CAB & Sri Lankan Tamil: Creation of the Politically Useful ‘Hindu’

CAB exposes its architects’ inability to see Hindus through a diverse prism & creates a category of useful Hindus.

4 min read
CAB & Sri Lankan Tamil: Creation of the Politically Useful ‘Hindu’

The controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) exposes the core of a political ideology which seems to define India not only on a polarizing religious narrative but also suffers the inability to understand a multi-ethnic, linguistic and culturally diverse composition of ‘Hindus’ or domicile within the territorial borders of India.

‘Hindus’ deserving citizenship, as envisaged by the CAB, is restricted to those from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sri Lankan Tamils -close to 60,000 are in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu- do not feature as natural citizens of this country though they are Hindus.


Persecution of Tamil Speakers in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has had a history of persecution of Tamils and India has played an active role in the long and bloody conflict in the island nation.

The conflict in Sri Lanka is between a Sinhala Buddhist majority and overwhelmingly Hindu Tamil minority. While there are Tamil speaking Muslims in the Island nation they are considered a separate socio-political group and the reference to Tamils is to an overwhelmingly Hindu population. However, the linguistic identity, one that is also seen as a different ethnic identity, overshadows the religious identity in the conflict.

The Sri Lankan Tamil fled the island during conflict years only to seek temporary refuge in India and largely retained their independent identity as Sri Lankan citizens.

Large numbers repatriated to Sri Lanka during peace years and only 60,000 now stay on in India in refugee camps. A small population also resides outside refugee camps.

The Refugees in the camps live under difficult conditions. They have little access to the State and the world outside and are often, allegedly, victims of abuse and violation of Human rights.

Politics Over Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees

While Tamil political parties have claimed to be champions of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause, the lakhs of refugees in India were always kept under strict watch and control.

Elements from the LTTE were always feared from a Law and Order point of view and the inmates of refugee camps been victims of enormous harasment and abuse. It does not matter that they are Tamil and 'Hindu'!

Women fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) stand on the rebel side of a border crossing in Omanthai in north-central Sri Lanka on 15 February 2002. 
(Photo: Reuters)

Most Sri Lankan Tamils who live in camps want Indian citizenship. Both the DMK and AIADMK governments in Tamilnadu have repeatedly taken this issue up with the Centre.

The AIADMK  support for the bill in parliament exposes that the party is in no way willing to antagonize the BJP and will certainly result in a loss of political face in Tamil Nadu.

It may not matter electorally, but is certainly something the opposition will use to attack the ruling party.


Which Hindus Deserve Indian Citizenship?

But now, the CAB implies that the Tamils are ‘Hindus’ with no right to citizenship and have to live as refugees in India.

Does this mean then that being ‘Hindu’ deserving Citizenship in India is purely defined on the basis of the religion of the persecutor? It has to be persecution by an ‘Islamic State’ and not a ‘Buddhist’ State?

It suggests that only the ‘Hindu’ who can satisfy and amplify a political narrative of persecution by an ‘Islamic’ State is considered fit for protection and citizenship.

In that it may be argued that the CAB exposes that the principle is more ‘anti-Muslim’ than ‘Pro-Hindu’. BJP's managers in the State are trying to create a distinction between Tamil refugees and others, with little success.

From a linguistic point of view, Tamils are the only group among the southern linguistic groups who form a sizeable native population in another country and face persecution.

But they do not form a core political constituency for ‘Hindutva’ and represent the lack of uniformity that the narrow definition of ‘Hindu’ in the political polarization prism of the ideology.

Inability to See ‘Hindus’ From a Culturally, Linguistically Diverse Perspective

It may be argued that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill reveals not just the inability of its architects to see the religious diverse nature of India, but even see ‘Hindus’ from a culturally, linguistically diverse perspective.

The defining feature of identity of a country is how it defines who can become citizens of the geographical entity. In the case of India, it was settled that domicile in the territory of India, including those who migrated into it after partition, was the basis for citizenship when the constitution of India was adopted.

Amending the 1955 Citizenship Act to include religion as the base ground for citizenship could be the first de jure attempt towards creating a ‘Hindu’ Rashtra, one where even the ‘Hindu’ is defined from a narrow political prism and not from an inexplicably diverse, inclusive and liberal prism.

(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

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