Rajya Sabha discusses Citizenship Amendment Bill: What is a Hindu and why are Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka left out of CAB?
With the CAB now en route on the path to becoming a law, there are a few pertinent questions that have come up with regards to being Hindu, what it means for minorities in countries like Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and if Manipur is satisfied after being promised with an Inner Line Permit status by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Parliament.
Who is a Hindu?
Does the Government of India know what the word Hindu means?
In an RTI response in October 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs admitted that it does not know the definition of the word Hindu.
“To my query under RTI about the meaning and definition of the word Hindu in the light of the Indian Constitution and the law, the home ministry in its reply on 31 July said the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) doesn’t have information regarding it,” RTI petitioner Chandrashekhar Gaur had said.
However, the Supreme Court cast light on various occasions on who can be called a Hindu and how to define the Hindu religion per se.
Former Chief Justice of India PB Gajendragadkar while heading a Constitution Bench spoke elaborately on who are Hindus and what are the broad features of Hindu religion in the Sastri Yagnapurushadji And … versus Muldas Brudardas Vaishya And … case on 14 January, 1966.
Gajendragadkar said: “The historical and etymological genesis of the word “Hindu,’ has given rise to a controversy amongst indologists; but the view generally accepted by scholars appears to be that the word “Hindu” is derived from the river Sindhu otherwise known as Indus which flows from the Punjab. “That part of the great Aryan race”, says Monier Williams, “which immigrated from Central Asia, through the mountain passes into India, settled first in the districts near the river Sindhu (now called the Indus). The Persians pronounced this word Hindu and named their Aryan brethren Hindus. The Greeks, who probably gained their first ideas of India from the Persians, dropped the hard aspirate, and called the Hindus “Indoi“.
“When we think of the Hindu religion, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to define Hindu religion or even adequately describe it. Unlike other religions in the world, the Hindu religion does not claim any one prophet; it does not worship any one God; it does not subscribe to any one dogma; it does not believe in any one philosophic concept; it does not follow any one set of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not appear to satisfy the narrow traditional features of any religion or creed. It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more.”
However, in the same verdict, the Supreme Court gave acceptance to BG Tilak’s definition of the Hindu religion in his Gitarahasya. Tilak said, “Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse and realisation of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of the Hindu religion.”
The word ‘Hindu’ has also appeared in various laws like the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; the Hindu Succession Act, 1956; the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956; and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 among others. Even in tax issues, the word Hindu appears in the form of Hindu Undivided Family wherein Hindu Undivided Family is treated as a ‘person’ under section 2(31) of the Income-tax Act, 1961. It is defined as: “Under Hindu Law, an HUF is a family which consists of all persons lineally descended from a common ancestor and includes their wives and unmarried daughters.”
In the judgment of the Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal case in 1995, the Supreme Court defined the features of the Hindu religion as such:
(i) Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matter and acceptance with reverence of vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy.
(ii) Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view based on the realisation that truth was many-sided.
(iii) Acceptance of great world rhythm, vast period of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession, by all six systems of Hindu philosophy.
(iv) Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy the belief in rebirth and pre-existence.
(v) Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many.
(vi) Realisation of the truth that Gods to be worshipped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshipping of idols.
(vii) Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such.
In the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the word ‘Hindu’ has become a major bone of contention between agreeing and opposing parties with the Opposition parties claiming that it violates Article 14 and Article 15 of the Indian Constitution. Article 14 says: “The state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India, protection prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth.” As per Article 15 “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.”
The Opposition parties are objecting to the idea that the law does not cover all religions, particularly referring to the absence of Islam.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 says: “Provided that any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act.”
Many civil society groups and student organisations in the North East are up in arms against the Centre for seeking to impose the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the region on the pretext that granting citizenship to any illegal migrant irrespective of religion is an infringement on their rights as bona fide citizens and a direct threat to the culture and identity of the indigenous people.
The contention of the supporting groups of the Bill is that India being home to the world’s largest Hindu population it is the moral obligation of the country to rescue fellow Hindus from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan facing religious persecution apart from those belonging to other minority religious groups like Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian.
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Religious minorities in Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan face atrocities but don’t find a place in Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019
By restricting the applicability of the Citizenship Amendment Bill to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the Centre opened another front for the Opposition to attack it as to why other neighbouring nations like Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan are excluded from the ambit of the Bill.
