The worlds largest democracy is heading toward modern-day fascism – Business Insider
India’s Parliament passed a new amendment to its citizenship law earlier this month, providing a pathway to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities while singling out its minority Muslim population.
The amended act has been slammed by critics and has sparked deadly protests around the country.
The fight that has erupted over the citizenship law is reflective of the country’s rising tide of bigotry directed toward minorities, particularly its Muslim population, which makes up about 14% of the country’s massive 1.3 billion people.
A controversial amendment to a law was recently passed in India, sparking deadly protests around the country and leading some to question the country’s democratic values.
On December 11, India’s Parliament passed an amendment to its Citizenship Act of 1955, which sets out guidelines for becoming a citizen in the country. The 2019 revision added a religious element, providing a pathway to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities who fled the neighboring majority-Muslim countries Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
The amended act has been slammed by critics as anti-Islam, and they say it further marginalizes India’s sizable Muslim minority. Violent protests have erupted across the country in response, resulting in the deaths of six people. Dozens more have been arrested or injured in clashes with the police.
The fight reflects the country’s rising tide of bigotry directed toward minorities, particularly its Muslim population, which makes up about 14% of the country’s 1.3 billion people.
The law has also handed more power to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government in crafting a country that affords more rights to its Hindu majority and leaves room for further discrimination in the areas of governance and public space.
What exactly does the law say?
India’s Citizenship Act was first established in 1955 and created comprehensive guidelines related to citizenship in the country.
It has been amended several times, including a 2003 amendment that authorized the government to keep a national register of all of its citizens (referred to as the NRC). Today, the register has not yet been implemented except in the northeastern state of Assam, which is home to a majority-Muslim population.
The most recent changes to the Citizenship Act, often referred to locally as CAB or CAA, were passed by India’s lower house of Parliament — the Lok Sabha — on December 10, before being cleared by the upper house of Parliament — the Rajya Sabha — a day later. The bill was signed into law by President Ram Nath Kovind.
The bill was introduced by India’s minister of home affairs, Amit Shah, a leading member of Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, and it promised to provide refuge for persecuted religious minorities from three neighboring majority-Muslim countries who entered India before 2015.
India’s Parliament said in a statement after the bill’s passage that the act excluded Muslim migrants “as they do not face religious persecution in these Islamic countries.”
The law also leaves out two neighboring Buddhist countries, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, that have experienced major refugee crises in recent years. There are about 59,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees residing in more than 100 camps in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, according to the Indian magazine Frontline, and about 30,000 who live outside these camps.
“The only religion that the Modi government follows is the Constitution of India,” the statement added.
In the statement, Shah “reiterated that the Bill is not against any Minority in India and the rights of each Indian Citizen will be equally protected.”
The bill does not apply to Assam and other indigenous areas.
A representative for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the act “discriminatory in nature” and said it undermined India’s democratic framework:
“While the goal of protecting persecuted groups is welcome, this should be done through a robust national asylum system that is premised on the principle of equality and nondiscrimination and which applies to all people in need of protection from persecution and other human-rights violations, with no distinction as to race, religion, national origin, or other prohibited grounds.”
The Citizenship Act has spurred thousands of people from human-rights groups, universities, and religious groups to come out in protest this month. On December 15, clashes between the police and students escalated on two Muslim university campuses — Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh and of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi — resulting in the police using batons and tear gas on students.
This is not the first time the government has targeted its Muslim population
India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has taken steps to further marginalize the country’s Muslim population since coming into power in 2014.
Critics have derided the NRC’s exclusive use in Assam as a way of stoking religious tensions. According to a 2011 census, Muslims make up nearly 35% of Assam’s population and are a majority in eight of the state’s districts.
In August, 1.9 million people from the region were excluded from the register, effectively stripping them of citizenship. Amnesty International has criticized the NRC and says it leaves the futures of millions of people in the region uncertain.
In September, India began construction on a large-scale detention center in the Goalpara district of Assam meant to hold at least 3,000 detainees, according to Reuters.
And in August, India also revoked part of its constitution that gave the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir a special status and quasi-independence. Over the past four months, Kashmir, which is home to a significant Muslim population, has been off from communication, held on lockdown, and is now directly under the control of India’s federal government in New Delhi.
As part of a communication shutdown, residents in Kashmir have lost access to phone lines and the internet. According to advocacy groups, the internet shutdown in the region is the longest-ever crackdown imposed on a democracy. Only authoritarian countries, like China and Myanmar, have experienced longer internet shutdowns.
State-sanctioned discrimination against Muslims has had dire consequences
The Modi government’s attitudes and policies toward minority groups has sparked racially motivated clashes, and observers say the ruling Hindu party has fostered a culture of impunity through its inaction in addressing violence.
Shah, who crafted the citizenship bill, vowed in April to throw Muslim immigrants from the neighboring Bangladesh who were living in India illegally into the Bay of Bengal. He has also previously referred to immigrants in the country illegally as “termites.”
India has also seen an increase in attacks against its Muslim minority in recent months. A February 2019 report from Human Rights Watch found that from May 2015 to December 2018, at least 36 Muslims were killed across 12 Indian states. Roughly 280 people were injured across 20 states during the same period, the rights group added.
In a particularly gruesome case last year, an 8-year-old Muslim girl was kidnapped, raped, and killed in Jammu and Kashmir by a group of Hindu men with the intention of committing the crime to drive away Muslim nomads in the area.
Experts have noted that India is straying away from its democratic values under the Bharatiya Janata Party.
“There is absolute political consensus within the Bharatiya Janata Party that India is culturally a Hindu country,” Milan Vaishnav, the director of the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Los Angeles Times.
Harish Pullanoor, an editor at Quartz India, wrote in 2016 that India was “displaying classic signs that foreshadow fascism,” including the disenfranchisement of religious minorities.
“The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders,” said Umberto Eco, an Italian philosopher, who wrote of a list of features that define a fascist state.
In April, several Muslim merchants in Old Delhi described fears of religiously motivated violence against them.
“I could be lynched right now and nobody would do anything about it,” Abdul Adnan, a Muslim businessman, told The New York Times. “My government doesn’t even consider me Indian. How can that be when my ancestors have lived here hundreds of years?”
According to The Times, the consensus among Indian activists and liberal political analysts is that the country, under Modi, has become “more toxically divided between Hindus and Muslims.”
“In plain language, they are what we now call communal fascists,” Aditya Mukherjee, a retired historian told The Times.
The historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an op-ed article in The Washington Post in August that it was time to downgrade India’s status as a world-class democracy.
“Given the lack of any sort of credible opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party, the atmosphere of fear among religious minorities and the attacks on a free press, we are now a 40-60 democracy,” he wrote of India.