BBC News – Citizenship Amendment Bill: Are India’s claims about minorities in other countries true?

Reality Check team BBC News

New Delhi – India, 12 December 2019. The Indian government has introduced a controversial bill offering citizenship to illegal immigrants from three neighbouring countries if they belong to non-Muslim minority groups.

Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who have entered India illegally can apply for citizenship if they can prove they originate from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan.

The government argues that minorities in those countries are dwindling, and that they face persecution on the grounds of their faith.

The legislation has been criticised as discriminatory in India because it excludes Muslims seeking citizenship as well.

So what is the situation facing non-Muslims in those three neighbouring states?

How many non-Muslims?

Amit Shah, India’s Home Minister, says Pakistan’s non-Muslim population has dwindled dramatically since 1951. This follows the mass exodus of non-Muslims from Pakistan after partition in 1947 and the flight of Muslims from India to Pakistan.

Mr Shah cited a remaining minority population in Pakistan of 23% in 1951, and he says this has shrunk over the decades due to persecution.

But Mr Shah’s figures need to be challenged as he appears to have combined the data for what is now the state of Pakistan (formerly west Pakistan) with what is now Bangladesh (formerly east Pakistan).

Census data for 1998 shows that the Hindu population of Pakistan (which was formerly west Pakistan) had not really changed significantly from its 1951 level of around 1.5 to 2%.

But the data also suggests that the Hindu population of Bangladesh did fall, from around 22% or 23% in 1951 to around 8% in 2011.

There are other non-Muslim religious minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh, such as Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Parsis. And in Pakistan, there are also Ahmadis, who were declared non-Muslim by the government in the 1970s, and are estimated to be around four million strong, making them the largest religious minority in the country.

In Afghanistan, non-Muslim groups include Hindus, Sikhs, Bahais and Christians, and make up less than 0.3% of the population. In 2018, there were just 700 Sikhs and Hindus left in Afghanistan as families had been leaving because of the conflict there, according to a report for the US State Department.

What’s the official status of non-Muslims?

The Indian government’s citizenship bill states: “The constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for a specific state religion. As a result, many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries”.

It’s true that the state religion of Pakistan is Islam. Afghanistan is also an Islamic state.

In Bangladesh the situation is more complicated. The country came into being in 1971 with a secular constitution, but in 1988 Islam was made the official state religion.

A lengthy legal battle to get that reversed ended in 2016 when Bangladesh’s top court ruled that Islam should remain the state religion.

However, all these countries have constitutional provisions stating that non-Muslims have rights and are free to practise their faith. And individual Hindus have risen to prominent positions in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, notably as chief justices in the two countries.

Do the minorities face discrimination?

In practice, non-Muslim minorities do face discrimination and persecution.

What are Pakistan’s blasphemy laws?

Human rights group Amnesty International has pointed to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which it says “are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary in a way which amounts to harassment and persecution of religious minorities”.

Pakistani Hindus who moved to India in recent years told the BBC they face social and religious discrimination, with a particular issue being the targeting of Hindu girls in Sindh province.

But it’s also true that Ahmadis, who are not covered by India’s citizenship bill, face discrimination for their beliefs as they are regarded as heretical by the Muslim majority.

And the majority of blasphemy cases up to 2018 had been filed against other Muslims and Ahmadis, not against Christians or Hindus.

In Bangladesh, there are various reasons for the decline in the proportion of Hindus over the years. The better-off Hindu population have had their homes and businesses targeted, sometimes in attempts to get them to leave so their land or assets can be taken over. Hindus have also been the targets of attacks by religious militants.

The Bangladesh government has rejected India’s claims about minorities being targeted. Foreign Minister Abdul Monem told the BBC: “We don’t have examples of minorities being persecuted in this country.”

According to UN data, the number of refugees in India went up by 17% between 2016-19. As of August this year, the biggest numbers registered with the UN were actually from Tibet and Sri Lanka.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-50720273

438.The Man in Blue – Three Months in Sint-Truiden

 I started writing this week’s column on the 15th of September, which is near enough three months after the 17th of June when I left the UK. Apart from some seriously annoying bureaucracy around where I can live to have a legal ‘domicile’ in this country, without which I will not get an ID card, no medical care, no use of the library and a few more related issues, I am happy living here.

