(After the enactment of the Citizen’s Amendment Bill 2019, the issue of citizenship has been on the boil all over the country. Across India people are up in arms. The situation in other parts of the country is far from normal. Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs, Muslims, working class – all are agitated over it. Given this scenario, Dalitbahujans need to be heard and we have been publishing a series of interviews with the leaders, activists and thinkers among them. Here, Forward Press Consulting Editor Goldy M. George speaks to Bhante Suniti.)
Goldy M. George: What is your view on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019?
Bhante Suniti: This amended Act is very problematic since it has introduced a religious aspect. It stands against the secular spirit of the Constitution. This is against our fundamental rights. There is no humane perspective in it. Any law based on the Constitution should mandatorily have a humane approach and uphold fundamental rights. Any law should be for the citizens and not based on the faith and religion of the people. Law should not come in the way of the happiness of citizens. This law targets specific sections of citizens. That is unconstitutional.
GMG: Could you elaborate what you mean by specific sections of citizens?
BS: The Act gives preference to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians. But in India there are Muslims, too. According to Article 25 of the Constitution, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism are part of the Hindu religion. Buddhism is based on humanity. When one defines Buddhism based on the Hindu religion, they more or less follow Hinduism. There are two types of Buddhists. One section believes that Buddha is an avatar [incarnation], and therefore Buddhism is for them is a religion. The other section only believes in the humanity and humane values of Buddha. If tomorrow this latter section stands up and says we don’t believe in the incarnation of Buddha, how will they [the State] behave with such people?
GMG: As a spiritual leader of a minority (Buddhist) religion how would you respond to such segregation based on faith?
BS: For us, all people of this country are equal. We, as Buddhists, believe in humanity. We do not think religiously. It means that we need to live like human beings, not animals. Every citizen should be able to access his or her basic rights. Human dignity is the central aspect in this. I think we should work for the betterment of all humans irrespective of their religion.
GMG: You spoke about human dignity. Do you think that CAA and National Register of Citizens (NRC) treat citizens with dignity?
BS: I don’t think so. It is impossible because it [the law] asks whether one is alive or dead. You ask that about those who have been living on this land since birth. According to the 1955 Act if you were born in India and even one of your parents lives in India, you are a citizen of the land. Now you have to prove that you are born here, your parents are from India and that you have to prove with documents. If you are not able to prove it, you will be disqualified as a citizen. This is a wrong approach. CAA is completely against human dignity assured in the Constitution.
GMG: There is a nationwide agitation against it at present.
BS: Yes, in fact, I am more disturbed by how the students involved in the agitation have been treated. From what I see and hear in the media, this is inhumane. If this is how those who are protesting against the law have been treated now, it is horrifying to think what will happen when the law is implemented. How would we live? How would we face the tyranny?
GMG: Do you think that CAA will affect only Muslims? Or will it affect other social groups, too?
BS: It is not just the Muslims who will be affected, but others too. India has a larger section of illiterate masses. They do not understand the importance of paperwork and documents. They are also being targeted under this law. In the name of Muslims, others are also being turned into slaves. Those who are not with them [the RSS-BJP regime] or are against them would be converted into new classes of slaves.
GMG: Who would be on this list of “others”?
BS: Mostly those who are landless, homeless would be on it. A large number of Scheduled Tribes (ST) would be on it, too. They have been living in the forest lands for generations, but in accordance with the forest laws they do not have legal documents and land deeds. How would they prove that they belong to a particular place? They have already been in the crosshairs for several years. This Act would exacerbate the situation. They would face a lot of problems.
It would also have a negative impact on the Scheduled Caste (SC) and the economically weaker sections within the Other Backward Classes (OBC). All socio-economically weak groups such as SC, ST, OBC and the landless will be victimised in the process. Muslims are certainly the primary targets of this law. Fundamentally they are targeting the followers of Babasaheb because the followers of Babasaheb also believe in the Constitution and do not want the Constitution to be altered. Such people are conscious of their rights and also know how to fight for them. I am not sure what sort of approach they [the government] will have towards such people.
GMG: One last question to you. As a Buddhist nun, what message do you wish to convey to the Dalitbahujans of this country in the context of CAA and NRC?
BS: My message to all is to know your Constitutional rights. This Act is a conspiracy to wipe off all your rights under the Constitution. We have a fundamental right under constitutional remedies. We need to use these constitutional measures to fight those laws that stand in contradiction to our fundamental rights. The need of the hour is to unite in this fight and oppose this unconstitutional act. We need to empower and strengthen ourselves – educationally, morally, legally – and fight it out.
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