Citizenship Amendment Act and Religious Minorities in South Asia

Ram Puniyani

In the beginning of January 2020 two very disturbing events were reported from Pakistan. One was the attack on Nankana Sahib, the holy shrine where Sant Guru Nanak was born. While one report said that the place has been desecrated, the other stated that it was a fight between two Muslim groups.

Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan condemned the incident and the main accused Imran Chisti was arrested. The matter related to abduction and conversion of a Sikh girl Jagjit Kaur, daughter of Pathi (One who reads Holy Guru Granth Sahib in Gurudwara) of the Gurudwara. In another incident one Sikh youth Ravinder Singh, who was out on shopping for his marriage, was shot dead in Peshawar.

While these condemnable attacks took place on the Sikh minority in Pakistan, BJP was quick enough to jump to state that it is events like this which justify the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Incidentally CAA is the Act which is discriminatory and relates to citizenship with Religion, which is not as per the norms of Indian constitution. There are constant debates and propaganda that population of Hindus has come down drastically in Pakistan and Bangla Desh. Amit Shah, the Home minister stated that in Pakistan the population of Hindus has come down from 23% at the time of partition to 3.7% at present. And in Bangla Desh it has come down from 22% to present 8%.

While not
denying the fact that the religious minorities are getting a rough deal in both
these countries, the figures which are presented are totally off the mark.
These figures don’t take into consideration the painful migrations, which took
place at the time of partition and formation of Bangla Desh later. Pakistan
census figures tell a different tale. Their first census was held in 1951. As per this census the overall percentage of Non
Muslim in Pakistan (East and West together) was 14.2%, of this in West Pakistan (Now Pakistan) it was 3.44 and in Eat Pakistan it was 23.2. In the census held in Pakistan 1998 it became 3.72%. As
far as Bangla Desh is concerned the share of Non Muslims has gone down from 23.2 (1951) to 9.6% in 2011.

The largest minority of Pakistan is Ahmadis, (https://minorityrights.org/country/pakistan/ ) who are close to 4 Million and are not recognised as Muslims in Pakistan. In Bangla Desh the major migrations of Hindus from Bangla Desh took place in the backdrop of Pakistan army’s atrocities in the then East Pakistan.

As far as UN
data on refugees in India it went up by 17% between
2016-2019 and largest numbers were from Tibet
and Sri Lanka.  (https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/publications/migrationreport/docs/MigrationReport2017_Highlights.pdf )

The state of
minorities is in a way the index of strength of democracy. Most South Asian
Countries have not been able to sustain democratic values properly.

In Pakistan,
the Republic began with Jinnah’s classic speech where secularism was to be
central credo of Pakistan. This 11th August
speech was in a way what the state policy should be, as per which people of all
faiths are free to practice their religion. Soon enough the logic of ‘Two
Nation theory” and formation of Pakistan,
a separate state for Muslim took
over. Army stepped in and dictatorship was to reign there intermittently.
Democratic elements were suppressed and the worst came when Zia Ul Haq
Islamized the state in collusion with Maulanas.

The army was
already a strong presence in Pakistan. The popular formulation for Pakistan was
that it is ruled by three A’s, Army, America and Allah (Mullah).

Bangla
Desh had a different trajectory.
Its very formation was a nail in the coffin of ‘two nation
theory’; that religion can be the basis of a state.

Bangla Desh
did begin as a secular republic but communal forces and secular forces kept
struggling for their dominance and in 1988 it
also became Islamic republic. At another level Myanmar, in the grip of military
dictatorship, with democratic elements trying to retain their presence is also
seeing a hard battle. Democracy or not, the army and Sanghas (Buddhist Sang
has) are strong, in Myanmar as well. The most visible result is persecution of
Rohingya Muslims.

Similar
phenomenon is dominating in Sri Lanka also where Budhhist Sanghas and army have
strong say in the political affairs, irrespective of which Government is
ruling. Muslim and Christian minorities are a big victim there, while Tamils
(Hindus, Christians etc.) suffered the biggest damage as ethnic and religious
minorities. India had the best prospect of democracy, pluralism and secularism
flourishing here. The secular constitution, the outcome of India’s freedom
struggle, the leadership of Gandhi and Nehru did ensure the rooting of
democracy and secularism in a strong way.

India so far
had best democratic credentials amongst all the south Asian countries. Despite
that though the population of minorities rose mainly due to poverty and
illiteracy, their overall marginalisation was order of the day, it went on
worsening with the rise of communal forces, with communal forces resorting to
identity issues, and indulging in propaganda against minorities.

While other
South Asian countries should had followed India to focus more on infrastructure
and political culture of liberalism, today India is following the footsteps of
Pakistan. The retrograde march of India is most visible in the issues which
have dominated the political space during last few years. Issues like Ram
Temple, Ghar Wapasi, Love Jihad, Beef-Cow are now finding their peak in CAA.

India’s
reversal towards a polity with religion’s identity dominating the political
scene was nicely presented by the late Pakistani poetess Fahmida Riaz in her
poem, Tum bhi Hum Jaise Nikle (You also turned out to be like us). While trying
to resist communal forces has been an arduous task, it is becoming more
difficult by the day. This phenomenon has been variously called,
Fundamentalism, Communalism or religious nationalism among others. Surely it
has nothing to do with the religion as practiced by the great Saint and Sufi
traditions of India; it resorts mainly to political mobilization by using religion
as a tool.

Ram Puniyani

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