Citizenship Bill: The Communal Aftershocks That Shook India's Neighbours Post Babri

The demolition of the 16th century mosque not only sparked Hindu-Muslim riots in various parts of India, but also in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

New Delhi: Two days before December 6 – the 27th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya – the cabinet has given its nod to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.

Is the timing merely a fluke? Considering how the Narendra Modi government’s Hindutva agenda has been playing out in recent times, it’s unlikely.

By amending the Citizenship Act during the ongoing session of parliament, the Modi government at the Centre is moving towards its goal of being able to grant Indian nationality to Hindu citizens – among five other religious groups – of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan on the grounds of “religious persecution”.

Also read: Union Cabinet Approves Contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill

A bloody trail

A pertinent question to be asked at this moment is: What led to the “religious persecution” of the Hindus, principally in Bangladesh, which has now pushed the Modi government to try – for the second time – to get the amendment passed in parliament?

A part of the answer lies in the violent communal response in Pakistan and Bangladesh to the Sangh Parivar’s building up of the tensions around the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya from 1990 onwards, and the aftershock of its demolition.

The demolition of the 16th century mosque not only sparked Hindu-Muslim riots in various parts of India, but also in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Minority Hindus had to bear the wrath of Muslim radicals in these countries because of the Sangh parivar’s assault on a religious place of great importance to minority Muslims in India.

In what is Pakistan today, the post-Babri riots were an add-on to an enduring narrative of communal riots between the two communities beginning with the run-up to Partition. Gradually, Hindus in the Muslim-majority country have been reduced to virtually second-class citizens.

But in the case of Bangladesh, the fierce Babri-related frenzy felt by the Hindus was like a never before assault on them by Muslim religious zealots. Though riots had taken place in East Pakistan between the two communities, the communal narrative was overridden by a vociferous assertion of Bengali linguistic identity to shape a new nation – Bangladesh. That way, Bangladesh had rejected the idea of India’s partition on religious lines.

Also read: Why the Proposed Citizenship Amendment Runs Foul of Constitutional Provisions

Still, 1977 onwards, the Bangladesh government began tweaking the secular constitution to tilt towards the majority Muslim faith. It finally adopted Islam as the state religion in 1988, and it was due to the Babri dispute and the demolition of the mosque that the country witnessed the first organised anti-Hindu riots. Things eventually began to simmer 1990 onwards due to mounting tensions in Ayodhya over Babri.

It is well known that in 1993, Hindus in Bangladesh didn’t celebrate Durga Puja in protest against the attacks on their temples by Islamic forces in response to the demolition of the mosque.

Professor Ameena Mohsin of Dhaka University, in her insightful essay, ‘Minority Identities and Nation State‘, published by Oxford University in 1999, pointed out that the Hindu minority of Bangladesh felt the most insecure after the Babri demolition.

“For the first time since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, anti-Hindu riots took place on a national scale, first in 1990, then in 1992.  In December 1992, reprisals took the form of attacking temples and the premises and properties surrounding them as well as puja mandaps all over the country.”

In 1993, Bangladeshi feminist writer Taslima Nasreen’s novel Lajja encapsulated the ugliness of those communal attacks, the shifting sands of Bengali nationalism to communalism, as seen through the eyes of a Hindu Bangladeshi family. Baying for her blood, Muslim radicals took to the streets of Dhaka. It led the government to ban Lajja, issued an arrest warrant against the writer, forcing her to flee her country. She has not been able to return home since.

By inserting the amendment to the Citizenship Act, the BJP government would actually be responding to the wrongs it inadvertently sparked against Hindus, mainly from Bangladesh.

By doing so, though, the party is trying to flip the narrative back to Partition, to the breaking point of religion – thus rejecting the rationale behind the foundation of Bangladesh as a nation.

Assam Accord anniversary 

Coming back to the coincidence of the dates, here’s another twist that shouldn’t get lost in the din.

Briefing media persons in New Delhi about the cabinet decision to approve the Bill among five other bills, Union minister Prakash Javdekar didn’t give any date when the government would table the Bill in parliament. He said it was up to the chairpersons of the two houses.

Also read: A Common Thread in the Centre’s Plans on the Brewing Citizenship Question

However, the buzz in the media is that it would be passed in parliament on December 10.

If it does get the parliament’s nod on or around December 10, the irony of the timing – from kindling Assam’s anti-foreigner agitation 40 years ago to now diluting its end result in the interest of Hindutva – will not be lost on many in Assam.

On December 10, 1979, college student Khargeshwar Talukdar lost his life during an anti-foreigner protest in Barpeta district. The allegation was that he died because of police firing. All Assam Students’ Union declared him a martyr and the incident ignited the first big spark of the students’ movement that eventually culminated in the Accord – the principal clause of which the the Bill would disrupt.