Tolerance vs Mutual respect – How India should treat its immigration policy

The Government of India is considering a few amendments in regards to the Citizenship Act of 1955. The government has already set up a joint committee of parliamentarians who are examining the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 which will look into the matter of granting Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from our neighbouring countries who have been living in India for a minimum period of six years. You can check The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 here (pdf link).

There have already been a few articles that have discussed this matter. There was an article in the Times of India that was critical of this move by the government. There have been a couple of other pieces in Swarajya magazine – here and here – that have given a slightly more contrarian and nuanced view of the same.

Whom do we let in to stay with us in our country has never been an easy issue to tackle. The 1st issue that we will have to tackle in a secular democratic republic like India would be that the basic premise of the Bill violates the fundamental constitutional principle of treating each individual as a separate entity, as it appears to equate citizenship with specific religions only.

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Immigration has been an issue a major portion of the world is struggling with. Whether it’s Europe, USA or India, immigration is an extremely touchy issue. Who do we let in? What can be considered a valid process of granting people asylum in any country? In fact, what should be the larger immigration policy of any country irrespective of whether it is an asylum seeker or an economic migrant?

But does compassion mean one becomes stupid and lets anyone in without any formal process? What should be the basic philosophy or ideology behind an immigration process? How do we go about vetting the people we want to let into our society beyond the economic/education parameters.

I believe immigration policies should be shaped on the principle of “Mutual Respect” which was proposed by Rajiv Malhotra in his book Being Different. Every country/society/group has a grand narrative. In the case of the group of people that live together in the entity named India our grand narrative is a pluralistic value system, which has come out of a wide range of decentralized open Dharmic Darshanas. It is this plural Dharmic value system that has let people of all denominations in from time immemorial.

Now the critics of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 say that this bill is discriminatory. But is that really the case? Take the case of Pakistan for example. Can we say that people who follow a very rigid/exclusivist/expansionist faith system like Salafi Islam merge into a pluralistic secular democratic society like India? We just have to look at the way Hindus, Christians and Sikhs have been treated in Pakistan.

For that matter what has been the trend when it comes to Hindus/Atheists in Bangladesh? A cursory look at the numbers in both these countries clearly indicates that Hindus and other minorities are being persecuted and their numbers have been declining consistently. They are either converted forcefully or murdered. In such a scenario how can anyone in their right mind object to letting in these persecuted minorities in India? Also, how can anyone who is in their senses say that we should let in the butchers of these very people into India along with them because a society cannot be selective in its choice of people it wants to let in?

If we allow people with such rigid mindsets in our society, we just create more fissures in our society. Indian Islam is already under threat from Salafi extremism. Why do we want to self inflict even more pain?

Also, as a Nireshvara (atheist), I feel letting such people in is a direct threat to my existence. Just look at the numbers provided in the Pew polls that cover Pakistan and Bangladesh. A significant chunk of the population in those two countries believes that the punishment for apostasy and blasphemy should be death. A significant majority of citizens in these countries want religious laws to govern every aspect of their life. Are these beliefs compatible with a secular democratic republic like India? How can we use secularism and democracy to let a set of people in who are completely against those very set of values that we value and cherish so much?

Anyone who comes into India should pass the test of “mutual respect”. Mere “tolerance” is not enough anymore. If India’s larger narrative is that all paths are equally valid then anyone coming inside India should be asked what they think about this inherent value system of India. Immigration has to be a tool not just to help the persecuted. It should also see to it that fault lines aren’t created in the society.

Will a practicing Salafi Muslim say that idol worship/atheism are fine? If it isn’t fine, what does he/she think ought to be done about it? Should we let in people who think atheists or idol worshippers ought to be killed? If an immigration policy leads to ghettoisation is that policy sound?

Demography matters. If some people believe that individuals carrying beliefs that are antithetical to ours will suddenly come and change those beliefs, I’m sorry, those people are extremely naive. Maybe they have been listening to John Lenon’s song “Imagine” a little too much.

Systems based on “tolerance” will fail. Western societies are based on tolerance. Just see what’s happening there right now. Every society has to graduate from tolerance to mutual respect. And people who refuse to do that, well, they can stay where they are.

Just because a few left leaning politicians and activists have a death wish it does not mean everyone has to die. Wanting to stay alive is a basic human instinct. Why bring such people over here? What purpose does it solve?

I am not saying that we stop being humanitarian. But one can only be humanitarian if one stays alive! And while no one wants to say, it the fact of the matter is that when a society gets to a point where the quotient of Islamists increase, it leads to a significant increase in violence, terrorism and all sorts of other problems.

Wherever Salafi Islam enters, there are violent clashes. Islam that is practiced in its current form in Pakistan & Bangladesh is incompatible with pluralism of India. Stats don’t lie. If Salafi Islam is plural why are the Hindu numbers in Pakistan and Bangladesh dwindling? Also have we forgotten Kashmir?

Immigration can’t become a tool where you inflict wounds upon yourself. India as a country has to be selective in its immigration policies. It should only let in people who believe in “mutual respect”.

What I am trying to do is to say something that has been discussed in our drawing rooms for many years. I have no intention of stereotyping all Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh. I am sure there are a lot of good folks amongst them. I am not someone who has hatred in his heart. But tell me one simple thing, when you look at the stats in those Pew polls don’t you get worried?

I will end this article by quoting a small excerpt of a speech given by a gentleman called Salim Mansur to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in Canada. You can check the full text of the speech here.

“If the level of immigration in Canada is being maintained and defended on the basis of the need to deal with the problems of Canadian society in terms of aging population, fertility rates among Canadian women, skilled labour requirements, and maintaining a growth level for the population consistent with the growth of the economy, then this policy needs to be re-evaluated. We cannot fix the social problems of Canadian society by an open immigration policy that adds to the numbers at a rate that puts into question the absorptive capacity of the country, not only in economic terms, but also, if not more importantly, in cultural and social terms, and what this does to our political arrangement as a liberal democracy.

The flow of immigration into Canada from around the world, and in particular the flow from Muslim countries, means a pouring in of numbers into a liberal society of people from cultures at best non-liberal. But we know through our studies and observation that the illiberal mix of cultures poses one of the greatest dilemmas and an unprecedented challenge to liberal societies such as ours, when there is no demand placed on immigrants any longer to assimilate into the founding liberal values of the country to which they have immigrated. Instead, a misguided and thoroughly wrong-headed policy of multiculturalism encourages the opposite.”


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