Dr M may have misunderstood new Indian citizenship law

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad may not have really understood the purpose of the new amendment to the citizenship law in India.

I think he overreacted by saying that India should not deprive Muslims of their citizenship.

He also said that if the government deprived the citizenship of Chinese and Indians in Malaysia, there would be unimaginable consequences for the country.

Actually, there was no reason for him to drag the Chinese and Indians in comparing them with the Muslims in India.

Just as he got it wrong on the Kashmir matter by saying that India invaded and occupied the Muslim dominated province, he is wrong on the matter of the recent amendment to the citizenship law.

In fact, the territory of Jammu-Kashmir was ceded to India by the Hindu ruler in the immediate aftermath of independence just before Pakistani forces moved in to occupy the territory. However, India sent troops to repulse the Pakistani intrusion.

Today, Pakistan occupies one-third of the territory of Jammu-Kashmir whereas India controls two-thirds of the territory. The question of India invading the territory was never an issue. Mahathir was clearly mistaken on the matter.

The new amendment to India’s citizenship law is not about depriving Muslims of their citizenship. Far from it. In fact, the new law has nothing to do with Muslims in India.

It is about fast-tracking citizenship for non-Muslim minorities like Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Parsis, who have been shunned and discriminated in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, countries that have declared themselves as Islamic nations.

The new law that was successfully passed in both the houses in the Indian Parliament enables non-Muslim minorities from these named countries to obtain citizenship if they had come into India by 2014.

Citizenship for these minorities is not automatic, but will be considered upon application and after going through a vetting process.

No Indian citizen, whether Hindu, Muslim or belonging to any other faith, will be deprived of citizenship.

Indian citizens, irrespective of ethnicity or religion, being protected by their constitution, cannot be deprived of their status.

There is no such thing as new amendment targeting Muslims who are already citizens of India. Such criticism might be the work of those political parties in opposition bent on making political capital of the matter.

The amendment basically intends to assist the religious minorities in these countries because of years of discrimination, forced conversions and deprivation of their properties.

At the time of separation, countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh had sizeable Hindu communities, but they have been substantially reduced due to migration and forced conversions resulting from the politics of Islamisation.

The new law is not without its detractors. For instance, it is being asked why the government of India did not consider the plight of Rohingaya in Mynamar, the Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka, and the suffering of the Shia Muslims in Pakistan. It is being argued that they are also persecuted minorities.

It must be remembered that hundreds and thousands of Muslims have been granted citizenship in India over the years, especially those who fled from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In fact, Muslims and others who have come into India in recent years are still eligible to apply for citizenship using the normal channels.

The amendment is for a specific purpose. It merely seeks to facilitate citizenship for non-Muslim minorities in the three countries. It is not a replacement of the existing citizenship provisions.

Further, the amendment has no impact on the secular nature of India. India will be as secular as ever.

By introducing the new provision, India has merely taken a moral position in improving the lives of those non-Muslim minorities who have suffered or are suffering for no other reason than their non-Muslim religious identification.

The long years of discrimination of non-Muslim minorities in these three countries was not something started by India. It started when these countries took the identification as Islamic states.

Let us not forget the second largest concentration of Muslims in the world is not in Pakistan, but in India, after Indonesia.

Muslims are legitimate citizens of India. They are protected by the secular nature of the country and the constitution.

If Muslims are given a choice whether they want to stay in India or migrate to Pakistan or Bangladesh, their choice will be obvious – India. Anyway, why should they migrate! India has been their home from time immemorial.

As I said earlier, the new law is not perfect. Some of the criticisms are valid and I hope the present Indian government will examine these to ensure the law is inclusive and not exclusive.

Laws are not cast in stone; the vibrancy of democracy in India will ensure that no law is made to oppress the weak and poor.

Mahathir may have been busy and may not have had time to understand why the new law was introduced in the first place. That could explain why he responded without checking the facts.

P Ramasamy is a DAP leader and deputy chief minister II of Penang

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.