When silence is not golden


  • Letters
  • Friday, 17 Jan 2020

Denied citizenship: A girl from the Muslim community holds placards during a protest rally against the Indian government’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Bangalore on Jan 4,2020. — AFP

THERE has recently been heavy debate over Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s warranted criticism of India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA). This has been considered to bode a sort of diplomatic pickle.

Couple that with an Indian boycott of and restrictions on Malaysia’s palm oil, and we have the perfect formula for an unpalatable dish.

The question is: Do we have to be silent when one of humanity’s greatest crisis is brewing in India?

I would think the answer is no. Regardless of politicking and Malaysia’s domestic allegiances,

Dr Mahathir’s remarks were necessary.

Taking a stand on such a matter is a statement, and one that is required given the circumstances. Unfortunate the impact may seem, Malaysia can always realign its focus on exports to other nations (which is what we are currently doing).

It is also important to note that palm oil producers will not be negatively affected as the crude palm oil price is still high. But one might ask why we don’t just bury our heads in the sand.

Well, that’s because apathy in diplomatic relations has never worked out for nations denying wrongdoing nor those committing the wrongdoing. The word “apathy” is one that is crucial to mull over.

We do not want to turn into a society of lambs in silence. For anyone who takes an issue with the term “wrongdoing” here, just to clear the air, the CAA is indeed malicious. It is a law that is deliberately discriminatory to Muslim minorities.

A right is provided for the citizenship of the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian religious minorities (who had fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014) but denied to Muslims.

The debate surrounding the citizenship rights of existing Muslim citizens in India aside,

the law itself is a negative discrimination to those seeking citizenship. It goes against India’s ratification

of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd), not forgetting that it is very likely to be ultra vires the Indian Constitution.

Back to “apathy”, for example, let’s take a look at the Nazi-era genocide of Jews. Yes, I know some might find the example of Nazi Germany to be well-worn territory, but it was one of the biggest cases of country-wide discrimination that led to one of civilisation’s worst crimes.

When Adolf Hitler was “getting busy” committing genocide, other powerful nations decided that silence was the way to go. Apathy and non-intervention became the international medium of dealing with what was already common knowledge.

When the whispers of genocide became roars, the British monarchy was still good buddies of Germany (Queen Elizabeth’s Nazi salute as a child is a picture that has survived in the historical archives to haunt us all).

By the time there was conscious action from other nations, it was already too late (The Holocaust killed 5.4 million to 5.8 million Jews, effectively wiping out a whole community). Let’s also not forget that it contributed in part to the Palestine-Israel travesty.

India might argue that other nations (Malaysia is now one of them) cannot question its sovereignty. However, we cannot simply stand idly by. Individuals like Satya Nadella (Microsoft’s CEO) and Nobel Laureate Venky Ramakrishnan are critical of the CAA.

In fact, recent Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee was reported to have said: “If you are not a citizen of India and no other country wants you, who are you?”, quite effectively summarising the Act.

Malaysia’s PM making remarks is not a flippant act; it is one that reflects a whole country’s standpoint, which makes it a collective stand. To quote Belgium’s former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Institutional Reforms: “Instead of non-interference, Belgium believes in non-indifference.”

Our PM’s non-indifference in the face of a gross human rights violation (and I say this with utmost neutrality) is therefore a cut that needed to be administered (blood, guts and all), so to speak.

A bill may become law, but that does not make it right. At the risk of sounding dogmatic, the Holocaust was also legal, but legality did not make it right.

Although the UN has implemented certain mechanisms, such as “shadow reporting”, to ensure a nation’s compliance to its obligations under international treaties, there has yet to be a solid manifestation of this for the CAA (although the UN did recently chime in on the chorus of critique – with a tweet, no less – describing the CAA as “fundamentally discriminatory”).

In light of this, it appears that instead of courting possible historical notoriety (by keeping silent), our PM has decided to be critical – a position that is welcome in these times.

PARVEEN KAUR HARNAM SINGH

Kuala Lumpur

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