The Citizens Amendment Act permits non-Muslim immigrants into India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to become Indian citizens if they have lived in India for at least 5 years, but it does not grant the same right to Muslim immigrants.
The justification for this distinction given by the government is that non-Muslims were minorities in these Muslim majority countries, and came to India to escape religious persecution, whereas Muslims who came into India from there could not be said to have come due to persecution, but were ‘economic refugees’, i.e., they came for a better life.
This reasoning is partially correct. It is true that Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, etc., are often persecuted in these Muslim majority countries, e.g., by forcible conversions and marriage of minor girls, misuse of blasphemy laws, etc. So the anti-CAA protesters should have clearly said that they are not against grant of citizenship to immigrants who came into India to escape religious persecution, rather they support it, and condemn persecution of minorities in the aforementioned three countries.
At the same time they should have said they oppose denial of citizenship to all Muslim immigrants because (1) Some Muslim sects in Pakistan are often persecuted, e.g., Shias and Ahmadis; and (2) Economic refugees is a worldwide phenomenon, e.g., about 11 million Mexicans are said to be living illegally in USA. Many Muslims who came from Bangladesh into Assam after March 1971 (the cutoff date under the Assam Accord ) have now been living in Assam for decades, some for over 40 years, and now have no roots in Bangladesh, and the Bangladesh government has refused to take them back. Surely they cannot be dumped into the Bay of Bengal. They too should be granted citizenship if they have lived in Assam for at least 5 years.
However, the anti-CAA protesters failed to clarify this, and created an impression among many Hindus that this is only an agitation for Muslims.
Secularism has to be a two-way traffic, it cannot be a one-way traffic. So it won’t do to condemn persecution of Muslims, but turn a Nelson’s eye to the persecution of Hindus. Most Muslims shout themselves hoarse if Muslims are persecuted in Palestine, but they were quiet when much nearer home Kashmiri Pandits were hounded out of their homes in Kashmir in the 1990s.
I remember when I was in my hometown of Allahabad I went to a Muslim friend and said to him that I raise my voice whenever any atrocity is committed on Muslims, so he should also speak out against atrocities being committed on Kashmiri Pandits. He asked what he could do, and I replied that he should write a short statement and I will get it published in the newspapers. However, he refused.
This is the problem with most (not all) Muslims. When I condemn atrocities on Muslims, they clap and cheer. But when I condemn atrocities by Muslims on Hindus, Christians or Sikhs, I am immediately branded as communal. When I say there is nothing wrong in eating beef, and that building Ram Mandir is only a gimmick, they applaud. But when I say that sharia, burqa and madrasas should be banned (for their own good ) many Muslims are upset with me.
For this very reason many Hindus in India (and even abroad ) are not supporting the anti-CAA agitation, and it will soon fizzle out.
Justice Markandey Katju
Supreme Court of India