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A tale of three theocracies

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A tale of three theocracies

Thursday, 09 January 2020 | Ishan Joshi

More empathy and an outreach by those in power towards those who fear the introduction of the CAA are imperative

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is a well-drafted, welcome piece of legislation. It passes with flying colours the triple test of Aristotelian logic, the Indian Nyaya school and Confucian principles.

CAA seeks to provide both the physical and epistemological comforts of home in a land of refuge, India, to religiously persecuted minority communities of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. All three of these states are theocracies with Islam enshrined in their respective Constitutions as the state religion. I shall refer to them “Group I states” for the purpose of this article.

Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal, also in the neighbourhood, are non-theocratic states with no state religion. These may be termed the “Group II states.”

It follows, therefore, that what in legalese is termed “reasonable differentia” is clearly established in that distinction between these two groups of South Asian nation states. Which is also why the CAA cannot be extended to include minority communities claiming religious persecution in Group II states such as the Rohingya in Myanmar, Tamils in Sri Lanka and Ahmadiyya/Ismailis/Shias in Pakistan.

Unless, that is, any of the Group II states decides in the years ahead to adopt a state religion and convert itself into a theocracy. And a political party in India included such a demand in its election manifesto, got democratically elected and followed through on bringing its promise to fruition with legislation to that effect.

Were this to come to pass, support for fast-tracking Indian citizenship eligibility for minority communities living in future theocracies within Group II states in the Indian sub-continent would be entirely valid. But only then, not before.  

As for Group I states, their Muslim citizens are excluded from the ambit of the CAA because they cannot, by definition, be religiously persecuted in a theocratic country where the state religion is Islam.

This is not to say members of the majority community in Group I states are not persecuted; far from it.

Anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests our Muslim neighbours who have chosen to found and live in theocratic states in South Asia are discriminated against on a plethora of grounds including political, sectarian, factional, regional, economic, gender et.al. by oppressive state apparatuses.

But, and without intending to make this sound like Philosophy 101, it is one thing to say all citizens of Group I states regardless of faith have a disability; it is quite another to assert that they all suffer from the same disability.

It stands to reason, thus, that the palliative for specific disabilities will differ depending on the particular disability one is aiming to ameliorate.

The CAA’s architecture is designed to deal with a specific disability; that of the disappearance of minority communities from Group I states which were, till 1947, either directly or indirectly part of Britain’s Indian empire. The Act does so in a humane, practicable and ethical manner. Some may disagree. But that’s for lawyers to scrap over in court.

If the Supreme Court of India, which has admitted a bunch of petitions challenging the Constitutional validity of the Act, holds the amended citizenship law to be kosher, excellent. If it doesn’t, then it will not be the law of the land.

Either way, as law-abiding citizens of the republic, it would behove each one of us to accept with grace the verdict once appeals if any are disposed of or, if required, bring in a fresh law.

In any event, there can be no justification for anti-CAA protesters inciting anarchy via arson, destruction of public property, wanton violence and mindless lumpen behaviour.

Governments, for their part, both at the Centre and in the States, must ensure the  might of the law is brought to be bear upon rioters including punitive measures such as those initiated by the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Government in issuing notices under the law to confiscate the immovable assets of those charged with destroying public property as compensation.

Simultaneously, administrations must adopt a policy of zero-tolerance for the use of disproportionate force by police without neutering them or hampering their effectiveness.

It’s tough, in Indian conditions, but that’s Raj Dharma.

Making incendiary remarks targetting co-citizens, especially among the Indian Muslim community, is unacceptable. Doubly so if they come from those in positions of responsibility. Whatever the provocation.

More empathy and an outreach by those in power towards those who fear the introduction of the CAA, however unjustified their apprehensions may be, are also a categorical imperative.

What is puzzling beyond all measure, though, is what the rationale behind opposing the CAA is by those who term themselves “secular.” Is their collective self-loathing so acute?

Surely, they cannot stand in favour of oppressive theocracies and swear by secularism in the same breath.

On second thoughts, the history of the 20th century teaches us that perhaps they can — taking a line from their support for the Khilafat movement to the overturning of the Shah Bano verdict and opposition to a Uniform Civil Code for India.

The conviction grows that they are here to bury secularism, not to praise it. And when erstwhile mainstream political parties become its pall bearers, it is time to worry.

I do not propose to blame it all on Nehru & Co.

On the contrary, as a proud secularist albeit from an Indic tradition I am grateful that the founders of the Republic did not enshrine Sanatan Dharma as the national faith. It would not only have been oxymoronic but undermined the whole notion of an Indic exceptionalism.

But choosing to be Constitutionally faith-neutral if very different from trying to force Indic faiths into an Abrahamic mould and normalising the characterisation of Hinduism as a “religion.”

Approximations just don’t cut it.

These fine distinctions, however, would surely have gladly been forfeited by the ethnically-cleansed minority communities of Group I states if they had not been murdered, raped, humiliated, delegitimised and dehumanised for 72 years because of religious persecution. The CAA, read as it is, aims to redeem secular India’s solemn pledge at the time of Partition.

If not wholly, then at least very substantially.

(The writer is a senior editor with Asia News Network. The views expressed are personal)

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