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From Moradabad to Hyderabad, Muslims worry about the impact of new citizenship law

The CAA fast-tracks citizenship for five non-Muslim communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but the concern is in what it signals — making citizenship a matter of faith — and the kind of effect it will have on the ground for people who find themselves excluded from NRC. The law will throw a lifeline for non-Muslims, while the Muslims out of NRC would be incarcerated or relegated to non-citizens.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Dec 20, 2019, 03.19 PM IST
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Moradabad & Hyderabad: Every Friday, Mohammed Yameen shuts his brassware shop in Moradabad’s Peerzada area — and keeps the day for his friends, family and God, not necessarily in that order. On December 13, the 50-year-old did not even go to the mosque for namaz. It was the Friday after the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed by Parliament — the Lok Sabha passed it on December 9 and the Rajya Sabha on December 11.

“After the bill was passed, I decided to do nothing else on Friday but find the papers that show this house was bought by my grandfather, who was born in Moradabad in undivided India,” says Yameen. His other worry is to secure papers that show his grandfather, Abdul Farid, was indeed his grandfather.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said Indian Muslims have nothing to fear from the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA, but Muslims in Uttar Pradesh — where they are 18% of the population, according to the 2011 Census — are worried.

The CAA fast-tracks citizenship for five non-Muslim communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but the concern is in what it signals — making citizenship a matter of faith — and the kind of effect it will have on the ground for people who find themselves excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The law will throw a lifeline for non-Muslims, while the Muslims out of NRC would be incarcerated or relegated to non-citizens.

Shavez Rais, a scrap dealer in Bareilly feels otherwise, “I am happy that the government is keeping the interests of minorities in our neighbouring countries in mind. How can they trust Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan?”

Mohammed Shameen, a civil contractor in Rampur, says there is a growing feeling that Muslims are getting a step-motherly treatment from the powers that be. “Our ancestors have given their lives for this country. When the Constitution promises equality and no discrimination based on religion, why do we have this law? Why make us feel that we are not the same as others? And why now?” he asks.

It is no different in Hyderabad.“Earlier, I thought NRC was only for border states that had problems of illegal migrants.

I am now worried, hearing that it will be implemented in other parts of the country, including Hyderabad,” says Mohammed Arif, a 23-year-old salesman at a mobile accessories store in Ameerpet. “I was born and brought up here. My family has been here for generations.

We have Aadhaar, voter ID card and ration card. But going by the experience of Muslims in Assam, we are worried about what will happen to us. What if they say these papers are not enough?” he asks.

Hyderabad has seen this before when “foreigners” were picked up after the Police Action on September 17, 1948.

Mir Ali, a 79-year-old from Golconda, says, “I heard from my father that several thousand people, including those living here for generations, were identified as aliens and pushed into detention camps.

They included Muslim families who migrated to Hyderabad generations ago from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran and served in the Nizam’s army.” He adds, “Of course, most of the Muslims who were suspected as illegal migrants and confined in detention camps were later found to be born in British India and freed.”

Historian Taylor C Sherman, associate professor in the Department of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science, has, in her research paper, traced the “fate of Arabs, Afghans and other Muslim migrants after the forcible integration of the princely state of Hyderabad into the Indian Union in 1948”.

Explaining how about 21,000 people identified as foreigners were kept in detention camps pending deportation, she said only a couple of hundreds could be finally deported. She said that people of Hyderabad did not automatically become Indian citizens and had to wait till the Citizenship Act of 1955, which formally made persons belonging to the princely states citizens of India.

Political parties are split down the middle on the new citizenship law.

The Lok Sabha MP from Moradabad, ST Hasan of the Samajwadi Party, says the law goes against the spirit of the Constitution. He feels the bill will communalise the nation like never before. “Now the Centre will bring in a nationwide NRC and make matters worse for the community. Muslim are mostly poor and illiterate here. They do not maintain files or records.

How will they give proof of their lineage? This is an attempt to declare Muslims as ghuspethiya (illegal immigrants),” he says.