Myanmar shares a 1,624-kilometre-long international border with the four northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur. According to the country’s census conducted in 2014, 89.8 percent of the population in Myanmar is Buddhist while 6.3 percent are Christians, 2.3 percent are Muslims, 0.5 percent are Hindus, 0.8 percent as Animist, 0.2 percent as “other” and 0.1 percent have no religious affiliation.
Although the Hindus are a minority in the country, it is the Rohingya, a community that follows Islam, faced the ire primarily of the Myanmarese government. However, following the crackdown on their counterparts, Hindu Rohingya also fled the country in large numbers.
According to a report, out of the country’s 51 million population, 11,47,495 registered as “Muslim”. Around 1.2 million Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine State are unaccounted for as they had to identify themselves as Bengali instead of Rohingya.
A Human Rights Watch report this year said: “Myanmar security forces continued to commit grave abuses against Rohingya Muslims throughout 2018, deepening the humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in Rakhine State. More than 730,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since the military campaign of ethnic cleansing began in August 2017. The government denied extensive evidence of atrocities, refused to allow independent investigators access to Rakhine State, and punished local journalists for reporting on military abuses.”
A Religious Literacy Project Hinduism in Myanmar conducted by Harvard Divinity School said, “Burmese Hindus are a mix of Bengalis, Tamils, Telegus, and Uttar Pradeshis who arrived in Burma under British colonialism. With the military coup of 1962, about 1 million Indians were forced out of Burma, but some remained, mostly in Yangon (Rangoon), Mandalay, and in the Bago District.”
“Several hundred Hindus along with more than 740,000 Muslim Rohingyas fled to safety in Bangladesh after deadly attacks on police outposts by the militant group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) sparked a brutal military crackdown in late August 2017,” a report on the Radio Free Asia said.
However, the Hindus in Myanmar are facing atrocities if not from the government but from the Rohingya Muslim militants. According to Amnesty International, fighters from the ARSA rounded up and killed as many as 99 Hindu civilians on 25 August, 2017.
The Los Angeles Times reported about the unique fate of 105 Hindu Rohingya families from Myanmar lodged at the Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Bangladesh where they took shelter to escape ARSA violence. Ironically, this camp in Bangladesh was opened for Rohingya Muslims, the community ARSA members belong to, as they faced a brutal crackdown from the Myanmarese government.
Rohingya Hindus in Myanmar find themselves in an awkward position as they face violence from another community, which is also a minority in the country. Even as Myanmar has no state religion, it is equally true that Rohingya Hindus and Muslims have both faced religious persecution. As such Rohingya Hindus “have faced persecution on grounds of religion” but the Citizenship Amendment Bill does not cover those from Myanmar while Muslims despite being a minority in the country also do not fall under the Citizenship Amendment Bill as the proposed law excludes those following Islam.
However, the Rohingya Hindus being from Myanmar find no place in the Citizenship Amendment Bill which is primarily aimed at Muslim majority countries in India’s immediate neighbourhood.
It is intriguing that Nepal does not qualify to be within the ambit of Citizenship Amendment Bill despite the minority Christians increasingly facing harassment ironically in the Hindu-majority state. The country has many different religions present but the most significant ones are Hinduism and Buddhism. According to data from The World Factbook, out of the total population of 29,717,587 (July 2018) in Nepal, 81.3 percent are Hindus, 9 percent are Buddhist, 4.4 percent are Muslims, 3.1 percent are Kirant, 1.4 percent are Christians, others comprise 0.5 percent and 0.2 percent are unspecified.
The Himalayan country is, however, facing a unique situation with Christianity spreading rapidly across the nation. “Despite strict laws that ban religious conversion, Christianity has spread rapidly over the last two decades in Nepal, where many see it as an escape from the deeply entrenched caste system,” an AFP piece published in the South China Morning Post said. “Activists say it seeks to curb the rapidly growing Christian community, and have drawn parallels with Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, which are often used to stir mob violence against minority groups,” the AFP piece said.
A Catholic mouthpiece LaCroix International said that the proliferation of Christianity is finding stiff resistance in the country.
“With anti-Christian sentiment growing in Nepal, church groups are finding it harder to accomplish their humanitarian and other missions on the ground,” a piece in the LaCroix International said.
The spread of Christianity has been so quick in Nepal that it has caused in another minority community in the country — Muslims. The Muslims vouch for Nepal retaining its status as a Hindu State.
“It is to protect Islam. I opened my mouth and demanded that Nepal be declared a Hindu state in order to protect my own religion,” said Amjad Ali, chairman of the Rapti Muslim Society, in a report published on International Business Times.
