Home Minister Amit Shah has formally announced in Rajya Sabha today that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be implemented all across the country. The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) is also slated to be taken up by Parliament in this session. Last time, the bill lapsed because it was not passed by the Rajya Sabha.
It goes without saying that the CAB is the most crucial safety measure required to ensure that the NRC is a success. Without the CAB, genuine Hindu (and Sikh, etc) refugees in the country would feel harassed by the NRC process, causing additional misery to an already marginalized and vulnerable people.
At the same time, we also need to understand that the global anti-Hindu ecosystem is waiting to pounce upon the CAB and use it to misrepresent and demonize India and its elected government. We cannot underestimate the power of this ecosystem. Following the abrogation of Article 370, there was systematic vilification of India on the roads, in universities, in newspapers, in diplomatic circles and in legislatures of foreign countries. We have to do all we can to nip this in the bud.
There are two practicalities to be acknowledged here. First, we may bristle at foreign countries getting involved in purely internal matters of India, such as NRC, CAB or Kashmir. But the fact remains that as a $3 trillion economy, we cannot avoid global attention in our domestic affairs. We simply have to adapt to this. Think about how everyone everywhere has something to say about the US Presidential race.
Second, a good deal of this vilification campaign is due to reasons that are beyond our control. The global liberal subservience to Islamism, for instance. If the New York Times refuses to blame radical jihadis for the 9/11 attacks and blames the airplanes instead, we cannot expect them to understand our pain in Kashmir. Again, we cannot stop British MPs who must answer to huge Pakistani populations in their constituencies. Not much we can do there. But where we can pull strings, we have to do our best.
Therefore, we have to adapt, be proactive and make sure that India is not demonized over the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
The accusations are already flying thick and fast, with India being accused of trying to deprive Muslims of citizenship.
How might we counter this? We have to explain that the proposed CAB is not something that is exclusionary in nature. Rather it is a measure that protects a vulnerable group of refugees by giving them citizenship.
How can India deport a Hindu refugee to Pakistan or Bangladesh to face religious persecution, perhaps even death?
This is not discrimination against anybody. Civilized countries all over the world have policies that prevent people from being deported to places where they would be persecuted for their identity.
Let me quote to you the UN Convention of 1951 which defines a refugee as:
“someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”
This definition has been incorporated into the laws of many countries, including the 1980 Refugee Act in the United States. This act amended the Immigration and Nationality Law in the US and established a clear distinction between “immigrants” and “refugees.”
India is merely doing the same here. We are establishing a legal distinction between immigrants and refugees.
Most Western countries, for instance, would not deport a gay person to Iran, where they would face the death penalty. Is this discrimination against straight people?
It is similarly dishonest to say that India protecting Hindus from getting deported to Pakistan is somehow against secular principles. The Indian government is not discriminating here; the Indian government is merely acknowledging the fact that other countries in our neighbourhood discriminate against Hindus.
As the Citizenship Amendment Bill makes its way through Parliament, we need an aggressive strategy to tell the world that we are merely enforcing a globally accepted principle of justice.
One concrete suggestion that I would make in this regard is to change the bureaucratic sounding name of the Bill. The Bill amends Citizenship law in India and therefore it’s been called the ‘Citizenship Amendment Bill.’ As such, the name of the bill doesn’t immediately tell us what its purpose is. Whose citizenship? What amendment? This means that any mention of the bill must come with an additional explanation. And global liberals speaking to foreign audiences get a chance to twist their explanation to fit their propaganda.
We can short circuit this propaganda rather easily by changing the name of the bill. Why not rename it to something like “Protection of vulnerable religious minorities bill”? Let’s put it upfront that the bill is supposed to protect a group of particularly vulnerable people and not to exclude anyone. Make the job of our enemies that much harder. Leave them to explain why they are against protection for vulnerable religious minorities.
We saw the power of names quite recently. Even though OCI is not more than a visa, global liberals pounced upon the C-word in OCI to claim that India had stripped someone of citizenship! As opposed to just denying a visa. This was a small instance, but it shows why we need to be careful in choosing names.
As a nation primarily made up of Hindus, the deck is already stacked against us in foreign capitals. We don’t enjoy the benefit of the doubt like a Western country would. As a prominent world power, we cannot expect our domestic affairs to fly under the global radar. We have to aggressively engage with the world and explain our side. Because nobody else will.