The BJP contends this. Mohsin Raza — the lone Muslim minister in the Yogi Adityanath government — says the law is not anti-Muslim.

“It is samman ka law (a law that bestows honour to migrants). Anyone, including Muslims, who seeks Indian citizenship will be rightfully given a hearing. Look at Hindus in Pakistan.

Are they secure there? Had our neighbours taken care of their Hindu minorities, there would have been no need for this law in the first place,” he says.

Rohingya in Hyderabad
In the Old City of Hyderabad, there are about 6,000 refugees, mostly Rohingya Muslims, living in 15 settlements. They fall outside the citizenship law.

Mazher Hussain, executive director of the civil society body Confederation of Voluntary Associations, which works as a partner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), says there has been a spurt in refugees from Myanmar to Hyderabad since 2012 owing to rising conflicts there.

Rakesh Reddy Anugula, spokesperson of the BJP in Telangana, says there is there is an immediate need to implement NRC in sensitive areas like Hyderabad, Mumbai and certain parts of Uttar Pradesh which have illegal migrants.

Hyderabad-based political analyst Manchala Srinivasa Rao argues that CAA and NRC do not discriminate against Indian Muslims, whose citizenship wouldn’t be questioned. “Of course, there are concerns after the shoddy implementation of NRC in Assam. These need to be addressed before it is implemented across the country to allay the apprehensions of Muslims,” he says.

Amjed Ullah Khan, spokesperson of Majlis Bachao Tehreek, a Muslim political outfit in Telangana, doesn’t agree.

He says the BJP government has opened the gates to ethnic conflicts. Terming CAA as unconstitutional, he said political and social outfits working for the protection of the rights of Muslims will challenge the law in the apex court. “We hope the Supreme Court will strike down the anti-constitutional legislation that discriminates against Muslims,” he says.

Most of the Muslims that ET Magazine spoke to in Telangana aired concerns about the likely harassment by the authorities during a nationwide NRC. While those who are employed and have properties are relatively confident of producing documents to prove their citizenship, those who are self-employed and without properties expressed fears that they didn’t possess enough documents and title deeds.

“Muslim-Mukt Bharat?”
“Are all Muslims terrorists?” asks Iqbal Hussain, a councillor in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. “There may be some bad elements in every community. But by bringing a law in its current form, the BJP has shown that they want a Muslim-mukt Bharat. People have a lot of anger and resentment and we are contemplating how to deal with this.”

Abdullah Khan, first-time MP from Rampur’s Suar assembly seat and son of SP MP from Rampur Azam Khan, points to the futility of protesting against the bill and of airing one’s fears. “Who will hear us? None of the amendments proposed by the Opposition got a proper hearing. The Centre is turning Kashmir into jail and Assam into Kashmir.”

Many others like BSP Lok Sabha MP from Amroha, Danish Ali, says the law is not just against the basic tenets of the Constitution but also pushes the two-nation theory supported by VD Savarkar and Muhammed Ali Jinnah.

“What was the need to bring in a legislation for the first time on the basis of religion? Is this not divide and rule? If the Central government stands for equality, they must include Muslims in the law as well as people from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. But it won’t.

Because its motive is to polarise voters into Hindus and Muslims and divert attention from a failing economy,” says Ali.

Yunus Mohammad, a 42-year-old engineer working with a private firm in Hyderabad, says his fears have only exacerbated. “Ever since the BJP government came to power for the second time with absolute majority and started going ahead with its agenda of targeting Muslims by legislative amendments to triple talaq, Article 370 and now CAA, there has been panic among my family and relatives about growing religious polarisation and sense of alienation.”

He says “we never expected a day will come in our lives when we would feel uncertain about our future and worry about our safety in India and even think of migrating to safer countries on PR (permanent residency) visas”.

In Moradabad, its MP Hasan Moradabad recites a couplet by the poet Muzaffar Razmi. “Ye jabr bhi dekha hai taarikh ki nazron ne/ Lamhon ne khata ki thi sadiyon ne sazaa payi (History is witness to such compulsions/ Mistakes were made in a few minutes but its price had to be paid for centuries).”

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