The Rani of Jhansi on horseback kills an Englishman with her sword (ca. 1860), Edwin Binney 3rd Collection, San Diego Museum of Art

The Fury Over India’s Citizenship Amendment Act and The Silence About Hindu Persecution

Indu Viswanathan
Dec 18, 2019 · 11 min read

Four days into my first student teaching placement in a second-grade classroom on the Upper East Side was the day the planes hit the towers. In the days and weeks that followed, my shoulder was gripped by a dull throbbing every time I rode the bus between home, school, and Teachers College. It escalated into chronic pain that led to a diagnosis of a torn supraspinatus tendon. Two years of physical therapy and I gradually regained full movement. But, as is the nature of these injuries, I was never the same.

I remember the intensity of knowing I was being watched while I was on the bus, even when someone wasn’t muttering at me or spitting on me. Not everyone would glare, and those who did represented different races and classes. (O, the beautiful diversity of New York City public transportation!) I could feel my entire body tense up, hardening in order to deflect hate and misperception, feeling the rage of strangers’ stereotypes about me. It made sense that a part of my physical body tore, my shoulder that carries the weight of my world. I had been jarringly ripped out of the fabric of my own city, shoved into the role of Other, because some people felt it was patriotic to be suspicious of people who “seemed” Muslim.

Of course, this was eighteen years ago, before most people — even in a progressive, intellectual city like New York — recognized Islamophobia.

My shoulder started throbbing again last week. The pain has become unbearable. Only this time, it’s not because I’m misidentified as Muslim. Now it’s because I am Hindu and because progressive intellectuals don’t recognize or acknowledge that they are righteously, ceaselessly championing anti-Hinduism activism.

It breaks my heart when I hear Hindu friends say, “They just want us to shut up and die.” I’ve said it myself.

Hindu persecution doesn’t matter to the world.

Sensationalism Overrides Sensibility

The stunningly bizarre response to the Citizenship Amendment Act drove this point home for me. The Western press, with its unethical, shoddy coverage of the legislation, is so obsessed with its “India is headed towards Hindu theocracy” fear-mongering sensationalism that they not only buried the lede, they seem to have obliterated it completely.

Not a single headline from these two popular progressive sources identifies the purpose of the legislation — to help ease the citizenship pathways for religious refugees from oppressive Muslim nations. Not a single headline acknowledges their oppression. Anyone who relies on these journals would naturally assume that the sole purpose of the CAA is malicious and Islamophobic.

Let’s look more closely at how The Washington Post reports on the legislation:

They have made it about Islamophobia. Nowhere does this description center the persecution of the religious minorities seeking a permanent safe home, nowhere does this piece acknowledge that the three nations from which they escaped are theocracies. Nor do they acknowledge the fact that it would be cruel for India to send these people back to a State which constitutionally discriminates against them.

Yet, the incontrovertible fact is that the CAA was created only because non-Muslims — including and especially Hindus — have been persecuted in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, the three Muslim nations covered in the legislation. Hindus are being forcibly converted, murdered, kidnapped, raped, terrorized, and ethnically cleansed, often from homes on their ancestral land.

From 1964 to 2013, around 11.3 million Hindus left Bangladesh due to religious persecution and discrimination which means on an average 632 Hindus left the country each day and 230,612 annually. (Dr Abul Barkat, Dhaka University)

As we speak, the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh is getting worse and worse. Between 2001 and 2011, an alarming decrease in the number of Hindus within Bangladesh was recorded. According to statistics available with government sources, the proportionate decrease in the Hindu population is around nine hundred thousand. The statistics show an almost elimination of the Hindu population in fifteen districts in the country. Most of the Hindu families in those districts were forced to leave the country. (Rachel Avraham, Foreign Policy Association)

But not a single headline in a major progressive newspaper in the West contextualizes the CAA in that lived reality.

The beneficiaries of the Citizenship Amendment Act are not wealthy or university-educated or gaming some evil Hindutva system of privilege. They are ordinary people seeking the freedom to lead their lives without the constant fear of being actively persecuted by the State for their faith. They can only do that in India.

Watch: How the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 Will Change Lives

(I recommend watching the clip from the beginning — it’s very powerful. Only the interviews are in Hindi; the reporting is in English. Some testimonies from the video are below.)

