'A Hindu Foreigner Can Become Indian, But An Indian Muslim Might Be Declared A Foreigner': Asaduddin Owaisi
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) is has been passed in the Rajya Sabha after it was brought to the fore of the upper house when an overwhelming majority of 311 Members of Parliament (MPs) voted ‘Aye’ – meaning ‘yes’, clearing the bill in the lower house.
This is no surprise as the party and its allies hold nearly 350 seats in the 542-strong Lok Sabha. But a few MPs including the firebrand politician from Hyderabad, Asaduddin Owaisi, vehemently opposed the proposed legislation in the lower house and Owaisi even tore his copy of the draft legislation on the floor of the Parliament, in protest
On 9th December, when the Lok Sabha witnessed heated arguments by its members over the bill, Owaisi said, “This bill is violative of the Constitution and it is an insult to the ideals of those who freed this nation from the British in 1947. Do you know how Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi came to be known as the Mahatma? In 1910, after returning from South Africa, he tore a copy of the Race Laws. Similarly, I tear this bill as it means to divide India.”
The Logical Indian reached out the four-time Hyderabad MP who is also looked upon as one of the most prominent Indian voices for minorities, to understand his opposition to the bill.
There is a debate over this bill dishonouring Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, but could you elaborate on how and why is the tabled bill violative?
There are certain fundamental rights in our Constitution which apply to citizens and non-citizens. One of them is Article 14 and the other is Article 21.
These articles apply to every single person regardless of them being Indian citizens or not. This proposed law discriminates on the lines of religion, thus violating the basic fabric of our nation’s founding principles.
If you see the Home Minister’s reply to the Opposition after the bill was tabled, he claimed that Articles 29 and 30 are also ‘biased provisions’. He did so in his pursuit to question the diligence of the MPs arguing that CAB is violative of Article 14. But, even a fourth-year law student can explain to Amit Shah that his understanding of Indian law is based on flawed premises. Articles 29 and 30 are part of the ‘Special Schemes’ in the Constitution, and Article 14 is a ‘fundamental right’.
Articles 29 and 30 do not violate Article 14 – they give special privileges to not just religious but linguistic minorities as well.
There is speculation around the legislation having an invisible anti-Muslim and discriminatory subtext. What are your comments on that?
I do not agree with that there is mere speculation over the bill’s discriminatory and anti-Muslim nature. The bill’s bigotry staring at us in the face. How can it be invisible when citizenship is being sanctioned based on religion? It is visible to everyone, but if one refuses to see through it, that is a different issue.
If the law is in its practice – biased, why do you think the current dispensation is bringing it into the country?
No one needs to think over this as it is understood that they are trying to make this country a theocratic nation. They want to rearrange the social blocks – something they have been trying for the past five years.
The diversity that was celebrated isn’t considered important by the current ruling party as they believe in the supremacy of one religion and one culture. Hence, such bills are being pushed in the Parliament so that they become laws helping them further their agenda of making India a theocracy.
The ruling politicos are asking people not to view the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in conjunction, claiming that they are mutually exclusive events. Should that be how CAB and NRC are gauged?
You must see the CAB through the prism of NRC. As per the proposed law, any of the named foreign religious minorities will find all the legal cases against them retracted. Himanta Biswa Sharma (MLA), accepts that there are over 5 lakh Bangladeshi Hindus in Assam – so this means that whoever from the count of five lakh migrants have cases against them in the Foreigners’ Tribunal will enjoy the privilege of their cases being abated. The only ones with cases remaining will be followers of Islam, as the bill includes all but excludes Muslims.
For instance, let us suppose that your name (reporter) and my name are excluded from the national NRC as we fail to qualify as Indian citizens, you still have an opportunity to gain Indian citizenship through this bill. But I would be made stateless – as I am a Muslim.
Muslims in India have been worried about their citizenship status even before plans of a national NRC were made public. They have been apprehensive, so would the passing of CAB mean that their fears are now materialising?
Indian Muslims’ apprehensions are right and valid. What has happened in Assam is going to be emulated in the entire country. And for everyone’s sake, there are enough issues plaguing this country – unemployment, poverty, water scarcity, food security, and women’s safety.
While the Central government is unable to pay Indian states their rightful GST compensation, they have spent over ₹2000 crore on NRC in Assam. It is unfathomable what a large amount of fund would be earmarked for a nationwide NRC.
And the Registrar of the NRC in Assam was given discretionary powers to grant someone citizenship and disbelieve another’s documents. Now, with the Citizenship Amendment Bill and these arbitrary powers vested with the Registrar, it is the Muslim community which will be troubled, harassed and eventually made stateless.
Also, it must be known that 1.87 lakh objections to the names included in this year’s NRC have been filed and all the objections are to Muslim names – one objection was filed against the son of a freedom fighter.
This is now going to be the most powerful tool in the hands of Sanghis.
But the BJP government at the centre says that this is humanitarian help to persecuted minorities in ‘Islamic Nations’ and not a political tool.
I asked the ruling government in the Parliament whether they had the numbers or data to prove that there was pervasive persecution of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, Sikhs, and Christians. Amit Shah said ‘lakhon-crorodon’ (lakhs and crores) – which is a very tall and unverified claim and not even remotely substantiated. I asked him for the exact number, broken down nation-wise between the three Islamic nations, and there was no answer given.
As mentioned before, the Assam political brass claims that there are five lakh Hindu migrants – most of whom are not included in the NRC as they are foreigners.
The fact that they were not included in the NRC means that they applied to claim their ‘Indian-ness’. However, their missing names tell us that some of them have been wrongly excluded and some might actually be from Bangladesh. Now, with the CAB, they have the window to make a U-turn on their ‘Indian’ claim and assert their Bangladeshi nationality and obtain Indian citizenship under the law. Isn’t this perjury? You are making laws that allow willful lying and flipping on original claims.
In a nutshell, what do you think of this proposed law, as a Muslim?
I am very let down. My religion has a 1000-year-old relationship with this land. Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad is famed to have said, “I am an Indian Muslim, and my religion has a 1000-year-old history along with Hinduism that has a 4000-year-old history.”
How can anyone delink my country and my religion which has an ancient link with the land? This has aroused a feeling of exclusion, and that is heartbreaking. Political marginalisation of Muslims had been done, but this is unbearable.
This government might say, “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” (Development for all), but this shows their real face.