Modi’s Muslim phobia

Iqbal Khan

MINORITY rights crisis is getting worse in India; life is upended for those left off Indian citizenship list. Rivals say that as Prime Minster Modi’s government faces disillusionment for failing to deliver on jobs and prosperity, it is setting up religious mobilization across the country. India has a history of discriminating against its minorities especially Muslims. In a latest manifestation in this context, India’s Lower House of Parliament approved a Bill on January 08 that would grant residency and citizenship rights to non-Muslims who entered India illegally, especially after fleeing {alleged} persecution in several neighbouring nations. Legislation would grant citizenship to members of certain religious minorities but not Muslims. This initiative is the latest in a BJP campaign led by Modi ahead of general election; objective is to project India as a sanctuary for persecuted Hindus globally. Critics have called the proposal blatantly anti-Muslim and an attempt by BJP to boost its Hindu voter base.
Indian police is investigating an academic, a journalist and a peasant leader for possible sedition for publicly opposing a proposal to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from neighbouring Muslim-majority countries. Hiren Gohain, an 80-year-old academic, peasant leader Akhil Gogoi and journalist Manjit Mahanta have been accused of criminal conspiracy and attempting to wage a war against the government. The three have not yet been charged. The cases have been filed amid a wave of protests in the BJP-governed north-eastern state of Assam. Many people fear such a move could change the demographic profile of Assam, where residents have for years complained that immigrants from Bangladesh have put a big strain on resources.
The Bill will now be tabled for approval in the Upper House in the next session, where it is expected to face resistance from the opposition Congress Party. The BJP does not have a majority in the Upper House. However, if it isn’t passed, the Government could pass it through an act of Ordinance. The Congress Party and rights activists say the Government is misusing the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to target even legal Indian Muslim citizens who have traditionally voted for non-BJP parties. The migrants included many Hindus, but Modi has issued orders stating that no Hindu or members of other minorities, except Muslims, from Pakistan or Bangladesh would be considered an illegal immigrant even if they entered the country without valid documents before 2014. “BJP’s only aim is to do communal politics, including through the NRC,” Congress lawmaker Ripun Bora said.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh has denied that the “Citizenship Amendment Bill”, which he introduced, was discriminatory. The Bill, if enacted, would grant rights to non-Muslim religious groups such as Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis who migrated illegally from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It would provide an exemption to these groups from an Indian law which prohibits naturalization for illegal immigrants. The Bill has been introduced despite protests against the legislation in the populous northeast that brought the region to a near standstill. The event has triggered another wave of protests in India’s northeast. Protesters in Assam set up blockades with burning tires and vandalized two BJP offices, disrupting traffic and business. More than 700 demonstrators were arrested. Police used tear gas to disperse crowds.
Protest organizer Samujjal Bhattacharya, a leader of the All Assam Students Union, said the legislation would confer citizenship on the basis of religion, violating India’s secular constitution. He also said that providing residency and citizenship rights to migrants from Bangladesh, with which Assam state shares a long open border, would threaten indigenous communities. Now the government is trying to make a law seeking to confer citizenship to Hindus from Bangladesh. We want all illegal migrants to be detected and deported, irrespective of their religion,” Bhattacharya said.
BJP’s alliance partner in Assam, the Asom Gana Pari shad (AGP) or Assam People’s Party, has quit the coalition government to protest the bill. “We have always opposed the entry and presence of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Our Party was formed in 1985 with this promise of freeing Assam from illegal migrants from Bangladesh. We therefore cannot remain an ally of the BJP after this move by the Modi Government,” AGP president Atul Bora said. Millions have settled in Assam during recent decades after fleeing neighbouring countries. Indian Muslims are also protesting against the highly discriminatory move of the BJP government. Last year the Assam government published a draft citizens’ register that left off four million people unable to prove they were living there before 1971. In Assam, many people have been sent to detention centres following the registration drive prompting fears that a Rohingya-like crisis was in the making.
There is sense of marginalization among Indian Muslims and it is hoped that champions of human rights including those in India would raise their voice for the oppressed Indian Muslims. In India, slaughtering cows and the consumption of beef is banned in most states. Since BJP assumed power in 2014, beef ban has been used by Hindu nationalists to justify their attacks on innocent Muslims in public. Ban has led to brutal violence by Hindu majority against Muslim minority besides closure of thousands of slaughter houses and meat shops, severely limiting access to red meat, a staple of the Muslim community’s diet. Thousands in the meat trade for centuries have lost their jobs. Modi government is also accused of routinely disseminating fake news, demonising Indian Muslims. Modi is indeed creating a dangerous precedent. Prime Minister Imran Khan has aptly pointed out that anti-Pakistan sentiments were being aroused in India for the sake of campaigning.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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