There is also a serious problem with racism, with especially the radical Flemish party propagating a narrow interpretation of ‘Flanders for the Flemish’. But we must not underestimate the racism in the UK, openly propagated by the dirty rag called the Daily Mail.

I am happy here because I live near a small market town that reminds me of the slightly bigger small city where I was born. Wherever I am in the borough of Sint-Truiden (which includes the surrounding villages) I am within minutes from the countryside on my 50 Euro wonderful new second-hand bicycle.

There is an extensive network of country lanes and enough hilly bits to keep the old man in good shape in spite of the karah prasad, the mattai and the sometimes over rich Gurdwara food.

I am happy because I feel very much at home in the local Sikh community, and I have also met a good few ‘white’ inhabitants of Sint-Truiden who are not frightened of people who look different.

I am happy because I can make a contribution to more understanding between communities in this country. Many Belgians believe that turban and hijáb represent anti-Belgian values, symbolise a wish not to integrate.

Our most urgent problem is the ban on wearing of turbans, hijábs etc in many of the secondary schools. I was involved in three actions related to this problem. The first was a meeting with a Christian Democrat politician, the second the answering of a letter from the leader of the Flemish Socialist Party and the third a manifestation on one of the squares of Sint-Truiden.

Both the meeting with the Flemish Christian Democrat MP and the Action in Sint-Truiden involved Sikh youngsters, with the grey beards in the background. I have made some nice pictures of the manifestation in Sint-Truiden, which will appear on my Flickr account and on my maninblue1947 blog.

Because we are a small, mostly first generation community, the young Sikhs who are growing up here and are being educated in Belgium are the only ones who speak fluent Flemish and therefore they get a chance to play a leading role. This is important as another ‘western’ prejudice is that all young Sikhs who wear turbans or patkas are victims of dictatorial parents who force this on their children. There is plenty to do for me here, there are some real challenges here and I like it.

425.The Man in Blue – Banning of Pag and Patka in schools in Belgium

I am on a crash course trying to understand the background of the problems that Belgian Sikh youngsters face in education.

Like France, Belgium is a majority Roman Catholic country. In the Dutch speaking north, which I know much better than the French speaking south, the Roman Catholic Church used to be very powerful.

I think that this power of the church explains the ‘fundamentalist secularism’ of France and Belgium. Additionally in the Dutch speaking area the often right wing Flemish nationalists are not just against being ruled by French speakers but also tend to be against any incomers (Flemish first !).

The anti-incomers’ sentiment is strongest against the Islamic immigrants, probably because they are blamed for the ‘Islamic’ terrorism. This sentiment explains the anti ‘headscarf’ mood in the Dutch speaking part of the country. It is mostly based on emotions, not on rational arguments.

At the moment schools can make their own decisions to ban headscarves (which include turbans and patkas) or not. As I read the political mood it would not surprise me if a total ban on headscarves in schools will be implemented in the Dutch speaking part of the country.

As long as the politicians we have a dialogue with accept that cultural and religious minorities in the country cannot be wished away, we have a chance to win our case based on arguments.

Popular opinion thinks that Muslim girls wearing hijáb or niqáb are forced to wear these by their family. Going by my experience in the UK this is a generalisations not based on facts. Some girls are under pressure to wear the hijáb, others wear it against the will of their family. The same applies to Sikh boys wearing the turban.

I think that Sikhs (and Muslims) should stick to their traditions and values while actively taking part in society. Sikhs should be seen ‘living the values’ that Guru teaches. Sikhs should practice making an honest living, practice compassion and practice One God/One Humanity. We should not withdraw into a narrow Panjabi world of our own.

Popular opinion assumes that Muslims and Sikhs wearing religious symbols do not want to integrate. This again is not evidence based, and we can prove them wrong.

