Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws and India’s Citizenship Amendment Bill are similar, and why it should worry us?

7 mins read

by Dr. Sameena Khan

The Nuremberg Laws explicitly mentioned all but “Jews” as citizens of the German state while the CAB implicitly excludes “Muslims” from the list of possible recipients of Indian citizenship.

The very idea of India

“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awaken to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance”—these words, spoken by the first Indian Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in a radio broadcast on the eve of India’s independence echoed in every sane and secular mind when the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was passed in the Lok Sabha in the late hours of the night of December 9.

This was a message full of promise and hope to a country that had suffered brutally at the hands of its colonial usurpers since the late 16th century. Divided for a long time on the pretext of religion, caste, sect and economic status and exploited for its natural resources, agricultural produce and immense tangible wealth, an independent, unified India was a rare anomaly in a world reeling from racial hatred (the Holocaust in Germany, and the genocide of the Armenians, Congolese, Chinese and other ethnic groups during World War II). This independence didn’t come without its own cost.

The deepest scar in modern history—the Radcliffe line, which saw the bloodiest and largest exodus in human history left the Indian subcontinent divided into a Muslim majority Pakistan and a secular India.

I write “secular” with impunity because the founding fathers of India carefully chose this word and decided to enshrine it in the preamble of our constitution.

Thus, the very fabric of India, as envisioned by those who fought and sacrificed for its independence, was secularism and dispassionate justice.

There was no other way a nation as diverse as India could be molded into one single social structure. Justice, liberty, equality and fraternity were the four pillars on which this social structure was to be based. This idea of a secular India has kept it breathing the same free air that it fought for 72 years ago.

However, the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in both the upper and lower houses of parliament indicates a steady decline in the Indian people’s belief in this idea, majority of whom voted for BJP while the bill was a part of their party’s manifesto in this year’s national elections.

The bill which blatantly excludes Muslim immigrants from getting citizenship, although passed, met with stiff opposition in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha with very valid arguments from members across the spectrum of opposition parties.

Leaders implored the houses to reconsider the bill as it would tear apart the secular fabric of this nation.

That aside, this bill might prove to be the last straw that broke the back of the already frailing Indian idea of secularism.

The ruling party has categorically dismissed all concerns and called it a targeted program of fear-mongering among the people.

Mass protests have begun in states like Assam (which ironically voted for BJP) and Tripura and the government has responded by imposing an internet ban and curfews across many cities.

People take part in torchlight protest rally against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Guwahati on Saturday. (ANI)

The Citizenship Amendment Bill of India and the Nuremberg Laws in the German Context

As Indians—it is important for us to know why many prominent individuals of our country have equated the CAB with the Nuremberg Laws. In this context, it is also important for us to familiarize ourselves with the series of events that led to the rise of the Nazi party in Germany that drafted these laws.

With the start of the Great Depression of 1929, German economy tanked (like many other countries of Europe) and Germans, disillusioned by capitalism, started abandoning moderate German political parties. This led to a spike in membership of the Nazi party which promised the German people freedom from economic burdens and a great future for the German race.

The next four years saw formation and dissolution of several governments from various political parties and it was only in 1933 that the Nazi party was able to exert any influence on the cabinet.

Adolf Hitler was chosen as one of the three Nazi members in the cabinet and the first thing he did was to persuade the government to have fresh elections.

The Nazi party then began its campaign of abuse of power. State apparatus was unabashedly utilized to suppress legal institutions, the press and effectively obliterate a viable opposition in the government. Police and paramilitary forces were brought under complete obedience and total control. Then came a series of amendments to existing German laws that guaranteed absolute power to the Third Reich.

With all opposition crushed, Hitler announced a national boycott of Jewish businesses on 1st April, 1933 which marked the beginning of the events that led to “The Final Solution”.

The Nuremberg laws were drafted and ratified by the Nazi Party in Nuremberg, Germany on 15th September, 1935 and provided legal grounds for the systematic repression of Jews which culminated in the Holocaust. These laws are considered the final nail in the coffin of the Jewish extermination program.

