Dear BJP Govt, Swami Vivekananda Wouldn’t Have Approved of CAA-NRC
If standing up for the Indian Constitution and for the values of Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi make me a part of the ‘tukde tukde’ gang and an ‘Urban Naxal’, then the label fits. I am a human being and a proud Indian. I do not belong to any political party, I am not anti-national, I am a little bit of a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, a Sikh, a Parsi, a Jain – and a bit of any belief that embodies what the Preamble to our Constitution guarantees us – a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic.
My name is Minna Kabir, and I am the wife of the late Justice Altamas Kabir, former Chief Justice of India. This is the way I grew up. I lived in a neighbourhood where Indians of all religions and all communities and all cultures lived. We coexisted, never judging people because of the religion they belonged to.
Celebrating Our Diversity
We celebrated all the different religious festivals together, we all went to the same schools together, we all played in the same neighbourhood together, and we were all proud to be Indian – in an India that had a Constitution that claimed to uphold justice – social, economic and political; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and opportunity; and fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.
It is ironical that on the day prior to Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary, that is, 11 January, and when Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to bring in the dawn of Vivekananda’s birthday at Belur Math in Kolkata, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was notified to come into force by the Government of India. Modi chose Belur Math to say that CAA is “not about taking away citizenship, it is about giving citizenship”, but unlike Swami Vivekananda, why then did this government exclude one religious minority alone, and why should a secular country give citizenship on the basis of religion when our Constitution does not permit it?
These are extracts from the address of Swami Vivekananda at the World Parliament of Religions, Chicago, on 11 September 1893:
“I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.”
Vivekananda’s Words of Wisdom
“I will quote to you, brethren a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: ‘As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee,” Vivekananda had also said.
Another famous quote by him is: “The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: ‘Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me’. Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.”
Breaking Down Barriers
We are all born into one religion or the other by chance and we cannot afford the folly of thinking our religion is the correct one, or the superior one, and we cannot have a sense of entitlement, superiority, and hubris because of the religion we are born into. We are all human beings, we share the same joys, the same sorrows, the same hunger, the same pain, the same aspirations, and we are duty bound to respect people of all religions. This is why the Preamble to our Constitution exhorts us to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic, and to secure to all its citizens liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship among other things.
This is why many Indians fail to understand why the new amendment needs to exclude the people belonging to one religion from finding shelter in our country, as people of all faiths have done for many, many generations. Swami Vivekananda, like many other Indians, was proud that India had “gathered into its bosom” and “sheltered and fostered” all people who have suffered any type of “fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way towards the same goal.”
Swami Vivekananda told us the story about the frog who sat in a well and thought that the whole world was its little well, and he asked us to look beyond our little wells and to embrace all human beings and to break down barriers.
A Democratically-Elected Govt Must Listen to People
Indians all over the country, no matter what their faith or political affiliation, have spontaneously come out in protest against the CAA, NPR, and the NCR, which are serving to divide people along religious lines.
A democratically elected government has a responsibility to be accountable to its citizens during its term in office, to allow peaceful dissent and democratic discourse regarding all its actions in Parliament, and to allow institutions to function independently, to safeguard the Indian Constitution. We still believe that the Supreme Court, the ‘guardian of our Constitution’, will keep the faith of millions, and actively protect the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
In the meantime, the youth of India, the women of India, and civil society everywhere reserve the right to peacefully protest, and the right to non-violent non co-operation, in the face of what we see as ‘unconstitutional’ in the way the Father of the Nation taught us. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi during the Khilafat movement and the Freedom movement: “I plead for non co-operation without violence. Our shastras say and I say so with greatest deference to all the greatest religious preceptors of India, but without fear of contradiction that our shastras teach us that there shall be no co-operation between justice and injustice, between an unjust man and a justice loving man, between truth and untruth. Co-operation is a duty only so long as government protects your honour, and non co-operation is an equal duty when the government, instead of protecting you, robs you of your honour.”
Govt Must Channelise Energies in the Right Direction
Hopefully, our government will step back and listen to the voices of the people of India. Hopefully, they will uphold the traditions that this country has been famous for, and hopefully realise the enormous positive energy that has been released by the protest movement today, and hopefully they will spend their energy on improving the economy, the quality of education, the state of healthcare, and offer more jobs and livelihood to the common man. It is a waste of time and resource to pursue a policy and a law, which will build walls between people.
(Minna Kabir has extensive experience working with child rights and human rights movements in Kolkata, Jharkhand and Delhi. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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