Religion No Criterion for Citizenship

Light of truth

Question: Baby John

What should be the Christian response to the contentious issue of citizenship and religion?

Answer: Jacob Parappally MSFS

The recent discussion about the contentious issue of citizenship and religion was triggered by the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in both Houses of the Indian Parliament. Eventually it became Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) when it was signed by the President of India on December 12, 2019. According to the Act, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 and facing religious persecution in these three countries will not be treated as illegal immigrants but will be given Indian citizenship. Many of the ordinary citizens of the country the CAA appeared to be a generous gesture of the present the Central Government of India run by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The BJP alone has a brute majority to take all decisions and get it passed at least in the lower house of the parliament without any difficulty. Many people might have thought it was a positive and proactive action of the ruling party to offer such a possibility to those who entered India illegally for whatever reasons including religious persecutions to become citizens of India. Uncritical minds and the supporters of the BJP including some Christians among them could not see the well-planned and cunningly executed agenda of the RSS whose political wing is the BJP to bring India a little closer to their idea of a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu Nation through this Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Religion for Polarization and Exclusion
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the President of the CBCI, made a statement in response to the Citizens Amendment Act and the protests and violence that followed it that “Religion should never be the criterion for citizenship of a country. Nor is violence a solution when there is a difference of opinion….The ongoing controversy and demonstrations and counter-demonstrations concerning the Citizenship Amendment Act is a cause of great anxiety for all citizens and could harm the country that there could be a polarization of our peoples along religious lines, which is very harmful for the country.” In a memorandum submitted to the President of India on behalf of the Christians of Karnataka on the issue of Citizenship Amendment Act, Archbishop Peter Machado said, “Religion should never be the criterion for citizenship of a country. Nor is violence a solution when there is a difference of opinion.” However, the only Christian member of the National Minority Commission who was a leader of the BJP in Kerala hailed the Act and affirmed that “Citizenship Amendment Act is good for Christians and should be welcomed by all,” In a statement he said that the Minority Commission had been flooded with messages from Christian leaders of all denominations across the country welcoming the new legislation. “They tell me ‘justice has finally been done to Christians who are victims of draconian blasphemy laws, religious conversions and abductions.” However, the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), an ecumenical forum of Protestant and Orthodox Churches which represents 1.4 crore Indians, opposed the Citizenship Act. In a statement the NCCI said, “Although Christians are included, we understand the exclusion of some categories of people within this Act is polarizing communities based on faith and creed. Moreover, the Act underlines the message that religion is the criteria to remain a citizen in this country. This is in contravention to the fundamental principles of the Indian constitution.” The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) which is a national alliance of evangelical Christians whose membership includes 54 Protestant denominations and more than 65,000 churches across the country made a statement that the government’s recent actions had roused fears among all minorities, tribals and Dalits. According to EFI the “cumulative impact” of recent events in Kashmir, the “dangerous experiment” of the National Register of Citizens in Assam and the Citizenship Amendment Act.

It is obvious that this Act is discriminatory because they exclude Muslims as also people of other faiths who are persecuted on the basis of their religion by selecting the persecuted people of only three Islamic countries and excluding the persecuted people of all religions who seek refuge in India from the other neighbouring countries like Myanmar, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. Thus the present day Government of India is implementing the ideology of the founders of Hindutva that deprives Muslims and other non-Hindus of their right to be citizens of this country. All efforts are made to divide Hindus and Non-Hindus not only through propaganda and the unleashing of terror but also by legislative means. The CAA and the proposed NRC are the first steps in this direction.

