Sidra Insar Chaudhary
Triggered by the December 11 passage of the highly contentious Citizenship Amendment Act, hundreds of thousands of people, many of them students, have taken to the streets in defiance of the latest in a string of anti-Muslim policies rolled out by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.
The CAA fast-tracks Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhist, Christians, Parsis, and Jains who arrived in India before December 31, 2014, from its Muslim-majority neighbors, namely Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. By smoothing the path for all non-Muslim immigrants from adjoining countries to attain citizenship, the law paves the way for practitioners of Islam to be unfairly disadvantaged when seeking to immigrate to India.
On December 11, 2019, the Indian parliament passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which allows persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered India before or on December 31, 2014, a fast-track to Indian citizenship. The law has conveniently excluded Muslims immigrants and only allows Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jain, Buddhists and Zoroastrians to become Indian citizens. After stripping the Indian Occupied Kashmir of its relative autonomy, the Hindu nationalist government of BJP has now passed another controversial bill. CAA is another attempt of the BJP government to turn India into a Hindu state and putting India’s secular credentials at stake more than ever. CAA is no surprise as BJP had long ago made it part of its manifesto. While referring to Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh in a gathering in April 2019, the BJP president Amit Shah stated, “A Bharatiya Janata Party government will pick up infiltrators one by one and throw them into the Bay of Bengal.” All this shows the fascist policies that the BJP government is following in order to further marginalize and disenfranchise Muslims living in India. Along with CAA, another controversial issue is the implementation of National Register for Citizens (NRC). The Modi government has started the drive of collecting data under the NRC in which all Indians are required to provide documents in order to prove their citizenship. NRC will thus facilitate the implementation of CAA. NRC was first tested in the Assam state of India which resulted in the exclusion of about 1.9 million people out of the state’s 33 million population who have become stateless overnight.
A sizeable number of persons excluded from the NRC are Muslims who are being sent to detention centers. The Home Minister, Amit Shah has announced that this drive will be carried out across the country. In the aftermath of the passing of controversial bill, thousands of protestors from all across the country; Delhi, Assam, Mumbai, Guwahati, Calcutta, Hyderabad and Chennai came out on the streets to voice their opposition against the CAA and NRC. At least 25 people have been killed in protests across India, and around 5,500 people in Utter Pradesh alone have been seized by the police. The police also stormed the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University giving rise to a fresh round of demonstrations.
As a result, internet and metro train and bus services were suspended in various parts of the country. Section 144 was also imposed in Utter Pradesh which bans the assembly of more than four people. The Kerala Assembly has recently passed a resolution demanding withdrawal of CAA and many other states have also stated that they will not implement this contentious law. It is pertinent to note that the protests that are being carried out across India have several dimensions.
The people of Assam are concerned that immigrants from Bangladesh would put a burden on the existing resources of the state and change the demography, language and culture of the state. On the other hand, the Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh are protesting because they fear deportation. Moreover, a majority of the protestors believe that the CAA is against the secular principles of the Indian constitution and is a direct violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees the right to equality. The Muslim population in India believes that this is a deliberate attempt by Modi to marginalize the Muslim community. Many people have appealed against CAA and the Indian Supreme Court will start hearing the pleas from January 22. The space for dissent in once secular India is now rapidly shrinking. Recently, a mob of masked men associated with the BJP’s student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) attacked Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) students, teachers and damaged the campus property. JNU is famous for its left-wing activism and whose students and alumni were seen actively participating in the protests against CAA. Leaders of the JNU student union who openly criticized Modi government’s policies have also been charged with sedition cases in the past. CAA is part of a series of actions taken by the BJP government to further suppress the Muslims and its desire to transform India in to a Hindu majoritarian state. Earlier, on August 5, 2019 the BJP government stripped away the autonomy of the Indian Occupied Kashmir; India’s only Muslim majority state.
The Kashmir Valley is under lockdown since August 5 and the Kashmiri people are being inflicted by severe forms of torture and human rights violations. This move was then followed by the Indian Supreme Court’s decision of allowing Hindus to construct a temple at the site of the 16th Century Babri Mosque, further questioning the rights of minorities in India. Indian Muslims are being consciously marginalized by the BJP government. Their homes are being raided at nights; protestors are being arrested and beaten by the police. NRC has made thousands of Muslims immigrants stateless. All these actions have given rise to a sense of insecurity and fear among Muslim community who are worried about their future.
As the BJP is rapidly transforming India into a homogenous Hindu state the space for minorities and especially, Muslims is shrinking day by day. Their basic human rights such as religious freedom are being violated. Out of India’s 1.35 billion population, Muslims account for more than 200 million. Hence, despite the fact that Muslims are a minority in India, 200 million is still a large figure which cannot be silenced easily. They have now started to voice their concerns in the form of protests across the country.
The BJP government is trying to divide the Indian population along communal line in order to divert attention from more serious issues such as economic slowdown and rising unemployment. If the BJP government continues with its fascist policies and crackdown on dissent then it’s most likely that its domestic situation will further deteriorate and may give rise to communal violence.