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Humanitarianism: Political tool of the Government of India


Source: Scroll.in

Humanitarianism is a political tool to benefit the state.


The Government of India has taken benefit of the Westphalian sovereignty and used humanitarianism to fill their vote bank through divisive, polarizing, and religious politics.

Hereby, I am critically analyzing two cases of humanitarianism of the Government of India. These cases are of refugee assistance – The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019 and the development projects in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. I will primarily be referring to the following texts:

  1. “Where ethics and politics meet: The violence of humanitarianism in France” by Miriam Ticktin

  2. “Humanitarianism: A brief history of the present” by Michael Barnett and Thomas G. Weiss

Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019


The Parliament of India passed The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 on December 11, 2019. The act grants Indian citizenship to illegal migrants belonging to religious minorities from three countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The minority religions are – Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism. The act assumes that the above countries persecute these illegal migrants based on religion. This act grants Indian Citizenship so easily as no documents are needed at all. The requirement of “Naturalization” is relaxed from eleven years to five years for applicants of these six religions if applicants claim to have entered India after December 31, 2014. The amendment also waives off any pending illegal migration or citizenship cases against the eligible applicants (The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019).


This act grants Indian Citizenship so easily as no documents are needed at all.

The Government of India describes these countries as Muslim majority countries. Hence, the amendment excludes illegal Muslim migrants apart from Jews, Bahais, and Atheists. Political leaders, as well as leaders of minority organizations of these neighboring countries, reject the claim of any persecution based upon religion (Kinseth, 2019). It is also unclear why India excluded other neighboring countries – Bhutan, China, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka. Noting that there are more than 99,000 Tamil refugees (Silvela, 2019) and 40,000 Rohingya refugees (Kinseth, 2019) living on and off camps in India, respectively.


there are more than 99,000 Tamil refugees (Silvela, 2019) and 40,000 Rohingya refugees (Kinseth, 2019) living on and off camps in India, respectively.

Citizens of India protested the act in an enormous number as it is a violation of Article 14 of the Indian constitution, which states that “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India” (Article 14).




Development projects in the Rakhine state of Myanmar


More than 40,000 Rohingya Muslims are living on the Indian territory. Every quarter of India - the states of Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala shares the distribution of camps. All Rohingyas are registered as refugees under United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but India names these “stateless people'' officially as “illegal migrants”. The ruling party, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), claims that Rohingya Muslims are a threat to the nation because of their vulnerability to become a terrorist, echoing the narrative of the oppressor (PTI, 2018). The Government of India has made the lives of Rohingyas so difficult to even access basic human rights of water, shelter, and education by not issuing them Aadhar Card (the residency-based identification card mandatory for every citizen to avail services) (Kinseth, 2019).


In a virtual meeting held on 1st October, government officials of India and Myanmar moved forward on their three-year-old agreement of socio-economic development projects such as the building of schools and training center in the Rakhine state, the place of Rohingya’s “ethnic cleansing” and persecution (Hossain, 2018). The agreement further talks about addressing the challenges faced in agricultural productivity and eventually raising the socio-economic status of people in the Rakhine state (Baibhawi, 2020).


The Government of India has made the lives of Rohingyas so difficult to even access basic human rights of water, shelter, and education by not issuing them Aadhar Card (the residency-based identification card mandatory for every citizen to avail services) (Kinseth, 2019)


Indian foreign secretary refers to Rohingya refugees as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The Government is unmoved on its stand of repatriating the refugees back to Myanmar despite international law prohibiting states from refoulement, sending persons to nations where they risk persecution (Kinseth, 2019).


Miriam Ticktin talks about the distinction between human rights and humanitarianism. The state looks at the act of humanitarianism as altruistic and a relief to the suffering. However, the state must look at it from the lens of human rights and states must be held responsible and accountable (Ticktin, 2006). She further discusses human rights violations by the state itself in the case of refugee assistance. In the case of the treatment of Rohingya refugees in India, India has been seriously violating the basic human rights of the refugees on their land, while marketing humanitarianism of financial aid and pseudo-developmental projects which do not address why the persecution happened in the first place.


Miriam Ticktin highlights a contradiction of how humanitarianism has led to “a limited humanity” that people in need must constantly prove their helplessness and suffering (Ticktin, 2006). There is a spike in hate crimes against the Rohingya refugees and the government has failed to take any action against the perpetrators. Over time, surveillance and convictions in the camps have increased.


The governments have jailed Rohingya refugees for a long-term for owning land or building permanent structures. These convictions are usually without hearing in the court, a basic human right of an Indian citizen. Eventually, rag picking has become the most common occupation because of systemic oppression (Kinseth, 2019).

Michael Barnett and Thomas G. Weiss in their introduction chapter talk about the defining principles of humanitarianism through the definition coined by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, as a humanitarian act, goes against the definition of ICRC. The principles of Impartiality, Neutrality, and Unity are in contradiction as the act is putting people practicing Islam at a disadvantage in a country where violence against Muslims has increased drastically. As Mamdani says, the only reason that the government fails to include other countries or even Sri Lanka where Tamil Hindus were persecuted is that “their oppressor does not claim to be an official representative of Islam” (Mamdani, 2019).


