests, he did not take a stance on the law and said he “want[s] to leave it up to India.” 

“Anti-Muslim sentiment permeates the policies of both U.S. and Indian leaders. For decades, the U.S.-India relationship was anchored by claims of shared values of human rights and human dignity.” Amnesty International U.S.A.’s executive director Margaret Huang said: “Now, those shared values are discrimination, bigotry, and hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers.”

We are allowing this anti-Muslim rhetoric to pass before our eyes all around the globe. Individuals should be aware of these issues. News networks are reporting on them, but they rarely make the front-page of the paper.

With the prevalence of the COVID-19 outbreak and that most media is ignorant of non-Western cultures, this is not an easy transition. It’s a battle the news business has been fighting for a long time. We cannot let the excuse of domestic jurisdiction allow discrimination. 

Maria Kuiper

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