Sikh children, all children, have the absolute right to be educated. We have, all have, the absolute right to work in all jobs. We have, all have, the duty to be active, critical citizens of whichever country we live in.

422.The Man in Blue – Guru Har Rai, Har Krishan, Teg Bahadur

Guru Hargobind was succeeded by his grandson Har Rai, who according to John F Richard in ‘The Mughal Empire’ page 177/178, supported Dara Shiko during the war of succession after the death of Shah Shahan. Dara Shiko was seen as somebody who would be more inclusive to people of other religions.

Aurangzeb won the war of succession and was not pleased with Guru Sahib. Therefore he demanded that Guru should send his eldest son Ram Rai to the Mughal court as a hostage and to be brought up as a supporter of the Mughal Empire. A faction of the Sikh community supported Ram Rai, but Har Rai nominated his youngest son Har Krishan as his successor.

Har Rai and Har Krishan were summoned to Delhi, where Har Rai died of natural causes. Before Aurangzeb could decide the succession, a faction of the Sikhs elected Teg Bahadur as the new Guru. There is no mention of Har Krishan as Guru in this section.

This is the first instance where the version of Sikh history as told by John Richards differs greatly from that generally accepted by Sikhs. The sources mentioned in the bibliography are three books by J S Grewal and one by W H McLeod. About nine years ago I read J S Grewal’s contribution on Sikh history to the New Cambridge History of India. I do not remember reading anything like this in that book. Does this story come from Hugh McLeod, and if so what was his source ?

This section, called ‘Sikh Martyrdom’, continues with how Guru Teg Bahadur organised the Sikhs and proselytised in Panjab and in Bengal and Assam. According to Richards many Jats converted to Sikhí. Wherever Guru went he was greeted by large enthusiastic crowds who welcomed his teachings.

Richards writes that under previous Emperors non-Muslims were allowed to build new places of worship. Aurangzeb did not allow this and even destroyed some Mandirs that were built in the time of Akbar and Jahangir. This was now also applied to Gurdwaré.

After several conversions of Muslims to Sikhí were reported to Aurangzeb he ordered the arrest of Guru Sahib. Guru and his five companions were arrested in Agra and taken to Delhi. He was tried and found guilty of blasphemy and was sentenced to death. There is no mention in the book of the Kashmeri pandits, or of the torture to death of Guru’s companions.

Richard’s finishes this section with : ‘After this second martyrdom the annual spring Baisakhi congregation of Sikhs in the hills acclaimed Gobind Singh [should be Gobind Rai], the young son of the slain leader, as the new Guru. At one stroke Aurangzeb earned the bitter hatred of thousands of Jat and Khatri Sikhs living in the North Indian plain.’

421.The Man in Blue – Shah Jahan & Aurangzeb

What changed in the Mughal empire after the death of Jahangir ? Was Jahangir like the intolerant Aurangzeb, or was there an important difference between the two ?

John F Richards in his book ‘The Mughal Empire’ writes that Guru Arjan was not made a martyr because he was not a Muslim. He was killed because he had a popular following and was seen as a potential alternative centre of power in the Panjab.

Jahangir was a follower of a quietist Vaishnava ascetic, whose teachings were further removed from mainstream Islam than the teachings of Guru.

Shah Jahan and even more Aurangzeb were not interested in learning from, or recognising the value of the Dharmic traditions of the sub-continent. How religious they really were is difficult to tell, but they clearly were ‘politically’ more Islamic than Akbar and Jahangir.

Akbar promoted intermarriage with the Rajputs and other Indian elites. Whatever his other motives were, he realised that he could not even count on the support of all ‘Indian’ Muslims, and that he needed support from the Hindu ‘upper classes’ in order to survive. Jahangir continued this policy.

When under Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb this policy changed, it took away their most powerful tool to integrate new militant groups that confronted them. What you see under Aurangzeb is that members of the ruling Maratha Bhonsla family who joined the Mughals, almost always went back to their old allegiance, as they had no chance to become part of the Mughal ruling elites as the Rajputs became under Akbar.

