An (Un)Enlightened Sadhguru in King Modi's Court

In his defence of the CAA, he missed facts, history and law, and he missed their connections. But above all he missed what he beseeches us all to have – compassion. Perhaps that's why the PM has endorsed what he said.

I heard Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s talk on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. I did wonder why a gathering would come to a spiritual guru to seek information and clarification on political matters like the CAA. I also wondered why someone who admitted to knowing so little about the Act chose to expound on it and, ironically, also chide others for being misled and misinformed.

Undeterred by the incongruity of place, occasion and shortage of expertise, he as a spiritual guru who self-admittedly had not read the CAA, held forth for 22 long minutes. Any other person, armed only with motley bits of half-truths would have passed the question (that was asked) but not him. As the epitome of dispassionate reason, he exploited the faith and belief his followers repose and the morality they ascribe to him, to dispense “Truth” about the CAA-NRC. Such is the Sadhguru’s claim as the purveyor of truth that even the prime minster, who has been complaining about protestors not reading the CAA, exempted him from that qualification and asked us to listen to the godman’s “lucid explanation”..

But as Pratap Bhanu Mehta notes in his survey of the year that just ended, “mere repetition of a lie, backed by power, does not make something a truth.” Each one of the Sadhguru’s caveats – “I am not sure…”, “this needs to be checked…”, “I have not read…” – was followed by misinformation. A troll on social media is an unabashed user of canard, but Jaggi Vasudev is a careful user. He prepares the ground of plausible deniability for each of his canards and then proceeds to systematically plant them in the minds of a willing, unsuspecting audience.

He says that the CAA is a compassionate move to extend citizenship to persecuted minorities from the three surrounding Islamic countries. He doesn’t question, why these three, and why not the persecuted Muslims and Sri Lankan Tamils but we’ll let that be for the moment. He says that thousands of refuges who suffered persecution and genocide have been living in this country for many many years and therefore need our compassion. He authoritatively asserts that this bill is only “focussed on religious persecution”. He goes on to say that ‘you may have some other trouble and you want to come here, that’s not allowed; you may be looking for economic opportunities, but you cannot come.” For those, he says, there are other channels through which one can apply. “This is different – it is for block acceptance of citizenship”. I couldn’t understand that, but let’s leave that too for the moment. He then repeatedly, and authoritatively reiterates that the CAA opens up citizenship only for those who have suffered religious persecution and who have been living in India for anything between 7-20 years “like animals”. Are we so hard hearted, he asks, that we shun these homeless people?

For someone who understands the law so insufficiently, Sadhguru really treads where angels fear to tread. He ignores what legal experts, historians, political analysts have been saying over and over again about the text and intent of the law; he plants calibrated doubts about “certain people who misinformed illiterate Muslim masses” who then have got “misled”; he ignores the psychic, the material, the economic costs and sociological impact of this law and felt free to talk of compassion; he focuses on sporadic and sometimes orchestrated acts of violence and dismisses democratic protests as “people going wild”; he ignores well documented accounts of untold police brutalities and heartlessly ask us to count our blessings that they “did not use firepower”. He repeats each homily and each exaggeration of the ruling party so unabashedly that one is almost forced to wonder who the guru here is.

Let me clear a few misconceptions for the Sadhguru. He may not know this but the word “persecuted” does not figure in the actual text of the CAA. This expression has been used by our home minister (and repeated mindlessly by his other ministers) on the floor of parliament, but it is not there in the Gazette notification of December 12, 2019.

Citizenship eligibility under the CAA is for any person belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before December 31, 2014. So it is potentially extendable to all migrants of the aforesaid religious communities, provided they fulfil the date requirement. “Persecution” is a claim any migrant can make, so countries around the world – even those that are humane in such matters – usually subject the claim to some sort of critical evaluation before opening the door to permanent residence and citizenship. Since the word does not figure in the operative part of the CAA, the only purpose its invocation by politicians serves is to create a justificatory premise and an emotional response for exclusion in this country.

