Zafarul Islam Khan, chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission, addresses a gathering in New Delhi on Jan. 26 to discuss the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)
Christian leaders from different denominations, lawyers, scholars and leaders representing minorities have praised Indian states which are protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and have urged all communities to support the protesters.
They gathered in New Delhi for a consultation against the backdrop of protests all over the country on Jan. 26, India’s 71st Republic Day.
“Our country is going through a difficult phase now; unfortunately, it is even worse than when the country was ruled by the British. At least they were more practical and grasped the situation of the nation,” Zafarul Islam Khan, chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission, told the consultation.
Khan, a Muslim leader, said there is a fear among minorities that the majority are trying to push their agenda on poor Dalits, tribals and minority communities.
“People are afraid to talk. The general feeling is that there is no guarantee when one will be arrested and put in jail for no fault of one's own, which is very dangerous for a democratic country like India. Delhi people have to more careful now as Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal has granted the power to detain to the Delhi police commissioner under the National Security Act,” Khan said.
“When we are celebrating Republic Day, we have to think seriously whether we are really happy and prosperous, whether all communities are dwelling in this country peacefully, but the present condition does not look so good.”
The consultation was jointly organized by the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society and the Indian Social Institute. It was attended by 100 prominent leaders.
Leaders praised the states of Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal for passing resolutions not to implement the CAA, which was passed in parliament on Dec. 11 last year.
The new bill seeks to amend the 1955 Citizenship Act to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, but excluding Muslims, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship. The bill relaxes the requirement of residence in India from 11 years to six years for these migrants.
The government said these minority groups are escaping persecution in Muslim-majority nations. However, the logic is not consistent — the bill does not protect all religious minorities, nor does it apply to all neighboring states.
The Ahmadi Muslim sect and even Shias face discrimination in Pakistan. Rohingya Muslims and Hindus face persecution in neighboring Myanmar, as do Hindu and Christian Tamils in neighboring Sri Lanka.
The government responded that Muslims can seek refuge in Islamic nations but has not answered the other questions.
Effectively, the CAA fences Muslim identity by declaring India a welcome refuge to all other religious communities. It seeks to legally establish Muslims as second-class citizens of India by providing preferential treatment for other groups.
This violates Article 14 of the constitution, the fundamental right to equality for all. This basic structure of the constitution cannot be reshaped by any parliament.
The CAA defines illegal immigrants as foreigners who enter India without a valid passport or travel documents, or stay beyond the permitted time. Illegal immigrants can be deported or jailed.
“I am happy that now more and more churches are coming forward to join the protesters against this act and the last one was Goa church. We should not think this act will only affect the Muslim community. Also hard hit will be minority communities, Dalits and tribals,” said Apoorvanand Jha, a professor at the University of Delhi.
“The Hindu community will take some time to react to this act because many are confused and unclear about the act. What we can do with our limited sources is to start an awareness campaign to reach to the lowest.”
A Hindu scholar on the panel said: “A good sign is that the Muslim community has risen to the occasion on its own without the support of political parties. Other communities will follow, but it will take time.”
P.I. Jose, a Supreme Court lawyer, said lawyers and judges who must safeguard the constitution are also under severe pressure to perform their duties and sometimes even face pressure from higher-ups.
“We should unite and support the protesters all over the country because if we think that it is their [Muslim community] problem, then when we face problems nobody will support us,” he added.
Father Denzil Fernandes, a Jesuit priest and director of the Indian Social Institute, said that “the entire country is facing some kind of unease due to this act and we have to seriously think how we can contribute towards supporting the protesters. Institutions, scholars and civil society have to lead from the front and create a mechanism so that we can raise our voices against such injustice.”