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5th Feb 2020 – The Hindu Topic 1

“The Centre must stop privileging religious persecution over other forms”

As protests continue to ripple in many parts of the country against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, or the CAA, the National Population Register (NPR) and allied issues, their nature, content and direction have drawn critical attention. The introduction of a religious test for Indian citizenship through the CAA evoked widespread public indignation. Right-thinking people from all walks of life mobilised in a manner befitting a vibrant democracy, and several State governments and Assemblies have expressed reservations. Students have been in the forefront of protests that marked an awakening from a defeatist slumber of the country in the face of creeping majoritarianism. As the protests linger on, however, they appear to be sliding into the control of vested interests that work for religious polarisation. The discriminatory CAA targets Muslims, but the protests were driven by the wider civil society at the beginning. Incendiary speeches and slogans at anti-CAA protests, and even support for Islamist politics, have put non-sectarian opponents of the law in a difficult spot. Muslims have equal rights as all other citizens of India to assemble and protest, but reducing the CAA debate into a question of their rights alone is dishonour of the pluralist, inclusive Constitution of secular India. After the success in kindling a national debate on the issue which is now before the Supreme Court that will litigate its constitutionality, anti-CAA protesters must now hold their fire.

 

The opportunity that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sniffed in the protests is not to reach out and reconcile, but to confront and polarise, particularly in the campaign for the Delhi Assembly election. The chilling effect of the party’s brazen vilification and dehumanisation of the protesters is no longer an abstract fear. Three separate incidents of firing at protesters, two clearly inspired by Hindutva politics, have been reported in Delhi. Far from condemning these incidents in the strongest terms and ensuring swift and strict police action, the BJP leadership has continued with divisive rhetoric. A Union Minister led slogans calling for the “shooting of traitors”. The BJP must immediately adopt a path of reconciliation and resolution. One way is by making a further amendment to the CAA that will not prioritise religious persecution over other forms of persecution. No protester is against welcoming the persecuted from three neighbouring countries listed in the CAA. By amending the law to remove the arbitrary selection of countries and religious groups, the current turmoil can be easily calmed. A small step of reason and vision will serve India well.

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