by Anya Daftary

India. A bubbling pot of diversity has recently come under criticism and scrutiny of its government which has been previously accused of spreading Hindutva nationalist agenda. The government passed a law which, for the first time in India, determined religion as a criteria for determining whether migrants, illegal migrants would be able to be fast-tracked for citizenship in this country. Being a secular nation, this called for a series of protests across the country. This led hundreds and thousands of Muslims to fear their safety in India, their homeland.

Prime Minister Modi’s Office has justified their actions by saying that the act and bill only aim to assist religious minorities and the surrounding countries of India are predominantly Islamic countries.

Large-scale protests in major cities of India have been organized against the new Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 and some have even turned violent. The act fast tracks illegal immigration and guarantees Indian citizenship in six years for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and  Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who have lived previously in India without the proper documentation and papers. In very recent history, the government also passed an act known as the NRC, previously covered by The Ascent, which required persons of alleged illegality in the state of Assam to prove that either themselves or their predecessors had been present in Assam before March 24, 1971. The NRC could possibly be extended to the rest of the country, leaving a lingering fear. While some say that the NRC targets Muslims, that bill is not based on religion, unlike the CAA and CAB.

The outbreak of protests has led to a variety of scenarios where the police or local law enforcement has been privy to acts of violence against protesters. Newspapers such as the New York Times have covered painful torture and the brutal beating up of Muslims.  Posters and signs up at protests were heartbreaking, some reading “I am Indian by choice not by chance,” referring to their chance to leave India to go to Pakistan during partition. Others before the New Year also read “Merry crisis and a happy new fear.”

The problem is rising because India has declared itself a secular country in the past.  By the government deciding that Muslims do not qualify as a minority, the government has already dis-aligned itself from India’s so-called secular ready calling it into direct questioning. This indicates ostracization, segregation and exclusion on the basis of creed, caste, religion and colour.  By 2009 India had over 13,000 illegal migrants from Afghanistan, the year 2000 placed illegal Bangladeshi immigrants at 15 million with an additional 300,000 additionally every year since then, there are also an estimated 50,000 -100,000 Burmese migrants currently residing in India and about 7700 illegal immigrants residing in India from Pakistan. This is without mentioning the thousands of Rohingya people travelling to India illegally in recent years, with an estimate of over 40,000 entering the country. With some quick maths and a calculator, that is approximately twenty-five million, twenty thousand, seven hundred stateless individuals currently residing in our country. 

The rising unrest in this country comes from a series of events in the past including the ruling of the long ongoing case of Babri Masjid, the scrapping of Section 370 and in turn stripping Kashmir of its autonomy. Both these events are respectively viewed as a way to silence and subdue the Muslim population of the country and is put into perspective by the fact that 11% of the world’s Muslim population resides in this country.

So, the question is whether we should really be classifying the right to someone having a safe space to live based on religion, especially in a secular country. Is it time for Hindustan to go back to Bharat because we abuse the idea of being Hindi?
Anya Daftary is co-head at The Ascent. Her passions include music, dance, history and writing -- specifically in the Hindustan that was. She believes strongly in the future of India and wants to help be a part of it. She hopes to make The Ascent a platform for young people to be familiar with the events and news around and have a voice