India has a civilizational duty to be a place of refuge for the minority cultural communities of South Asia
Is it feasible, or even possible, to provide refugees the epistemological comforts of home in a land of refuge? That has been a question raised repeatedly by late 20th century philosophers exploring diverse issues such as the rights of refugees, the contestation between civilizations, multiculturalism, liberal democracy, the agency of nationalism and the nation-state. The answer, we must report, remains elusive. But it ought to be clear to any sane, sober and right-thinking Indian citizen that the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which provides for granting Indian citizenship to persecuted non-Muslim minorities, mainly but not exclusively Hindu, in neighboring countries on humanitarian grounds, is a consummation devoutly to be wished. In fact, we would go a step further and suggest a Constitutional amendment be introduced at an appropriate time that defines India that is Bharat, as the Constitution describes our country, as the homeland for members of all Hindu/Indic communities who wish to return much as the state of Israel has done for the Jewish community.
The issue at hand, however, is that the Government of Assam and various political parties/civil society groups from the State have raised some valid concerns relating to the passage of the Bill once the updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is complete and published by the 30 June deadline. While the Union Home Ministry has assured the State Government that the Bill, currently with a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), would only be finalized after thorough consultations with all stakeholders and taking on board the concerns of the people of Assam, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has been pressing for the implementation of a vital clause of the 1985 Assam Accord which provides for constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to protect, preserve and promote the linguistic, cultural and social identity/heritage of the indigenous communities of Assam. The Centre is simpatico to Assam’s concerns, of course. Just as Sonowal, as a BJP Chief Minister, is in favor of the Citizenship Amendment Bill which found a place in the BJP manifesto for the 2014 General Election.
Now, there is a careful and nuanced balancing act which needs to be performed by both the Centre and the State. At the broader level, there is no question that the oppressed and discriminated against non-Muslim minorities in various South Asian countries must have the right to return to their civilizational homeland while we should simultaneously continue taking a hard line on the illegal immigration of Bangladeshi and/or Rohingya economic migrants. At the same time, local tensions in Assam between indigenous communities and settlers — for example, Bengali Hindus who have settled in the State pre-March 1971 but others too — must not be exacerbated. While Assam’s issues are specific to the State, once the Citizenship Amendment Bill is passed into law, which we hope will be sooner rather than later, all States of the Union — including the State of Jammu & Kashmir sans Article 370 — should be asked to make space for returning Hindus, rather than just Assam with its delicate demographic being asked to absorb them all.
The truth is there is no eliding is that demographics shapes the nature of civic nationalism in liberal democracies — that ought to be the learning for 21st century liberals in India who wish to establish a humanitarian national narrative.