The result was that every time the Mughals thought that they had the situation in the ‘Deccan’ under control and went back north, the insurrection in the south would flare up again. Unrest in the south created the opportunity to successfully rebel to Sikhs in the North West, Jats in what is now UP, various Nizams and Nawabs ruling as governors on behalf of the Mughal Patishah and formerly loyal Rajputs.

No government can rule if they do not have the respect of a substantial part of the population. Respect might be based on fear or on the expectation of rewards, under Aurangzeb non-Muslims lost their fear and got no rewards.

Under Aurangzeb the Mughal empire reached its greatest expansion, but he was the last of the great Mughals. After his death his successors, weakened by the constant wars, rapidly lost control over many of their territories.  Aurangzeb died in 1807 and the Mughals carried on till 1857, but their Empire was gradually taken over by the East India Company.

393.Man in Blue – Brahminical Practices

Although the Guru Granth Sahib makes it perfectly clear that Brahminical practices are a waste of effort, many of our fellow Sikhs seem to know better than Guru. There are persistent misconceptions around food that are not supported by the Guru Granth Sahib or the Rehat Maryada. 

The Guru Granth Sahib pokes fun at the Pandits, who think that by creating a cooking square, by drawing a line around them, by cooking everything themselves and keeping others out, they can keep ‘pollution’ out, while from the air all kind of stuff falls on them. 

There is only one thing that I can understand. I do prefer eating food cooked lovingly at home, in the Gurdwara or at a small family run restaurant. Also, I have been a vegetarian much longer than I have been a Sikh. 

But the idea that eating meat is a sin, that I can only eat stuff that has been cooked by fellow Sikhs, the idea that I would be polluted by going into a meat shop, that somebody’s hand over my food pollutes my food, all this makes no sense, it serves no purpose and it is not Sikhí. 

Sikhí is about making an honest living, Sikhí is about always thinking about God, Sikhí is about sharing. Sikhí is about learning to love God and creation, Sikhí is about learning to experience God’s love for us. Sikhí is about giving a positive direction to your lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego. 

Ethical behaviour, making a positive contribution to society, defending the defenceless, fighting injustice are part of Sikhí. In ‘Vár Malár Ki’ Guru Nanak writes about meat and he looks at both sides of the argument. Guru does not tell us to be a vegetarian, Guru does not tell us not to be a vegetarian. 

It is clear that a pandit type lifestyle is not what Guru expects from us. 

I knew this family in Panjab where the son and the mother were Amritdhari and the father and two daughters were not. The son was of the Taksali way of thinking and insisted that only his mother could do the cooking and the cooking preparation, otherwise he could not eat with his family. 

As a result the daughters were sitting around being idle, while their mother who did not have very great health was working away in the kitchen. Our brave Amritdhari boy might help in the langar kitchen, but of course would not give his mother a hand. Is this Sikhi ? NO ! 

In Amritsar, before I took Amrit, I could never share the overgenerous helpings of Karah Prasád, that sevadars gave me, with my friends, many of whom were followers of the Taksal or AKJ. They would not accept any food from me. Is this Sikhí ? NO !

Published in: on November 9, 2009 at 3:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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391.Is my Sister equal to me ?

My answer to this question, whether I look at it from my Dutch or my Sikh perspective, is a resounding YES ! From a sub-continental point of view the question is more challenging. The two main religions or dharms on the sub-continent have a rich tradition of treating women as second class, as creatures to be ruled by men.

Sikhí is firmly based on the unity of mankind, but I have seen inequality being practised by Sikhs in Panjab and to a lesser degree here in the UK. I also find that English society is less equal in many respects than what I am used to in the Netherlands. This does not mean that they get everything right in my country of origin !

Guru’s teachings are wonderful. It is obvious from Gurbaní that Guru sees all creation, all creatures as coming from God, and that therefore we should respect all creation. Judging by Gurbaní Sikhs are way ahead of Panjabi, western, Hindu or Ibrahimic ‘teachings’.

