So, what’s the current crisis on the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Simply put, it allows illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh – who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis -- to apply for citizenship in India. Since this does not apply to Muslims, should they now adhere to that ubiquitous slur heard time and again --‘Go to Pakistan’?
Not only does the Bill violate the Assam Accord, which declared March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for illegal immigrants; the proposed Bill moves the cut-off date for illegal immigrants – for only six religions - by more than 43 years to December 31, 2014.
While Assam is in the throes of a contentious National Register of Citizens -- which has in its second draft declared 40 lakh people illegal and some have been placed in detention camps, quite similar to a gulag, and writer and activist Harsh Mander has filed a writ petition regarding these camps -- the Bill seeks to create its own ethos.
What is the ethos? Quite simply, if you are Hindu or belong to any of the other religions seen as an offshoot of Hinduism, you belong to an envisaged Hindu Rashtra (Hindu state). If you are Muslim, you do not belong here.
This destroys the entire vision of India as a rainbow state with many colours, but one people; a pluralistic, secular nation-state, quite different from the vision of Pakistan as an Islamic state.
Even as I write this, protests have erupted everywhere: the courageous women vendors in the all-women’s Ima Keithal market in Imphal slept on pavements in the cold and refused to go home. For this singular act of non-violence, they had tear-gas shells fired upon them, leaving four women have been injured.
In Mizoram, hundreds of citizens have taken to the street with posters: ‘Welcome to the independent republic of Mizoram’ expressing their alienation from the Bill and fearing that their ethos will be diluted.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has tried to seduce the voters of the North East by giving the legendary singer, Bhupen Hazarika a Bharat Ratna posthumously, his son Tej has said the family would have to consider refusing it as the Bill goes against his father’s stated stand. Anyone who has heard the sonorous voice of late Bhupenda knows that in his heart and soul, he embodied the culture of Assam and did not want it to be deluged.
The Bill which has been passed by the Lok Sabha, was slated for consideration in the Rajya Sabha today – where the BJP does not have a majority. However, it could not be taken up and has lapsed. However, what we have to be aware is that overt attempts are being made to create a Hindu Rashtra and history will ask you, what were you doing when this was happening?
Quite simply, do you wish to stand up and express solidarity with the besieged minorities; do you wish to stand by the women who have a right to enter the Sabrimala temple; do you wish to say that the 77 lynchings across the country in the name of the cow is not Hinduism? Do you wish to stand by award-winning filmmaker, Amol Palekar, when he is stopped from making his speech at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai?
The KristallNacht moment when, Nazis destroyed shops of Jews and openly took them away to detention camps has arrived, and it is time to say: I want my country to be what it was -- following the tenets of the Constitution, not the cow.
Sagari Chhabra is an award-winning author & film-director. The views are personal.