India News

Western Press Gets CAA Wrong: Here Is the Truth About the New Law

India’s new legislation is a long overdue humanitarian measure designed to end the suffering of non-Muslim minorities who have suffered rape, torture, killings and ethnic cleansing for decades in the fundamentalist Islamist societies of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

March 20, 2024 02:00 EDT

On March 11, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah announced the rules for the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). This 2019 legislation was a key component of the pre-election manifesto of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Both houses of the Parliament of India passed this legislation with a resounding majority. In 2019, heavy protests, long sit-ins and violence followed the passing of the CAA. Now, the government has brought out the long-awaited rules and blamed the delay on the COVID pandemic.

The CAA has proved controversial. Both the foreign press and much of the English-speaking media have accused the act of being anti-Muslim. The US State Department has said that it is concerned about the implementation of the CAA. In response, India’s Ministry of External Affairs has dismissed the US statement as “misplaced, misinformed, and unwarranted.”

It is time to take a step back and examine this legislation coolly. In fact, we must ask the operative question about the CAA: Why did the government pass this legislation? 

The dark view of the CAA

Asaduddin Owaisi, the leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party claims “CAA is meant to only target Muslims, it serves no other purpose.” In his long post on social media site X, this Muslim leader asserts, “Once religion is accepted as the basis of Indian citizenship, the next step is to deny it on religious grounds.” Note that Owaisi’s party wanted the then feudal Hyderabad state ruled by an autocratic Nizam to join Pakistan in 1947, The Nizam’s militia, the Razakars, conducted genocide of the ruler’s own Hindu majority population before Indian troops liberated the long-suffering Telugu, Marathi and Kannada people in his realm.

Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) has called for state-wide protests as has the All Assam Students’ Union. Opponents take the view that the BJP is weakening the secular character of India. The communists blame the ruling party for practicing the politics of what Indians call “communalism” or what some in the West might call majoritarianism. Opponents of the BJP argue that the party has announced the CAA rules as an opportunistic move to mobilize the Hindu votes just before the election.

Most international outlets such as the Qatari-funded Al Jazeera and the British government-backed BBC have also termed the CAA anti-Muslim. In fact, the BBC’s headline says it all, “CAA: India to enforce migrant law that excludes Muslims.”

The context of the CAA

Given the sound and fury generated by the CAA, examining the context behind the parliamentary act becomes critical. The legislation aims at  expediting citizenship for refugees who have suffered as members of persecuted minorities in three neighboring Islamic countries, one of whom is ruled by the Taliban. 

The CAA does not pertain to Muslims who are Indian citizens. The legislation does not exclude a single Indian Muslim from citizenship, making the BBC’s headline far from true. 

All the CAA does is give Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians living in India after having fled from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh a fast track to citizenship. Members of these persecuted minority religions must have migrated to India before December 31, 2014. The BBC makes a big deal about the fact that “the new law does not cover those fleeing persecution in non-Muslim majority countries, including Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka.” It also says that the CAA does not cover Rohingya Muslim refugees from neighboring Myanmar.

Such arguments are specious because existing provisions allow all refugees to claim citizenship,including Muslims. In 2016, India granted Pakistani singer Adnan Sami citizenship. The Indian government grants other Muslims like him Indian passports too.

Both the BBC and the State Department could do well to note that the CAA is only emulating the 1990 Lautenberg Amendment. The US Congress passed this legislation to facilitate the resettlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union. It was “later expanded to include persecuted religious minorities in other countries, such as Jews, Christians, Baha’is, Sabaean-Mandaeans, and Zoroastrians from Iran.”

India is only offering an expedited path to citizenship to refugees from minority groups who have been subjected to ethnic cleansing, not just discrimination. Afghanistan, Pakistan and even Bangladesh have practiced a conscious policy of exterminating non-Muslim minorities for decades. 

The reality of Islamist South Asian nations

In 1992, Sikhs and Hindus numbered 200,000 in Afghanistan. Even before the Taliban took over a second time, this number had dropped to 500 by 2018. Today, there are practically no Sikhs or Hindus left in Afghanistan. The Taliban views both these communities as pagan kafirs who can be raped, tortured, enslaved and killed. 

The Sikhs and Hindus who lived in Afghanistan for decades have now fled to India as have the handful of Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians. The Taliban did not even spare statues and destroyed both the priceless ancient Bamiyan statues of the Buddha. India owes these persecuted people of minority religions in fundamentalist Afghanistan some responsibility. The CAA seeks only to fulfill India’s moral duty. It is hypocritical and self-serving of Islamists and leftists to criticize a profoundly humanitarian legislation.

Pakistan is hardly more tolerant than Afghanistan. When British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947, the countries signed the Nehru-Liaquat Agreement, promising minorities equal rights. India has abided by that agreement and given all minorities equal rights. In fact, India gives minorities multiple protections that the Hindu majority lacks. For instance, minority educational institutions are run entirely by their religious organizations and many of them do not admit students of any other religion. This privilege is not available to Hindu institutions that are overseen and even administered by the state. In contrast, Pakistan is an expressly Muslim state where minorities are often raped, killed or forced to convert to Islam.

Innumerable reports have chronicled Pakistan’s genocidal treatment of its minorities. During the original sin of the partition in 1947, Pakistan engaged in ethnic cleansing of Hindus and Sikhs, which the state still celebrates. While the Indian state became a secular and democratic entity, Pakistan has become a factory for jihad, exporting violent terrorists around the world. Note that the Taliban was backed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and Pakistani society has become increasingly more radicalized over time.

Unsurprisingly, minorities in Pakistan fell from 23% in 1947 to 3.7% in 2014. The figure today is even lower. Note that the population of Muslims in India both in absolute numbers and in percentage has grown since 1947. In other words, both the BBC and the State Department appear to be either mistakenly or deliberately maligning India for being anti-Muslim when in reality its policy is guided by the principle of giving refuge to minorities fleeing death and destruction in fundamentalist Islamist nations.

In 1971, India liberated Bangladesh despite opposition from the US. Henry Kissinger famously ignored the “Blood Telegram” of his own diplomat who detailed mass rape, brutal torture and mass killings by Pakistani troops. The Indian army chief was a Parsi, a Zoroastrian community that fled from Iran when Islam took root in  the country. The general commanding troops on the eastern front was Sikh and Indian troops came from a variety of religions, regions and races.

Despite the contribution of such diverse actors in liberating Bangladesh, today this country has become intolerant. Non-Muslim communities are often killed and forced to convert. Their women are frequently raped. In 2001, no less than 200 of them were raped in a single incident. The United Nations has expressed alarm over the fast-dwindling population of non-Muslim minorities in Bangladesh as a result of de facto ethnic cleansing. 

India’s only concern is to give those who fled before 2014 a long overdue safe haven. Thanks to its reputation as a democratic, tolerant and inclusive society, religious minorities have fled to India for centuries as the cases of the Gujarati Parsis, the Kerala Jews and Syrian Christians demonstrate. Non-Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh have no place to go other than India. Those who came here before 2014 need a sanctuary. India has done the just and right thing by implementing the CAA, which the BBC, Al Jazeera and the State Department could and should make the effort to understand.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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