The other day I went to two interfaith meetings. At the first meeting I met a female Anglican priest, who was treated by her two male colleagues as an absolute equal. That same day in another meeting I met a female vicar of the United Reformed Church. Both ladies were better educated than the majority of our granthis and were very comfortable in the company of people of other faiths.

A few years ago I attended a meeting regarding the Muslim school in Slough. The committee that was to decide on the school could not come to a decision and the case for a Muslim school was brought before an adjudicator.

The hall was full, partly with the Muslim variety of our greybeards, but there was a good presence of young Muslim women, many of them in hijáb. The men did what South Asian men are good at, they disagreed and launched personal attacks on each other.

The young Muslim women spoke good English, and formulated their contributions well. If it had not been for them the case of the Slough Islamic School might have been lost.

I am not saying that all Muslims and Christians are right and all Sikhs are wrong. In Sikhí we are on firm ground when we speak out for ‘One God, One Humanity’. But I am disappointed when I see that we are overtaken by Christians, Jews and Muslims when it comes to practising equality.

Please let us concentrate on getting our own house in order and let us practice equality between men and women, between all !

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 6:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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379.The Man in Blue – Bhagat Ravidas Panthis II

I have been trying to find out what exactly happened in the Ravi Das Gurdwara in Vienna, but neither I nor the people charged to do this by a meeting at the Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Southall succeeded in this. It is clear that people were wounded and killed, but it is not clear whether the ‘men of violence’ were Sikhs, Ravidas panthis or both.

Babé, our common problem

The baba involved is controversial amongst the followers of Ravidas. I heard that the majority of the Ravidas Gurdwaré in the UK do not like this baba (which of course is no excuse for killing or wounding him or his cronies).

We have to recognise that we have common problems. Fake holy men can be found amongst all traditions in South Asia, even amongst Muslims in West Panjab or amongst Syrian Christians of Kerala.

I do not want to start a rant about sants, but I do think that Ravi Das panthis and Sikhs of good will should join forces and take a stand against the plague of the fake saints.

Caste, the scourge of the sub-continent

I was disappointed by most of the Sikh reactionsto the news from Vienna. It is true that a Ravidas Gurdwara is not a mainstream Sikh place of worship, and caste is not part of the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. But Sikhs do not fully realise that Ravidas is part of the Sikh Guru and do not want to admit that caste still plays an important negative part in the ‘Sikh’ community.

Caste in some shape or form is practiced amongst followers of almost all religious traditions on the subcontinent. Many of our brothers and sisters of Panjabi background fail to translate ‘seeing God’s presence in all’ in treating all as equals.

Equality is also a problem in the UK, where we struggle with the legacy of its rigid class structures and with the present situation where many people are doing quite well, but where there is a growing ‘underclass’.

Sikhs, in the light of Guru’s teachings, should see people of low caste, from sink estates, gipsies and travellers or any other group as their sisters and brothers.

If we really practice this we will become better Sikhs and there would be no more need for Ramgarhia or Ravidas Gurdwaré. It is now more than five hundred years after Guru Nanak taught us about One God and One Humanity, are we actually going to adopt these teachings in 2009 ?

Published in: on July 11, 2009 at 5:22 am  Comments (1)  
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378.The Man in Blue – Bhagat Ravidas Panthis I

In view of the recent tension between Sikhs and the followers of Bhagat Ravidas I want to clarify the position between us Sikhs and the followers of Bhagat Ravidas. Forty sabads of Ravidas are included in the Guru Granth.

‘Guru’ Ravidas

The followers of Ravidas call him Guru, which means ‘teacher’ or ‘bringer of light into darkness’. For Sikhs the word Guru has a specific meaning, but we should not pick a fight with those who use the term in the more general Indian way. The sabads of Ravidas that are included in the Guru Granth are part of our eternal Guru, and as such Ravidas is part of the Sikh Guru.

The teachings of Ravidas are in tune with those of the Guru Granth Sahib.