Sadhguru talks of persecution in Pakistan, the genocide in Bangladesh, he even reaches Azerbaijan. He then says that stories of persecution abound in each country, some more some less, but the thing about religious countries is that they persecute their religious minorities by law. He gives two misleading examples. First of blasphemy law which is equally applicable to all communities so much so that in Pakistan most of those prosecuted under the blasphemy law are Muslims. It is Islamic but it doesn’t apply differently to Hindus or Sikhs or Ahmadiyas, for example.

Second, he alleges that Hindu marriages are not recognised in Pakistan. Here he is not quite correct. Hindu marriages were never “illegal” in Pakistan but in order to eliminate societal discrimination (not legal) and the crime of abduction and forcible marriage of Hindu girls by Muslim men, the Hindu Marriage Act 2017 was passed which is applicable for all of Pakistan except Sindh. Sindh has its own Hindu Marriage Act of 2016.The law will help Hindu women in Pakistan obtain documentary proof of their marital status. “Such laws will help discourage forced conversions and streamline the Hindu community after the marriage of individuals,” a Hindu parliamentarian in Pakistan explained. This quote is enough to confirm that Hindus in Pakistan are persecuted, sometimes brutally and horrifically so, as are other minorities – Sikhs, Ahmadiyas, Hazaras – in the three CAA countries. If India wants to accept them, it most certainly can and should.

Sadhguru says terrible things happened during the partition and this Act is both a law and an act of compassion. he may not know but Article 6 of the constitution recognises and restores the rights of people who migrated to India during those unhappy times. Yes, the existing laws already have a framework for naturalisation of legal migrants and conferment of citizenship of partition victims.  But if you are an undocumented migrant living in India, the Citizenship Act says you are “illegal” and what the CAA does is to say that if you are a Hindu you can stay and if you are a Muslim you cannot. If you are a non-Muslim, your “illegality” will be condoned, but if you are a Muslim your illegality becomes a crime so grave that you’ll likely end up in a detention camp. Can’t Sadhguru not see how this law is discriminatory? The same “animal existence” that made him implore his audience to be compassionate is shockingly (but not surprisingly) missing here as an issue of concern.

He brings in the NRC too, and says that there is no threat to the Indian Muslims. Their citizenship is not under threat and those spreading these “rumours” are folks from Whatsapp University. We will let this pot-calling-kettle-black remark too pass. The NRC is like counting dogs in Chennai, he says. He actually thinks this is about counting people, a population survey of sorts! What have the census and voter list been doing all along? Counting canines in Chennai and termites in Assam?

Sadhguru may not know but a law operates in conjunction with other laws. The full import and picture of the CAA emerges when it is read with the NRC. It is very likely, given the Assam experience that many valid, legal, bona fide citizens do not make it to the register. But here’s the CAA deal. It’ll make it easier for non-Muslims to get exempted, simply on the basis of belonging to a religion. And again on the basis of simply belonging to a religion, Muslims excluded from the NRC because they are unable to satisfy officials about their legality will be declared ‘doubtful citizens’. Thus it is clear even the NRC is discriminatory.

Sadly, the Sadhguru seems unaware of the fact that no other country has asked citizens to prove their citizenship retrospectively. As Niraja Gopal Jayal’s expert view reminded us, the UK did attempt linking National ID cards to a national identity register (not citizenship, mind you) in 2006. But on grounds that the law could result in a two-tiered racial structure (in which British ethnic minorities may be obliged to register while white Britons may not be), the Act was repealed and the data on the National Identity Register destroyed within a month.

At the beginning of his CAA pravachan, Sadhguru ponderingly asked; Did I miss something? Not that he were expecting an answer but as someone who has read the CAA let me break the news to him – He missed a lot. He missed facts, he missed history, he missed law and he missed their connections. But above all he missed what he beseeches us all to have – compassion. It appears that the burden of both truth and compassion is not his to bear at all.

But it’s a new day today. A new year too. Never too late for a resolve to find truth and compassion in our hearts.

Rajshree Chandra teaches Political Science at Janki Devi Memorial College, Delhi University.  She dedicates this piece to a 90 year old woman with a mouth with no teeth and a sharp tongue from Shaheen Bagh.