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India Must Be an Inclusive Democracy; Should Not Use Faith as a Determining Criterion for Citizenship

Thousands of people protested against Citizenship Act after Friday prayers at Jama Masjid in New Delhi on Dec. 20, 2019.

India should not be seen as a place that denies equal opportunity and inclusive economic mobility to Muslims and minorities.

Frank F. Islam

As an Indian American, I am not an expert on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), as it has been promulgated in India; nor do I have the benefit of being on the ground in India to see or experience personally the impact that it is having in my motherland. As I understand this bill – which has now become law – allows the Indian Government to grant expedited citizenship to persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, excluding Muslims. I firmly believe faith should not be used as a determining criterion for citizenship. This bill is profoundly immoral. Today, Muslims are a victim; tomorrow it will be someone else.

What I have been reading in the press coverage here in the U.S. has been disturbing and dismaying. Most bothersome was the crackdown on student protesters by police at Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. Now the protests have spread to 50 plus cities across India.

Peaceful protests are a sign of a healthy democracy. Shutting them down rather than letting them take their normal course is an indication that the light of democracy in India is flickering.

The New York Times and The Washington Post are the most influential newspapers and members of the free press in the United States. I must tell you that their coverage of what has been going on in India with regard to its Muslim population in this year has not been very favorable.  They both have run several critical articles on the blackout and shutdown of Kashmir and the plans to put as many as two million people – most of them Muslims – who do not appear on the National Register of Citizens in internment camps until they can be tried and deported.

These initiatives combined with the new actions surrounding the citizenship bill are creating perceptual problems for India here in the united states and around the globe. The Modi administration maintains all of these are internal matters only.  But, in fact, they have consequences far beyond India’s borders both in terms of whether India is seen as a vital and vibrant secular democracy rather than a nationalistic or autocratic state and as a place where businesses from around the world want to come and invest. These incidents and events and protest will prevent foreign direct investment in India. This means India will not be able to build its economy and create jobs and build its infrastructure.

India should not be seen as a place that denies equal opportunity and inclusive economic mobility to Muslims and minorities. It should be seen as an inclusive democracy that provides security and safety to all and It should be seen as a place that is governed by hope, not fear and by unity not division. It should be seen as a place that is not tearing apart the harmonious fabric of India. All of us will do well to remember that India cannot succeed if minorities are held back. If Muslims and minorities succeed, India will succeed. The world will succeed.

The Financial Times had a special report on the government’s “Make in India” campaign being set for a revival after losing steam over the past year or so.  As a businessperson, I can tell you that revival will not pick up steam if India is seen as a place that abridges human rights and that suppresses freedom of the press.

The Indian Constitution is quite clear on the country’s commitment to being a democratic republic for all.  The right thing to do is to honor that commitment by ensuring Muslims and all minority groups are treated fairly and equally.  This will ensure that India maintains its status as the world’s largest democracy and a leader in setting a positive example for others to follow.

(The writer is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader resident in Washington DC. He can be contacted at ffislam@verizon.net)