“There was no izzat (respect) there. I was elected as a councilor in Pakistan and went to the House with fifty other elected representatives. When we were seated, I asked the peon for water. When he gave me water, a bearded Muslim said, ‘Why are you giving him water? He’s a Hindu.’”

“That’s why we came here. We left everything — our businesses, family, and birthplace — behind. For our izzat and to save our dharma. We came to make sure our daughters are educated. They don’t let us educate our daughters after the fifth grade.”

“The Muslims would say whenever we touched something: ‘Why are you touching this thing? It has become haram for us now! It has become jhootha (contaminated) now.’ When I used to go get vegetables, the vendors wouldn’t let me touch the produce. It is because of this difficulty and unfortunate reality that I came here.”

What is remarkable about the history of the CAA — and is not making headlines — is that there used to be a multi-partisan political consensus on the issue of granting citizenship to these minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. In a 2003 debate in the Lok Sabha, then-MP Manmohan Singh asked then-Home Minister LK Advani for an amendment similar to the CAA. Nine years later, PM Manmohan Singh was reminded of this ask by none other than then-CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat. The fact that Left, Right, and Center could agree so seamlessly should tell you something — that much of the opposition to the Act is a product of something else.

The outrage in the press and on the streets and in the elite, progressive, intellectual echo chambers is not about the persecution of non-Muslims, and certainly not about the plight of Hindus. It is not a demand for Hindus and other non-Muslims to be treated better in those three Muslim theocracies.

The outrage is about Islamophobia.

Let me repeat. The CAA is responding to the plight of non-Muslims seeking Indian citizenship because the three Muslims nations named in the legislation are oppressing them, but the outrage on the global stage is about Islamophobia.

I cannot think of better evidence that the Western press and the progressive intellectual elite have lost their final shred of credibility as a voice of real justice. I also cannot think of a better example of Hinduphobia in action.

Let’s Look At The Facts.

Let’s step back from the narrative for a moment and look at the legislation itself. (I recommend watching this 18-minute video. It is very thorough. Facts About the Citizenship Amendment Act)

These are the Pathways to Indian Citizenship as detailed in The Citizenship Act of 1965. (The CAA pertains to Section 6.)

Sources: @PenofDharma, UNHCR (source linked)

Go back to those alarmist headlines from before. Do they represent the facts of the legislation in any way?

The fact is that much of the rioting in India is because of the unethical, irresponsible sensationalism that is being peddled as hard-hitting journalism. It is because parties interested in fomenting panic and hatred intentionally spread misinformation. It’s not because of a real understanding of the implications of the CAA or even an ethical representation of what some of the rioting is about.

For instance, Ladeeda Farzana (aka Ladeeda Sakhaloon), an anti-CAB/CAA protestor whom journalist Barkha Dutt has valorized in her coverage of the Jamia Milia Islamia University protests, has posted (and then hidden) violent, anti-Hindu, openly jihadist messages on social media, celebrating “heroes” who were responsible for the slaughter of Hindus and destruction of Hindu temples.

Left: Barkha Dutt with Ladeeka Farzana. Right: A violently anti-Hindu social media post that Farzana has hidden.

The Sky is Falling!

The moral outrage is so focused on Islamophobia that Hindus who are celebrating that the Indian government is finally recognizing Hindu persecution are accused of being Islamophobic. This is premised on the fact that the CAA doesn’t include certain Muslim sects in those countries that are treated unfairly. (This is a textbook strawman argument.) That accusation of Islamophobia is then used to bind the CAA with the spectre of an Islamophobic nationwide National Register of Citizens, conflated by many with the existing Assamese NRC, which is grossly misrepresented as targeting Muslims. Yes, it is important to have critical conversations about these complicated topics, about immigration policies in a nation that is home to one-fifth of the world’s population with one-third the footprint of the United States and an infrastructure that is already bursting at the seams. But we can’t have real conversations without all the facts; the public can’t have all the facts if the progressive press is so consumed with India’s “Islamophobia problem” that they leave out all disconfirming evidence and context. Across social media, Hindus are being accused of Islamophobia when they engage in authentic conversations about the facts and implications of the CAA. These are not Hindus who are openly or secretly harboring fantasies of a Hindu-only India. The logistical ineptitude and hypocrisy of their accusers’ moral strutting is stunning.