The support to the Hindu religion does not necessarily mean that Muslims are thriving in the country.
“Despite progress in promoting religious pluralism, Nepal’s Muslims remain a poor, marginalised group, often neglected in politics and nearly invisible in conceptions of national identity,” said an article in the World Politics Review.
There is one reason however maybe for which Nepal did not find a place in the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019.
The Constitution of the country says: “Nepal is an independent, indivisible, sovereign, secular, inclusive, democratic, socialism-oriented, federal democratic republican state.” The Constitution further explains “secular” saying “For the purposes of this Article, “secular” means religious, cultural freedoms, including protection of religion, culture handed down from the time immemorial.”
Unlike the “constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh”, the Nepalese Constitution does not “provide for a specific state religion”.
Cradled in the Himalayas, Bhutan is a Buddhist majority nation. Of the 7,66,397 (July 2018) population estimate, 75.3 percent are Lamaistic Buddhist while 22.1 percent follow Indian- and Nepalese-influenced Hinduism. Other religion followers comprise 2.6 percent of the total population of the country.
However, hidden behind its idyllic mountains is a dirty truth.
“The Bhutanese authorities removed assurances of citizenship, forced Buddhism cultural and religious codes on the Hindu and Christian minorities and used both physical violence and intimidation to evict people belonging to Nepali ethnic groups,” said a Firstpost piece The ethnic cleansing hidden behind Bhutan’s happy face.
Despite the Hindus and Christians being in the minority in Bhutan and being suppressed by the majority Buddhists through its government, the country is surprisingly outside the purview of the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Technically, minorities in Bhutan fits the bill when it comes to what CAB is aiming at, to rescue those who “have faced persecution on grounds of religion”. Quite mysteriously, the country is out of it.
“Why then is Bhutan, which is a neighbour and constitutionally a religious state — the official religion being Vajrayana Buddhism — excluded from the list? In fact, Christians in Bhutan can only pray privately inside their homes. Many Bhutanese Christians in the border areas travel to India to pray in a church. Yet, they are not beneficiaries under CAB,” Shadan Farasat wrote in his piece A patently unconstitutional piece of legislation in The Hindu.
The intimidation to Hindus and Christians are however in direct confrontation with the ideologies scripted in the Bhutanese Constitution: “Religions may have been divisive and warring in many countries. Conversely, Bhutan has followed tolerance of Buddhism in practice. Inducement, coercion and conversion are anathema to the principles of Buddhism.”
Buddhism is not the “state religion” of Bhutan but the country’s Constitution says, “Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan, which promotes the principles and values of peace, non-violence, compassion and tolerance. The Constitution has made Buddhism as the spiritual heritage instead of the State religion.”
It is unclear if the Citizenship Amendment Bill left Bhutan out of its scope because of this technicality.
In Sri Lanka, Buddhism is the official religion. Of the total population of 22,576,592 (July 2018), Buddhists form 70.2 percent, Hindus comprise 12.6 percent, Muslims 9.7 percent, Roman Catholic 6.1 percent, other Christian 1.3 percent and others 0.05 percent.
In terms of religion, the island nation has always been volatile. It is strange that the Citizenship Amendment Bill which concerns with those people who “have faced persecution on grounds of religion” barring Muslims ignores sufferers from Sri Lanka.
“The fact that churches were targeted deliberately across Sri Lanka shows that this terrible, coordinated series of explosions was another attempt to instil fear among a religious minority,” writes Tasnim Nazeer in The Gurdian. “Despite empty reassurances from the government, minority groups have long felt unprotected,” Tasnim writes further.
Not only the Christians, but even the minority Muslims are facing a major crisis in Sri Lanka.
“Anti-Muslim violence has been on the rise in Sri Lanka in recent years as the country’s leaders have struggled to rein in the nationalist fervour of the majority Sinhalese Buddhists,” a The New York Times report said.
In March 2018, Sri Lanka had to declare a state of emergency after several attacks against mosques and Muslim-owned businesses by mobs from the Buddhist Sinhala majority.
The Tamil Hindus have continuously faced prosecution in Buddhist Sri Lanka but despite that Citizenship Amendment Bill is not concerned about their plight.
“If religious persecution of “religious minorities” in the neighbourhood is the concern, then why has Sri Lanka, which is Buddhist majority and has a history where Tamil Hindus have been persecuted, been excluded?” asked Shadan Farasat in a piece in The Hindu.