Voices against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act – I

● Himanshu Pandya likens the Citizenship Amendment Act to the Asiatic Registration Bill of 1906 in South Africa. At the time, Gandhi had said the new law would “spell absolute ruin for Indians”; “Better to die than submit to such a law,” he declared. On May 11, 1907, when the law came into effect as the Transvaal Registration Act, Gandhi launched his first mass campaign of satyagraha against it. Of the more than 10,000 Indians in the Transvaal, only 500 went on to register themselves with the government.

Pandya adds that nobody is fooled by the BJP government’s claims. The intent of the CAA is not to aid religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but to persecute a religious minority in India. Read the full article in Hindi here.

Also see in this context Sabrang India’s article of December 12, on the paltry number of refugees granted citizenship in the past three years, by the same government that professes such concern for them today.

● Dr Gregory Stanton, founder of Genocide Watch, drafted the UN Security Council resolutions creating the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda and the Burundi Commission of Inquiry, following genocides in both countries. On December 12, he stated definitively that India is on the path to genocide in Kashmir, and again with the upcoming National Register of Indian Citizens. Read the report here, along with Stanton’s ten-stage outline of the unfolding of a modern genocide.

● Arvind Shesh speculates on the uses to which a large population of detainees may be put. Unless the NRIC process is called off, the state of Assam alone must make provision for 1.9 million people confined for indefinite periods while their cases are processed individually. He reminds us of the USA’s large wartime detention camps, sites for the extraction of labour from populations that did not enjoy rights. What would such establishments portend for India — for its large informal sector of daily-wage earners? What comes after the NRIC process is complete? Read the full article in Hindi here.

● Is this India’s Komagata Maru moment, asks Gurpreet Singh. Recalling the Japanese ship detained off the coast British Columbia for three months in 1914, and its 300 South Asian passengers who were denied entry by Canada, Singh writes of the lasting shame of that moment in Canadian history — for which the current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has apologised in parliament. Will we in India today, and Indians to come, be able to live down the shame of the ongoing betrayal of our constitutional values and of human rights? Read the article. (Singh’s organisation, Indians Abroad for Pluralist India, organises a rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act on Sunday, December 22, at Holland Park in Surrey.)

● Historian Mridula Mukherjee tells Rashme Sehgal that in her view the NRIC was intended by the BJP as a mere rhetorical and electoral prop. That such a complex and labour-intensive process can be carried out for a population of 1.3 billion people defies credulity. It was more likely conceived as a threat to hold over the Muslims of India. However, Modi and Shah failed to grasp the demographic complexity of the country and are now hoist on their own petard. “They do not understand genuine mass movements because they have never been part of one.” The BJP’s base in the North-East is unravelling rapidly, the bulk of people identified as “outsiders” by the NRC process in Assam have turned out to be Hindus, and India has been put “in a ridiculous place” internationally — witness the cancellation of the Bangladesh foreign minister’s trip to India and of the India–Japan summit scheduled for this month. Read the full interview here.

● The government is whistling in the dark as it continues to insist the CAA and the NRIC process are an “internal matter”. Already, friendly relations with Bangladesh and Afghanistan are showing signs of strain. Gautam Navlakha warns that India is setting itself up to be preoccupied by “ever newer conflicts” even as it loses coherence and credibility internationally. India’s refusal to enter into talks with the Taliban was based on its view of the Afghan government as a non-sectarian force. Is this a tenable position when India starts using the law as an instrument of blatant sectarianism? Add to this the insistent declarations of “normalcy” in Kashmir, and India’s voice on the international stage grows less and less convincing. This has political and economic implications of far-reaching effect. Read the full article here.

Newsclick reports that on March 26, 2018, a year-and-a-half before the Citizenship Amendment Act came into effect, the RBI issued a seven-point notification stating that citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who were in India on long-term visas and belonged to the Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi or Christian community, would now be permitted to buy “one residential immovable property” for “self occupation” and one “for carrying out self-employment”. Also in 2018, the same groups of immigrants were permitted to open “non-resident ordinary accounts” to bank their earnings in India. Was the RBI in on the plans of the BJP government? Did it ease the way towards the CAB? Read the full report here.

● Subodh Varma comments on the similarity of the BJP government’s response across the country: throwing armed police at protesters, making dubious claims about damaged property, professing concern for the “country’s image”, blaming “outside elements”, and shutting down transport and communications. In moments of doubt, Narendra Modi’s first reflex is to make bigoted statements. The man who described camps of riot-displaced citizens in Gujarat as “baby-making factories” told an electoral rally at Dumka (Jharkhand), on December 12, that protesters “creating violence can be known by their clothes”.

● Meanwhile, protesters in a variety of garb have been making themselves heard, and challenging stereotypes as they do so. Just as differently-abled students from JNU had fronted the protest outside the Vasant Kunj police station on November 20, a video of women at Jamia Millia Islamia taking on the police in order to protect a male companion magnetised national attention. Aarfa Khanum of The Wire met Ladeeda and Aaisha, two of the women seen in the video. “Who will speak for our rights if we don’t?” says a matter-of-fact Aaisha. “We escaped with our lives because the media were there,” adds Ladeeda. Watch the interview here.

● Standing at Gate 7 of Jamia Millia Islamia, Harsh Mander told the gathered crowd that it was important they understand what this fight is about. “It’s about our country, then about the Constitution, but it is also about love.” (Cheers.) “The government is at war with the way this country was imagined during the freedom struggle…. The BJP’s name ought to be changed to the Bharatiya Jinnah Party.” It is up to people to defend equality, secularism and the rule of law, he added, because established institutions, from political parties to the Supreme Court, have lately been failing to do so. The decision lies with the young people of this country. It has to be decided in the streets, and also in our hearts. “Long live the Constitution! Long live love!” were his closing words. Hear the talk here. 

● Naveen Chourey spoke for and to millions of hearts earlier this year with his poem on mob lynching. On Saturday, December 14, he addressed a large gathering at the Jantar Mantar. By 2020, he said, one out of every three Indians will be 15-24 years of age. “Now tell me who is in the majority here: Hindus, Muslims or young people?” He recited some new lines, referencing the CAA: Ek naya qanoon aaya hai hamaare desh mein/ haq jise bhi chaahiye voh desh ka ghaddaar hai./ Aap kaise chup karenge maar ke lathi humein/ dard se sahib hamaara roz ka vyapaar hai. Watch the video uploaded by AR News here.

● Bhasha Singh wades through Delhi’s protests and meets a range of people of all ages. There are people bearing roses to soften Amit Shah’s heart, people in the process of being detained by police, who note the lockdown Delhi has been put under, the repression of protesters, the bias of godi-media coverage, and are clear they are there in defence of citizenship and the Constitution. Watch the video here.

● “Our paranoid rulers in Delhi are scared,” said Ramchandra Guha, at a street protest in Bangalore, shortly before being detained by the police. Abhisar Sharma comments on the liberal use of Section 144 by BJP governments across India, the internet shutdowns, and the circulation of fake news about protests. Unsurprising, coming from a government that has fought shy of appointing a lokpal and has been watering down the RTI, but worrying in times when the Supreme Court has repeatedly failed to stand up for human rights. The government’s lack of accountability means that student protesters may suffer gunshot wounds, videos may appear showing the police firing pistols, but the government can insist with impunity that there was no firing from the police. Watch the video here.