CAA is an artificial divide between communities

It would be interesting, if not edifying, to know whether Governor Arif Mohammad Khan learnt his history from Bharatiya Janata Party leader Amit Shah or vice versa. In any case, their commitment to what they believe Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru said about opening our hearts and doors to Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan is moving. It would have been wonderful if they followed the Mahatma and Nehru on other issues, such as compassion and secularism. Be that as it may, it would seem that neither look at history as it should be done, a study of the facts and the interpretation of those to better understand our past. But, I must say that since Khan delivers his pronouncements with the flourish of fencing, it is more enjoyable to respond to his “touche”.

In recent weeks, we have been repeatedly told that it was Gandhi’s wish and Nehru’s commitment that migrant Hindus and Sikhs be provided citizenship and jobs. To set the record straight, the Partition assumed that people would choose to stay or migrate across the newly-drawn borders. But obviously, many Muslims, though certainly far from all, were expected to cross over to Pakistan just as most Hindus were expected to cross over to India.

The Long Partition by Vazira Zamindar tells us that in Sindh, the steady departure of Hindus was seen as sad, even as the stream of Muslims coming from India was thought to be unwanted. The grand vision of a Muslim homeland floundered on the waves of muhajirs (Muslim immigrants) entering Pakistan. Ultimately, the crossings at Khokhropar in Sindh were closed because more migrants could not be accommodated. In India, there was an issue of dealing with Muslims who returned after having initially migrated to Pakistan ( 95,000 registered after the Jawaharlal Nehru-Liaquat Ali Khan pact) as well as Hindus and Sikhs who took the belated decision to leave Pakistan despite Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s assurances. Initially, people crossed the border without papers, then travel permits were introduced, and finally passports were issued by the two sides. At that point, the documents authorised travel, but were yet not associated with citizenship.

The problem posed by returning Muslims was that their properties had vested in the custodian of evacuee property, and in many cases, utilised for settling refugees. There was no issue about their citizenship and, therefore, it did not figure. On the other hand, there are examples such as letters written to migrants in Pakistan by Zakir Hussain, pleading with them to return home. I know of individuals who returned after some months and even wrote about one such case in my book, At Home in India. It is quite understandable that Hindus and Sikhs who might otherwise have migrated at the time of Partition chose to do so as a second thought, disappointed with conditions in Pakistan. But that applies just as much to Muslims from Pakistan, and we know that several hundred have been granted citizenship of India over the years.

The problem with the Citizenship (Amenment) Act, or the CAA, is that it seeks to create an artificial divide between Hindu and Sikhs on one hand, and with Muslims on the other, seemingly on the grounds of persecution, although the law does not require any proof of persecution. The truth is that many Muslims, particularly Qadyani, Shia and Baloch tribals face much worse persecution. We could have made a law to accommodate refugees keeping the historical and regional context in mind.

Arif Mohammad Khan has suggested that since Partition, there has been a severe drop in Pakistan’s non-Muslim population, although this may be an exaggeration. That still does not justify the automatic exclusion of migrant or refugee Muslims from our concern. His reference to the All India Congress Committee Resolution and concern expressed by Ashok Gehlot, the then chief minister of Rajasthan, must remain in the context of a pending issue that any reasonable person would want resolved. It certainly cannot add any ideological dimension to justify the thesis that Khan proposes. We must not forget that despite his exertions, we are not limited to the India-Pakistan binary, but are dealing with Bangladesh and Afghanistan as well. The logic applied to Pakistan’s treatment of its minorities might not apply to Bangladesh, and certainly not Afghanistan about which former President Hamid Karzai has said that all its citizens are persecuted because of civil war. Furthermore, the exclusion of Sri Lanka defies logic.

Having lent the CAA moral agnosticism, Khan has opted to steer clear of the response in Assam, where the people and the government have uniformly opposed the law because their concern is about outsiders who will dilute their culture irrespective of their faith. It is this that leads one to believe that the persecution story is a ruse for resolving the problem of what to do with the Hindu foreigners identified in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in Assam.

Beyond that there is doubt that the same preferential treatment will be extended to people of a particular faith under a possible all-India NRC.

Salman Khurdhid is former Union Cabinet minister

The views expressed are personal

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