Citizenship Tangle

Why the Modi government's plan to make religion a basis for citizenship is a bad idea

A proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act would bar Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan from gaining Indian citizenship.

On Wednesday, when he rose up to speak in Parliament on the abuse of human rights in Kashmir, Trinamool Congress member of parliament Derek O’Brien recounted how his Anglo-Indian family had thrived in India while the branch of the O’Briens in Pakistan did not exist anymore. In this country, O’Brien said, “We can eat what we want, we can pray wherever we want to, we can walk the streets freely."

India’s religious tolerance in its neighbourhood is something that every government had been conscious of before this. India’s twin, Pakistan, enshrines religion as a basis for state citizenship. Non-Muslims cannot be head of state in Pakistan and the government even goes so far as to regulate the religion of oppressed groups such as Ahmadis.

Unfortunately, rather than build on this lead, the Modi government seems keen on actually making India more like Pakistan, enshrining faith at the centre of its statehood. An amendment to the Citizenship Act pushed by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh aims to make religion a criteria for Indian citizenship.

Muslims not welcome

The Hindu reported on Friday that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, seeks to change the way an undocumented migrant can obtain Indian citizenship. If the amendment gets passed, members of every major religious community coming into India without legal passports or staying on without valid papers will be entitled to Indian citizenship after six years of residence in India – provided they aren't Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh.

A senior Union minister explained that this was because, “The principle is victimhood. How can a Muslim claim he has been victimised in these countries?”.

As it turns out, Muslims do face a lot of victimisation even in Muslim-majority countries. Shia Muslims, in Pakistan, by any standard, could be said be persecuted. In May 2015, militants blew up a bus containing 43 Ismailis, a sub-sect of Shia Muslim on August 1, Taliban militants gunned down 2 Hazara Shias in Quetta. The killing of Hazaras in Pakistan, an ethnic Shia group, is so gruesome that some commentators have even called it a genocide. Desperate to escape, some Hazara have even looked to Australia for asylum. This when the Hazara have historic links with India, with the British Indian Army even once containing a Hazara regiment.

Ahmadis – a small Muslim sect with roots in the Indian town of Qadian – are even more persecuted and even targeted officially by the Pakistani state. The Pakistani Constitution goes out of its way to officially brand Ahmadis as non-Muslim – even though they think of themselves as followers of Islam – and laws forbid Ahmedis from using Islamic prayers, books and even from using the common Muslim greeting, As-salam alaykum. Pakistan has seen multiple anti-Ahmadi riots since 1947. So widespread is anti-Ahmadi sentiment that appeals to kill them have been made openly on television with no action against the speakers.

Two Nation Theory

The list could go on. But clearly the rationale of “religious persecution” trotted out by the government doesn’t hold: Muslims can also be victims just like Hindus.

It should be noted that this isn’t a one-off event. In September, 2015, the Modi government decided that people from Pakistan and Bangladesh who had sought shelter in India before December 31, 2014, “due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” would be allowed to stay – again, unless they were Muslim.

Clearly, the process of introducing religion into citizenship is a well-thought one driven by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s majoritarian ideology, which assumes that faith is a determinant in nationality. The founder of Hindutva, Vinayak Savarkar laid out one of the first versions of the Two Nation Theory when he descibed Hindus and Muslims are two distinct nations. This, of course, goes hand in hand with a suspicion of Muslims – a mirror image of the suspicion of Hindus in Pakistan.

In a 2012 interview with journalist Shahid Siddiqui, Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, accused Indian Muslims of having extra-national sympathies. “You people find your mouth watering because you think by combining India, Pakistan and Bangladesh into Akhand Bharat, the country would have a lot of Muslims,” Modi said, in curious reversal of the official history of Partition in India. “All these Muslims would come together and use Indian Muslims to create tensions within India. This would be your dream too.”

What has ensured a difference with Pakistan is that India has kept its law making from being influenced by some of the more extreme right-wing ideologies. But if prime minister Modi’s views, that Indian Muslims will “come together” with Pakistani or Afghan Muslims, is now enshrined in its citizenship laws, then that difference might be a short lived one.

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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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