Sudras & Jats

The followers of Ravidas and Kabir tend be people of low caste. When I visited a friend of mine in a village near Hoshiarpur whose family were of so-called low caste, the Sikhs from the local Gurdwara dominated by Jats would not greet me, as I was staying with Ravidas panthis of low caste.

Saying to each other that Guru teaches unity of mankind is not relevant for the Ravidas panthis, as long as Sikhs do not practice what Guru teaches. When we start practicing Guru’s teachings we can reach out to the Ravidas panthis and share the sabads of our eternal Guru.

Guru Granth Sahib

Because of our ‘respect for the Guru Granth’ Sikhs love to fight with those groups that do not give the same importance to the Guru Granth Sahib as we do. Instead of being happy that non-Sikhs read the Guru Granth and see it as an important source of teaching and inspiration, we want to take the Guru Granth away from Ravidas or Námdhari Gurdwaré / Temples.

I am very happy that we do not set out to convert others in the way that Christians and Muslims do. But the attitude of many Sikhs is not very open-minded either. The Guru speaks to everybody, the Guru considers everybody who is a serious student of the Guru of Gurus to be a sikh. The way of life set out in the Guru Granth Sahib can be followed by all of all ‘dharms’.

Think about these three definitions : 1) a ‘sikh’ is someone who is a serious student of God. 2) A ‘Sikh’ is someone who recognises the leadership of the Guru Granth & Guru Panth as ordained by Guru Gobind Singh. 3) A ‘Khalsa’ is someone who is totally committed to Guru’s teachings and as a sign of that commitment has taken amrit and wears the 5 Ks.

To be continued

Published in: on July 1, 2009 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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376.The Man in Blue – Modern Sikhs, Old Fashioned Sikhs

I have been reading about the history of Sikhs in the UK. All the books I read so far are weak in their sections on Sikhí, but it is fascinating to read about the individual Sikhs and Sikhs as a community who settled in the UK, and about how they became established in this country.

Some of these books divide us into ‘modern/reforming’ Sikhs and ‘old fashioned/orthodox/conservative’ Sikhs. I do not recognise any value in being either ‘modern’ or ‘old fashioned’. Something that was thought of thousands of years ago is not necessarily bad, something thought of yesterday is not necessarily good.

Our Gurus were reformers, and ‘orthodox’ Sikhs should all be reformers. Our Gurus were not conservatives and Sikhs should not be conservatives. The Gurus were on the side of the poor, the dalits and women. Many ‘modern’ Sikhs in the UK and Panjab are arch-conservatives and are not at all interested in people who are less well off, less powerful than them.

The teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib are progressive. The teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib are for everybody, regardless of their skin colour, gender, faith, nationality or whatever. Prejudice against people from other countries or from other Indian states, prejudice against those with darker skins, those from different caste or creeds just is not part of Sikhí.

The umpteenth debate about wearing the 5 Ks is raging on the internet. In this debate there is always an undertone suggesting that people without the 5 Ks, and especially those without ‘unshorn’ hair are lesser human beings. This is not supported by Gurmat.

The Sikh way of life recognises the 5 Ks (and the turban) as powerful signs of the commitment to Guru’s teachings. The kirpan does not mean that we are a ‘martial race’, it powerfully represents the struggle against injustice, the defence of the oppressed. Today we should fight the xenophobia of the BNP and UKIP in the UK and the xenophobia of the Dal Khalsa in Panjab.

When I was young long hair was ‘modern’, now short hair is ‘modern’. As a Sikh my long hair has nothing to do with being modern or old-fashioned. My long hair is linked with my serious attempts to stay on Guru’s path. But Guru will not judge me on the length of my hair or of my kacchera or on the size of my kirpan or my dastar. I hope that God will judge me on my serious efforts and not on my meagre achievements.

Let us be Sikhs who believe in One God and One Humanity, in Simran and Seva. Let us live the Sikh way of life, the way of Love. Let us live like Sikhs and look like Sikhs, let us be proud to be Sikhs, Singhs and Singhanís, who wear the Guru’s uniform, the 5 Ks and the dastar !

Published in: on June 14, 2009 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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