Though CAA is blatantly discriminatory it may not appear to many as vicious and dangerous. But a far more serious threat to the citizens of this country is the proposed National Registration of Citizens or NRC. According to NRC everyone in India is required to prove his/her citizenship. If they fail to do so they would be declared “illegal migrants.” In Assam, 19,06,657 people, out of a total of 3,30,27,661, found themselves excluded from the NRC list – a failure rate of 6%. If this failure rate is applied at the national level with a projected population of 133.3 crores, almost 8 crores people will be declared illegal migrants. Crores of illiterate and poor men and women live in this country without any legal documents to prove their citizenship. They struggle to eke out a living, perhaps, without even knowing what it means to be a citizen. Except condemning them to further misery and fear, who gains from such a massive exercise of national registration of citizenship? Perhaps the arrogant power of a brute majority which is prepared to sacrifice the poor and the weak at the altar of their fascist ideology may gain from it. Inclusiveness being the soul of Hinduism, exclusivism, discrimination and de-humanization and the manipulation of religious sentiments and the religious symbols are at the heart of the Hindutva ideology which uses them deceitfully to secure power at all levels.

Religion and  Citizenship
Both in its letter and spirit the Indian Constitution is wedded to a territorial nationalism. But the RSS and more than 100 Sangh Parivar organizations strive to make India a Hindu Rashtra based on cultural nationalism. In this vision which is opposite to the vision of the Indian Constitution, the citizenship of a person is determined by his or her adherence to Hindu religion and Hindu culture. In order to achieve their goals if possible a government with a Hindutva ideology would strive to change the Constitution, weaken and destroy the institutions that are the bulwarks of democracy.

According to the founders of the RSS, India must be a Hindu Nation which would recapture the Hindu religious hegemony and the uncontaminated Indian culture which recognized caste discrimination built on the principle that all humans are not equal. It has its foundation in the Laws of Manu or Manusmriti by the ancient law-giver Manu. The Hindutva ideology or so called Cultural Nationalism has been formulated on the ideological visions of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his book Hindutva, Who is a Hindu? and M.S. Golwalkar, in his books, We or Our Nationhood Definedand Bunch of Thoughts. Both of them, define the identity of a Hindu using their arbitrary criteria of inclusion and exclusion regarding who is a citizen of the Hindu Nation and who is not based on their religion. The criterion proposed by Savarkar to judge one’s identity as a Hindu is that a Hindu is one who is born of Hindu parents and regards India as the land of his ancestors (pitrbhumi) as well as his holy land (punyabhumi). By this one criterion alone the Moslems, the Christians and other Non-Hindus cannot be citizens of this Hindu Nation. M.S. Golwalkar further developed this specific identity of Hindus in his book We or Our Nationhood Defined. According to him the Muslims and the Christians are invaders from foreign countries. “The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizen’s rights.” In his Bunch of Thoughts Golwalkar insists on following Manusmriti for organizing the society. Manusmriti insists on discriminatory caste system, including and excluding people according to their birth and ritual purity, inequality of men and women, domination of men etc. which go against the principles equality, fraternity and liberty essential to life in a democratic society. Defining the nation with a Hindutva ideology destroys the foundations of a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic, republic envisioned by the Indian Constitution and lived by all people of India since 1949 when the Indian Constitution was adopted, enacted and given to themselves by the people of India.

Christians of all churches and denominations need to stand in solidarity with all those who oppose CAA and NRC that go against the values of the gospel especially justice, equality, love, peace and communion. The churches must learn to be more inclusive and shun any form fundamentalism and exclusivism that goes against the Kingdom values proclaimed by Jesus. Jesus Christ being the Alpha and the Omega of everyone and everything there is no one outside the reality of Christ according to the Christian experience of God in Jesus Christ. Therefore, discriminating or excluding anyone from any communion whether it is of a smaller group or of larger group, of a particular religious group or ideological group is violence against the Body of Christ. Perhaps, the most radical solidarity with all those whom the Government would like to exclude from India or treat them as slaves without any right is not to cooperate with NRP and NRC. When crores of people refuse to give all the details asked for by the government agencies to use those details against those who have given them, then the government will be forced to withdraw their futile exercise. But how many Christians would have the courage to do so is a mute question. It is a positive sign that some of the Christian leaders chose to air their opposition to CAA and NRC publicly and promptly. Some see certain sinister designs even in the proposed NPR (National Population Register). The Church needs to remain ever alert to the trampling of the values it believes in by powers that be. It should work in solidarity with others and should not let it happen. The Church needs to exercise its prophetic mission in these difficult times with courage and conviction gifted by the Holy Spirit.

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