Earlier this summer, around mid-July, India introduced a bill to its 1955 Citizenship Act. The bill, if passed, will not only prioritize foreign ethnic and religious minorities for citizenship, but will cut their naturalization wait time from eleven to six years.
“Provided that persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan … shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of this Act,” reads the proposed amendment to India’s Citizenship Act.
This bill is in response to the many minority groups, most with Indian origins, who have emigrated to India because of religious persecution.
Take Pakistan’s Christians as an example.
Though they barely make up 2 percent of the country’s population, Christians in Pakistan have endured, in the last few years, wave after wave of violence. In 2013, a set of double suicide bombings against a church in Peshwar killed 80 Christians. Then in 2015, another set of bomb blasts killed 14 people outside two churches in Lahore. And just a few months ago, on Easter of this year, another suicide attack, again in Lahore, left 73 dead and wounded hundreds more. Many of them were children who were intentionally targeted.
Islamic extremists aimed to eliminate not only Christians, but their next generations. Pakistani Christians live under a constant and increasing threat of persecution. Coupled with this is Pakistan’s strict blasphemy law, which, usually abused for the sake of personal revenge, makes the idea of justice, for Christians, an illusion.
The situation in Bangladesh is not so different.
In the last year and a half, 48 people have been killed in Bangladesh by Islamic extremists. Among these are a 55-year-old Hindu priest and a 65-year-old Christian man, both hacked to death in June as the first was picking flowers and the second managing his grocery store. In the terrible attack against customers at a Dhaka restaurant in July those who were killed or held hostage were first asked if they were Muslims. Muslims were freed and Christians and others were held captive or killed. The Islamic extremists came to target Christians, Hindus and others.
“One is vulnerable to a killer attack just because he is Hindu, Christian or Buddhist,” said Nirmol Rozario, secretary general of the Bangladesh Christian Association, when interviewed recently.
The persecution of minorities, both ethnic and religious, in these Asian countries worsens by the day, and the plight these people suffer is only aggravated by the lack of empathy and action from the international community. The Christians in Bangladesh and Pakistan may soon face the same threat as those in Iraq and Syria. Those in Afghanistan already have.
The truth is that the international community is afraid — afraid of the cost of intervening in these violent affairs, and afraid of allowing within our borders the refugees displaced by war, terrorism, and religious persecution — and rightly so. These are turbulent times, and our nations’ leaders must act with great precaution and sensibility to protect their countries and citizens. Yet this doesn’t mean we should not do as much as we can to help provide a way for the destitute and the wandering to find peace, especially those religious minorities facing a particular threat.
With 1.26 billion inhabitants, India has the second largest population in the world. The United States’ population is 324 million, almost one fourth of India’s population. And while India’s gross domestic product (GDP) has grown to $2 trillion a year, the seventh largest in the world, the U.S.’s soars at $17.9 trillion, almost twice as much as China’s, who has the second largest GDP in the world.
In terms of space and wealth, India does not boast the comfort and power some other countries could offer (though Prime Minister Modi’s economic policies have the country well on its way); yet this doesn’t mean we are to withhold what we do have, a home, opportunity for employment, and civil rights, from our persecuted neighbors. Compassion is not measured in dollars or square feet, but by what we do with what we have. Perhaps if each nation contributed to ending this global crisis, it would not seem so daunting and unsolvable.
I applaud the Indian government for lobbying for the inclusion of persecuted minorities in the Citizenship Act. This is not only a compassionate and brave move, but also a demonstration of progress. India, as the world’s largest democracy, is quietly shining a light on one of the most important issues of our day.
There is no question that the legacy of many nations across the world will be bound to what their leaders will do about the persecution of religious minorities. Hungary, which recently became the first European nation to establish — despite much criticism — a government office dedicated to helping persecuted Christians from the Middle East, has set an admirable precedent for other nations to follow. Their courageous action is an affront to the general christophobia that is growing across the world.
I believe India has also taken a step in the right direction. If we continue working for the protection of persecuted religious minorities, the greatest refugee crisis the modern world has seen can turn into a great testament of unity and humanity.
Beauty can come from these ashes.