A Facebook post made by a white American. He identifies as a Krishna devotee.

Erasing state-sanctioned Hindu persecution by Muslims theocracies while fueling fear about Islamophobia in India is not “nuance” — it is outright propaganda. Are Hindus now expected to answer to the moral indignation of uncritical “activists” whose stance is built on that propaganda?

For some of us who are familiar with the facts about the CAA, the fear-driven outrage that we see feels like an endless surreal landscape unfolding around us. It’s almost comedic (in a gallows humor kind of way) because much of the outrage is barely tethered to the facts about the CAA. But, given the scope of real harm that people are experiencing and the precious public resources that are being depleted — in many instances because of misinformation and sensationalism — it is heartbreaking and frustrating. When I ask folks to explain why the CAA is “fascist” or proof of a calculated move towards a Hindu-only India, with a genuine desire to know if I have missed any key points, the response I seem to get is a tired refrain of “It excludes Muslims”. (See below: The CAA does not impact the pathways to citizenship for Muslims.) Alternately, I hear, “Really? I have to explain it you?” in an all-too familiar tone of righteous indignation.

Yes, you do. Based on a clearly-stated, historically-accurate definition of fascism, a thorough reading of the CAA and knowledge of how it fits into the existing pathways to citizenship (not a link to the NY Times) and a point-by-point articulation of how the two are related. Hindu lives are at risk, Hindus (and other non-Muslims) are the ones being persecuted by theocracies. The onus is on you to prove that the legislation is Islamophobic, not on us to prove that it is not.

It is also on you to prove that your erasure and marginalization of real Hindu persecution is not Hinduphobic.

Perhaps most dangerous for Hindus and Hinduism is that the staunchest examples of this insidious Hinduphobic stance are often “liberal”, elite Hindus themselves. How often do the same Hindus (around the world) who make a point of bemoaning Hinduism and Hindu Islamophobia remain painfully silent about harm to Hindus? I’m not talking about the acceptable liberal practice of calling out the yoga industrial complex or cultural appropriation in the West. I mean real, actual persecution of Hindus contextualized within a real acknowledgment and awareness of our full history. Where are the protests? Where are the hashtags and social media campaigns? Where are the campus teach-ins across the United States?

Rather than scapegoating those individuals, though, I would offer that it’s important for us to name, examine, and take to task the paradigm in which that kind of hypocritical, self-harming behavior is normed and imposed as morally righteous. It is that particular Hindu voice — and that voice alone — that is amplified by progressive media institutions; the rest of us are shut out. (NPR still hasn’t followed through on their claim to review and address their Hinduphobic coverage.) This is how the paradigm thrives. It is the same paradigm of coloniality that whispers that the path to salvation lies only in recasting Hinduism and Hindus in the image of the modern West, as Hinduism itself is corrupt.

It is easy to ride the tsunami of sensationalism that is aimed at Hindus today, easy to demonize us and link our faith with fascism. The pieces have all been put into place, with institutional endorsement that claims to be progressive and rigorous yet does not authentically consider or convey our dissent. It leaves out anything that doesn’t fit the story, encouraging everyone to do the same. In the name of justice, you would have Hindus shoulder half-truths, disdain, and disregard. It is more convenient to erase the real persecution of Hindus, to subdue attention on the real menace of Islamic theocracy that they face, and silence the real story — that the Indian government took decisive action to improve the lives of religious refugees that the world failed to acknowledge.

We’re not going to just shut up and die.

Primary Sources, Videos, and Articles

Resolution of the Communist Party of India (M) demanding citizenship for the religious minorities from Bangladesh who are mostly Dalits and fleeing religious persecution. The BJP has fulfilled a long standing and just demand.
Manmohan Singh in 2003 arguing for ‘liberal approach’ to citizenship for minorities from neighbouring countries. Asks for changes in the citizenship act. CAA does exactly the same.

Indu Viswanathan

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New York-based mother, scholar-activist, community member, friend, meditator, musician, and writer.

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