The insidious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) has been passed by both the upper and the lower houses of the Parliament to make it Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019. As per the Home minister of India, Mr Amit Shah, the CAA will ensure citizenship to minorities persecuted in three neighbouring Islamic nations of India namely – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. All religious minorities except Muslims persecuted in these three Muslim states would be ensured citizenship in India. The Bill shamefully exhibits the fascist face of the ruling BJP government by denying citizenship to Muslims persecuted from the above-mentioned countries. CAA uses ‘unreasonable classification’ to select three Muslim dominated countries as neighbouring countries for providing citizenship to religious minorities persecuted in these countries. Other neighbouring countries such as Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka where religious minorities are persecuted by the state and non-state actors seem to be unworthy of citizenship in India according to CAA. The act is also unreasonable to assume that people are only persecuted on the basis of their religion and not to consider other kinds of persecution based on political difference.
One can go on writing about the biases and immorality inbuilt in the CAA but it would be naïve to do that knowing the ideal of Hindu Rashtra that the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah is trying to actualize. They say that ‘the devil is in the details’; however, this is the case in times of normalcy but in the dark times’ details are meant to mask the brutally overt nefarious intentions of the fascist forces. We should not get ourselves trapped in the nitty-gritty of the CAA. The Act is a part of the larger ambition of the BJP to formally reimagine India in majoritarian terms. The legal institutions and mechanisms are being manipulated and moulded according to their purpose to create an illusion of constitutionalism to destroy the essence of the constitution itself.
The ghosts of the partition were evoked by the Home Minister of India to justify CAB when he shouted in the Lok Sabha that it is the partition on religious lines that compels BJP to place CAB in the parliament. Partition of India was an unfinished project for the Sangh Parivar. India did not become a Hindu Rashtra after Partition. The leaders of the freedom struggle, the members of the constituent assembly and the people of India displayed commendable moral courage to repose their faith in the secular foundations of the country after the gruesome bloodletting that defined Partition. Millions of Muslims decided to stay back in India legitimizing the secular Indian nation and delegitimizing the two-nation theory that led to the partition. The very idea of India as a secular nation where religion had no bearing on the claims of citizenship negated the idea of Hindu Rashtra that Sangh Parivar espoused.
Our constitution envisaged citizenship as a right of the people based on birth or residence in India but recent developments such as National Register for Citizens (NRC) in Assam ( which will be extended to the entire country according to the Home Minister) and CAA have tried to foundationally change this idea of citizenship by making citizenship dependent on descent and displaying brazen Islamophobia. NRC and CAA are slated to fundamentally change the secular conception of citizenship in the Constitution of India. This change would mean inclusion and exclusion as citizens of India on the basis of religion creating doors for statelessness for many Muslims primarily.
If the liberal institutions of democracy, democratic proceduralism and language of the law was mobilized to create an illusion of civility while placing and passing an inherently uncivil law in the Parliament, the real face of the majoritarianism is being exhibited in brutally crushing the protests against the CAA in different parts of India but primarily in North-East. The communalism and incivility inherent to the CAA which the Home Minister tried to hide while it was placed for discussion in the Parliament have been laid bare by the barbarism exhibited by the state in dealing with the protestors.
The disturbing visuals of policemen brutally beating and assaulting innocent students of Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) who were peacefully protesting against the CAA has erased any trace of hope I had in the state institutions in present times. In no democratic country policeman and para-military force would enter university campuses fully equipped with automatic weapons and unleash mayhem against the students of the University. Post-colonial India is witnessing its ‘General Dyer moment’ and the threatening aspect of the present regime is that this is not an aberration but the ‘new normal’.
There are protests against the CAA in the different parts of the country and from different groups but largely from Muslims and Muslim organizations. The ruling regime through its well-oiled propaganda machinery has been able to mould the ‘public opinion’ in its own favour. The legitimacy that BJP enjoys among large sections of the India population, mostly Hindus, for its brazen display of authoritarianism and incivility signals that we live in India which is fundamentally different from what it was before 2014. CAA has tried to formally make India a majoritarian state and the state violence against the protestors and the legitimacy given to it by majority Hindu population leaves no scope but to accept that India is a majoritarian state formally and substantively. The ignorance of this fact would mean that we would be surprised and shocked at every barbaric “act” of the present regime. Understanding the true nature of the ruling regime is the first step towards opposing BJP’s march towards making India a “malevolent republic”.
The Friday which followed the passing of the CAB in the upper house of the Parliament saw hundreds of Muslims gather for their Friday prayer in one of the mosques located in one of the most prominent areas in Ranchi. The priest after the prayer addressed the gathering arguing that India is a beautiful nation because we have always displayed respect for the multiplicity of faiths and cultures, attempts to discriminate on the basis of faith would be catastrophic for India as a whole not only Muslims. He then goes on to urge the gathering to uphold this beautiful idea of India and stand up against any discriminatory acts by the state or non-state actors albeit peacefully. The gathering takes out a peaceful demonstration against the NRC and CAB. Meanwhile, others go about their usual business watching the protestors with utter indifference. Some giggled as they saw Muslims holding placards saying “NO TO CAB” and talked amongst themselves that BJP has shown them their position. I stood silently, thinking about the cruel indifference and gruesome sense of revenge that marks the lives of the dominant community in a majoritarian state. I got filled with emotions of despair and helplessness but as I looked at the faces of the protestors filled with courage and determination, their faces urged me to stand up for what is ‘our right’ and is ‘right’. These lines from Pash started ringing in my ears “ We shall fight, comrade, for the unhappy times, We shall fight, comrade, for the bottled-up desires…We shall fight wondering why we did not fight until now…
Kunal Shahdeo is pursuing his Ph.D in Sociology at IIT, Mumbai