The Reich Citizenship Law (RCL) was part of these laws which stipulated that only those of German blood were eligible to be Reich citizens. A few months later, these laws were “amended” to include the Romani and Black people. Other prohibitions under these laws included the ban on marriages between Germans and Jews among others.

Nazis affix a sign to Jewish store urging shoppers not to patronize it, 1933. (German Federal Archives)

We may ask ourselves, how is the CAB even remotely similar to the Nuremberg laws? Those of you who have watched the ruling party’s arguments in the Parliament in favor of the bill can almost be forgiven to believe that this is an innocent little bill that is being introduced to help persecuted minorities from neighboring countries gain citizenship in India in contrast to the Nuremberg laws that stripped Jews of German citizenship.

But, the similarities are staring right back at us. For one, using race or religion as a criterion for granting citizenship is the fundamental similarity between these two draconian laws.

The Nuremberg Laws explicitly mentioned all but “Jews” (and later other racially profiled people) as citizens of the German state while the CAB implicitly excludes “Muslims” from the list of possible recipients of Indian citizenship by not naming this single community among the beneficiaries of this bill.

Coupled with a nation-wide National Registry of Citizens (NRC), this bill threatens to render millions of Indian Muslims stateless in a country where poverty, illiteracy and lack of proper healthcare, and government channels make it difficult, if not impossible for people to obtain documentation.
The people prosecuted under the Nuremberg Laws were imprisoned and ultimately sent to concentration camps.

The CAB coupled with nation-wide NRC will fill concentration camps already built in several states in India to house “illegal immigrants”. Nobody needs to be reminded of what happened in the Nazi concentration camps.

SA members carrying out a boycott of Jewish shops. (Photo: National Archives, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives)

A country like India that is already on a downward economic spiral will not be able to sustain hundreds of thousands of stateless people in concentration camps.

It is extremely likely that no country will be willing to repatriate them. Where will these people go? I leave you to speculate and read the ominous signs that these amendments point towards.

RSS and the Nazi Dream

There are still some optimists in our country who think that for the ruling party to have such deliberate genocidal ambitions is too far fetched.

The constant denial by BJP of having any nefarious intentions behind the CAB-NRC exercise adds to skepticism of rational minds.

However, one only needs to look at the beliefs of the ideological god-fathers of the BJP, most notably Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar who were both leading figureheads of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a well known organization in India and abroad that projects itself a public welfare organization.

Both these men had unabashed fascination for Adolf Hitler and have praised him, his Nazi party and his solution of the “Jewish Problem” in Germany in their speeches and books.

A research paper published by Marzia Casolari in Economic and Political Weekly (2000: 35;4) summarized the statements and quotes from the books of these men regardingl their absolute support and admiration of the German Nationalist Movement.

During their speeches, they even propagated the development and application of a similar program in India that would purge the Hindu state of Muslims.

Casolari notes that in We, or our Nationhood Defined, Golvalkar stated that, “German national pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races – the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the mot [?], to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by (Nagpur, 1939, p 37).”

In the same book, Golvalkar further declared “in one word, they [Muslims] must cease to be foreigners 19 or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizen’s rights (op cit, p 52).

Savarkar made similar insinuations, albeit in a more refined manner while addressing a huge crowd in Pune on August 1, 1938 (three years after the Nuremberg laws were passed) where he said, “Who are we to dictate to Germany, Japan or Russia or Italy to choose a particular form of policy of government simply because we woo it out of academical attraction? Surely Hitler knows better than Pandit Nehru does what suits Germany best. The very fact that Germany or Italy has so wonderfully recovered and grown so powerful as never before at the touch of Nazi or Fascist magical wand is enough to prove that those political “isms” were the most congenial tonics their health demanded”.

Since the BJP has been formed and nurtured by the ideologies and teachings of these men, it is only a matter of time when the Hindutva magical wand will completely vaporize the secular democracy of India and turn it into a majoritarian dictatorship as envisioned by Savarkar and Golvalkar.

Dr. Sameena Khan is an independent political writer and commentator from India. She occasionally writes for The Milli Chronicle.