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People protest against a new citizenship law that opponents say threatens India's secular identity, in Bangalore, India, on January 3, 2020. The new citizenship law and a proposed National Register of Citizens have brought thousands of protesters out in the streets in many cities and towns since Parliament approved the measure on December 11. Image Credit: AP

I spent the last days of 2019 in Dubai, a city that continues to marvel. The dawn of the new year and decade was met by spectacular fireworks across the city, and dazzled residents of all races and cultures, nationalities and backgrounds. Such a harmonious assimilation of people from all corners of the world is outstanding.

As the New Year rung in, I could not help but ponder over the current events in India today that is becoming a source of worry to many outside the country, be they Indian or otherwise. To Muslims living in the country in particular, events since the ascension of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] to power has been particularly worrying.

From the outlawing of beef consumption (primarily by Indian Muslims and Christians) to the vigilantes that have lynched many unfortunate victims for such alleged infractions, India is slowly changing. With no forceful condemnations coming from the top, the killings continued.

A united and stable India is good for us all. May reason prevail over bias and prejudice.

- Tariq A. Al Maeena, Saudi commentator

Then five months ago, a whole region predominantly made up of Muslims living in the region of Kashmir came under a government lockdown and communication was cut off from the rest of the world. Thousands of troops were sent in to subdue the residents into submission and their movement was severely restricted with a complete disruption of their daily activities. Reports of Kashmiris failing to access medical attention or schooling began trickling out through narratives of some Indian and foreign journalists who had managed to sneak into the region and provide the outside world with first-hand reports on the actual conditions on ground. The lockdown has not shown any signs of reasoning despite government claims to the contrary.

Ominous message to India’s Muslims

More recently, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that appears to target Muslims living in India specifically, and throwing them to the gauntlet of proving that their forefathers were Indian has sent another ominous message to India’s 200 million Muslims, to secular-minded Hindus and to people of other faiths who have risen forcefully against the latest series of divisive acts.

Millions of Indians have taken to the streets to protest the Citizenship Act in many states of the country and in some areas were met with a heavy-handed police crackdown resulting in some tragic deaths as reported by verified Indian media. Protesters are being brutally beaten up by the police and they are being arrested for protesting, which is a given right in every democratic country.

A leading Indian daily very recently stated that the BJP government cannot avoid being blamed for the current turbulence in the country. “Lockdown and continuing restrictions in Kashmir have created a negative image for India. Similarly, the CAA-NRC combo has brought India’s commitment to secularism under a cloud and raised concerns about Indian Muslims being treated as second-class citizens. Foreign diplomats in New Delhi complain they haven’t even been properly briefed on CAA and warn that India is fast losing friends.”

Leading Indian personalities have been equally vocal in their opposition to the fractious Citizenship Act. Gautam Bhatia, a leading lawyer based in Delhi, speaking to BBC, said by dividing alleged migrants into Muslims and non-Muslims, the bill “explicitly and blatantly seeks to enshrine religious discrimination into law, contrary to our long-standing, secular constitutional ethos”. Mukul Kesavan, an Indian historian, novelist and political and social essayist added that the bill is “couched in the language of refuge and seemingly directed at foreigners, but its main purpose is the delegitimization of Muslims’ citizenship”.

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The Saudis have become concerned enough to contemplate holding a special foreign ministers’ OIC [Organisation of Islamic Cooperation] session on the status of Kashmir. Western leaders have also expressed reservations on India’s recent Citizenship Act. The US, UK and Canada have also advised their citizens against travelling to parts of India that are engulfed in mass protests.

Now why should I, as a Saudi be concerned about events taking place in a country that does not even border mine. Well, India is the second most populated country in the world. Its constitution was based on secular principles with equal rights to all its citizens, including its multi-faceted minorities. With the 200 million Muslim Indians, India boasts of the second largest Muslim population after Indonesia. Taken from another perspective, Indian Muslims outnumber the entire population of the GCC countries combined.

It is essential that the secular values of India are not distorted by political machinations. A united and stable India is good for us all. May reason prevail over bias and prejudice. I wish India well in that endeavour, and all my readers a blessed 2020.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena