As religious violence hits India, the U.S. example could be better

A Muslim prayer rug. (Danish Bajwa/YJI)

Dublin, Ohio, U.S.A.  – Protests swept through India for weeks this winter in response to The Citizenship Amendment Act, which gives priority in citizenship to undocumented immigrants of many religious faiths from nearby nations – but not Muslims.

The new law – under review by India’s Supreme Court – favors people who are “Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian” from “Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan, who entered india on or before the 31st day of December, 2014.”

The act, which is a means of protecting persecuted religious minorities, 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.”

What Indians were protesting before the threat of covid-19 brought on a national lockdown is the plausible unconstitutionality of the act and the increased marginalization of Muslims within India.

Although the forty-second amendment of India’s constitution asserts India to be a secular state, the CAA may follow a different direction.

Protests against acts and bills happen often. These specific protests, however, are particularly concerning in that violent riots have broken out in response to the protesters against the act. The death toll has topped 40 protesters.

Though the violence has slowed since late February, the principles involved in these demonstrations present lasting concerns.

In the creation of an act meant to protect those persecuted, protesters of the act have been persecuted. We Americans have always upheld freedom as the utmost importance. Of course freedom is limited when it harms another, but the right to protest is one we hold proudly.

Liberty is ingrained in our values. At the core of the establishment of the United States was hope for freedom of religion. We dine in our secularism, one that allows a valuable exchange of thought and protects our freedoms.

What, then, happens when our sense of liberty is compromised? We might fade as a beacon due to executive orders like the travel ban. The lack of, at least, a clear message of kindness, acceptance, and freedom from the United States – apart from any bill, act or law – won’t do anything to encourage acceptance around the world.

I’ve always been interested in politics, because it gives us a chance to build a better world. I’d like to believe that’s what politics is about – though evidence may upturn this naivete. I wonder where we’ve lost our vision for a better world.

Here, in America, I’ve heard stories from Muslim friends about harassment they have received because of their faith. The formula fits for so many other groups, that is, harassment for being who you wish to be and who you are.

If we are a beacon of freedom but we harass one another for who we are, I wonder how the rest of the world might act.

The violence in India and the apathy in response from our highest public servant, our president – or the distressed nature of politics in America today – might only be symptomatic of a loss of vision. If it is, I wonder how we can regain that vision, how we can work for a better world for all.

It could start with an open mind, with tangible kindness and consideration and with listening intently to those who have been hurt.

It’s easy to shape the world to our beliefs, but maybe, I hope, we can bring better to the world by becoming better ourselves. In shaping our views by facts, instead of fitting facts to our presumptions, we could bring change through thought and compassion.

I know it’s naive to think individuals have so much swing: to impact the course of politics in the world through simple actions, but if ever there’s a time to be naive, it’s when there’s hardly any other option.

We do need tangible concrete action in our legal system, in our economics, in our foreign affairs and in so many different aspects of our country. But in the meantime – while we work and fight hard for those changes towards a better world – we might practice kindness and naivety to avoid apathy.

We could even set an example that responds to the death of more than 40 protesters.

Danish Bajwa is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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