The text further conveys that the essence of humanitarianism is to save life at risk and to do better than harm. Detention centers are being made in the country for people who will be found at fault if they fail to prove their citizenship and their non-Islamic religious identity (Raj, 2020). Indian police and government have not left any stone unturned to malign and falsely accuse citizens who talked against the act by labeling them as “anti-nationals” and instigating hate politics. Eventually, causing more damage to the human rights of the already existing citizens, free speech, and peace (Rupasinghe, 2020).


Both cases of humanitarianism separately might make sense. The Indian government claims it to be a humanitarian act of giving citizenship to the people who are suffering. In the second case, it claims to improve the socio-economic status of Rohingya refugees and build better relations between the two countries. However, one cannot look at these cases in isolation.


Putting together, the clash between the impartial ethics of both the decisions is clear and reveals the religious politics of the government. On one hand, the BJP government has eased Indian citizenship for one section of the society - majority Hindus and made it difficult for the other section of the society - majority Muslims. BJP leaders and the Indian government have stated Rohingyas to be a national security threat without any straightforward evidence but solely based on their religion (Dutta, 2017).


Supporters of CAA, as well as non-supporters, are at a loss as citizens of the country are losing trust over the social contract – The Constitution of India.

The Indian government, through its politics of who will and who will not benefit from their humanitarianism, has made it clear on multiple occasions that they do not agree to the social contract itself.


I conclude that contradictory to scholars and activists suggesting that humanitarianism is an antidote to an international order that is dominated by a Westphalian emphasis on state-based sovereignty (Mahajan, 2019), the Government of India has taken benefit of the Westphalian sovereignty and used humanitarianism to fill their vote bank through divisive, polarizing, and religious politics. It has overlooked human rights while sheltering its actions under humanitarianism. Victims have had to prove their sufferings and oppression so to justify their need for humanitarianism. The government has violated multiple principles of humanitarianism. Nevertheless, the Indian government has succeeded to put out their narrative that Muslims are not welcome in this country and Islam practicing citizens are outsiders. This not only has hurt sentiments but also must lead to the mental trauma of citizens and Rohingya refugees, a factor that often goes invisible in humanitarianism as also pointed out by Ticktin (Ticktin, 2006).

 

References


Article 14. (n.d.). Retrieved from Constitutionofindia.net: https://www.constitutionofindia.net/constitution_of_india/fundamental_rights/articles/Article%2014

Baibhawi, R. (2020, October 06). Myanmar-India Ink Project Agreement To Boost Development Of Rakhine State. Retrieved from republicworld.com: https://www.republicworld.com/world-news/rest-of-the-world-news/myanmar-india-ink-project-agreement-to-boost-development-of-rakhine.html

Dutta, P. K. (2017, September 07). How Rohingyas reached India and why government is not ready to let them stay. Retrieved from India Today: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/rohingya-muslims-myanmar-india-aung-san-suu-kyi-narendra-modi-1039729-2017-09-07

Hossain, M. A. (2018, January 09). Rohingyas and the Case of Ethnic Cleansing. Retrieved from The Geopolitics: https://thegeopolitics.com/rohingya-genocide/#:~:text=Rohingyas%20and%20the%20Case%20of%20Ethnic%20Cleansing%20For,jobs.%20They%20are%20not%20allowed%20to%20move%20freely.

Kinseth, A. S. (2019, January 29). Aljazeera opinion. Retrieved from Aljazeera.com: https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2019/1/29/indias-rohingya-shame/

Mamdani, M. (2019, December 31). Uncovering the CAA's larger Strategem. Retrieved from The Hindu: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/uncovering-the-caas-larger-stratagem/article30436029.ece/amp/?homepage=true&__twitter_impression=true&s=09

Preamble. (n.d.). Retrieved from Constitution of India: https://www.constitutionofindia.net/constitution_of_india/preamble

PTI. (2018, April 07). BJP says supporting deportation of Rohingyas, asks lawyers to call off protest in J&K. Retrieved from The Economic times: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/bjp-says-supporting-deportation-of-rohingyas-asks-lawyers-to-call-off-protest/articleshow/63658477.cms

Raj, K. D. (2020, April 04). ‘Muslims Are Foreigners’: Inside India’s Campaign to Decide Who Is a Citizen. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/04/world/asia/india-modi-citizenship-muslims-assam.html

Rupasinghe, W. (2020, September 16). Indian police and BJP government extend witch-hunt against anti-CAA protesters to filmmaker Rahul Roy. Retrieved from World Socialist Website: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/09/16/delh-s16.html

Silvela, A. V. (2019, October). Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India: return or integration? Forced Migration review, pg. 13 - 15. Retrieved from fmreview.org/return

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. (2019, December 19). Retrieved from The Hindu Center: https://www.thehinducentre.com/resources/article30327343.ece

Ticktin, M. (2006). Where ethics and Politics meet: The violence of humanitarianism in France. AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST, Vol. 33(No. 1), pp. 33–49.



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