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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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.