On December 11, Tuesday, the upper house of India’s parliament passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), 2019. The lower house of parliament approved it on Monday. With this, India became one of the few – perhaps the only – country to include religion as a basis for citizenship. Of course, the law is only meant for immigrants from three neighboring countries [Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh]. But home minister Amit Shah yet again asserted in parliamentt that a country-wide exercise to prove citizenship will soon be carried out. This will be called the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Taken together, this massive and portentous campaign points to a future fraught with extreme danger for religious minorities in the country. One can’t help but recall the horrors of what happened in Germany after the Nazis came to power in 1933. They, too, had started with changes in law to discriminate against the Jews.
Although India is not yet like Germany of the 1930s and 1940s, it would be naïve not to recall how the Nazis went about targeting and ultimately eliminating an estimated six million Jews. It began with changes in laws, supplemented by street violence.
What happened in Nazi Germany
It was in 1920 that the Nazi Party’s 25-point program spelt out their objective of segregating Jews from ‘Aryan’ society and ending their economic, social and political rights. After storming into power in 1933, the Nazis started moving quickly towards this objective by bringing in laws and regulations to isolate Jews. It is estimated that nearly 2,000 such statutory changes were ordered at all levels, from national to provincial to local. Some of these anti-Semitic laws are listed below (drawn from the British Library and various sources):
- 1933: New laws to remove Jews from government service; forbidding Jews to become lawyers; limiting number of Jewish students in public schools; revoke citizenship of naturalised Jews and “undesirables”; banning them from editorial posts; banning ‘Kosher’- ritual slaughter of animals.
- 1934: Jewish students forbidden from appearing in exams for medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and law; Jews excluded from military service.
- 1935: Infamous Nuremberg Laws: exclude German Jews from Reich citizenship and lose voting rights; prohibit them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “German or German-related blood.”
- 1935-36: Jews banned from parks, restaurants and swimming pools; not allowed use of electrical/optical equipment, bicycles, typewriters or records; Jewish students removed from German schools and universities; Jewish teachers banned from govt. schools.
- 1938: Special identity cards issued to Jews; excluded from cinema, theater, concerts, exhibitions, beaches and holiday resorts; forced to add the names ‘Sarah’ or ‘Israel’ to their own; Jews’ passports stamped with a red letter ‘J’.
- On November 9-10 night (called Kristallnacht or Night of Broken Glass) countrywide violence against Jews, synagogues burnt and shops destroyed.
- 1939: Many Jews evicted from their homes; Jews’ radios confiscated; Jews told to hand over all gold, silver, diamonds, and other valuables to the state without compensation; curfew for Jews.
- 1940: Jews’ telephones confiscated; war-time ration cards for clothes stopped.
- 1941: Jews forbidden use of public telephones; forbidden to keep pets; forbidden to leave the country.
- 1942: Fur coats and woollen items of all Jews confiscated; not allowed to receive eggs or milk.
This is only the story of some of the legal changes. In life, Jews along with Roma people, sexual minorities, trade unionists, communists and social democrats, blacks – all ‘Non-Aryans’ – were systematically isolated, tortured and killed in the most horrendous ways. Often, these laws were used as pretext for violence. The Nazi stormtroopers implemented these policies, which were fully sanctioned by the fascist rulers and its Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.
Ideological roots of CAB and country-wide NRC
It is worthwhile to remember that the RSS [the right-wing socio-political and paramilitary organization which is the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party] has appreciative views of what the Nazis did. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) supremo and chief ideologue M.S. Golwalkar has this to say in his infamous book “We – Or Our Nationhood Defined”:
Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races—the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by. (p.87-88)
Golwalkar goes on to define the Hindu Nation and asserts that “All those not belonging to the national i.e. Hindu Race, Religion, Culture and Language, naturally fall out of the pale of real ‘National’ life.” (p.99) He advises that such people would be considered foreigners if they “maintain their racial, religious and cultural differences.” (p.101)
The RSS ideologue then puts it out in crystal clear terms:
….the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizen’s rights. (p. 105)
Note the last phrase – this is what the present government is building up to. CAB is the thin end of the wedge. NRC will lay the legal ground for a wider and deeper division.
India, of course, is nowhere near this – at the moment. And, there will be massive resistance to all such moves, as is happening with CAB currently, with protests erupting in several parts of the country. But, the lessons of history need to be learnt – otherwise we will be condemned to repeat it.