The Republic Speaks
A round-up of the voices and issues raised against the CAA – VI
January 29, 2020
● The contrast between the two celebrations could not have been sharper. Early morning came the formal state ceremony at Rajpath, and long after it had ended, a quite different event took place at Shaheen Bagh, one that put the public back into republic. N.B. after: the preposition stands for civic courtesy and a sense of occasion. On August 15, 2013, Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, had attempted to upstage India’s prime minister by holding a mass rally in Bhuj during Manmohan Singh’s official address from the Red Fort. Modi’s hunger for power wasn’t in evidence among the vast crowds at Shaheen Bagh, who displayed finer standards of conduct by gathering in the early evening. No elaborate security bandobast here, nor was it missed. The ninety-year-old Asma Khatoon, Bilquis (82), and Sarwari (75) — known nationwide as the three dadis — were joined by Radhika Vemula in unfurling the tricolour (complete with a cargo of rose petals) from a 55-foot pole. Also present, Aishe Ghosh, Jignesh Mewani and Umar Khalid. To see more pictures — of tricolour hijabs, face paint, and the man who came as Ambedkar — see The Wire’s report. Newsclick shows the massive human chain of 620 Km formed across Kerala on the occasion. Outlook shows another, of 11 Km, in Kolkata.
● All the creativity, imagination, passion and heart have fallen to the share of the protestors. The Shudra (January 24) collates a slideshow on the new public aesthetic that has emerged with the anti-CAA protest: its henna patterns, posters, cartoons, road painting, mascots, quips and native wit (“Hitler’s grandson Jhootler,” goes one memorable graphic). The Quint (January 21) brings us the musical style of this protest, with Poojan Sahil, Sumit Roy and Armaan Yadav. And here’s Bahujan TV’s offering, in Tauseef Khan, Vipin Rekha Tatad and Anurag Tiwari’s collaboration, a rap “Chal wazan daal” (C’mon pull your weight). I–Witness (January 27) presents the moving stage event “Zanaana ka zamaana” put up by Mallika Taneja and Troupe at the Sabarmati Lawns of JNU: just the human voice, now in monologue, now in unison, and in song, foregrounding many brushes with the patriarchy – try it here.
Also Read: #TheRepublicSpeaks: We Shall Overcome
● Rankings are superficial, but India’s steep tumble of ten places on the Democracy Index of 2019 was sobering news. All the more as the announcement came four days before Republic Day, and the scale of the drop was unprecedented. India scored 6.9 on 10, its poorest showing yet. (In 2014 the country had registered its highest ever score of 7.91.) The Democracy Index is merely one of an avalanche of damning ratings in recent memory. In 2018, India placed 177 out of 180 countries on the global Environmental Performance Index. In the World Press Freedom Index of 2019, it stood at 140 out of 180 countries, down two spots. It dropped four places, to land at 112 – and among the bottom five performers in terms of healthcare and economic participation – on the Global Gender Gap Index 2019. The drop was ten rungs on the Global Competitiveness Index for 2019, while the Global Hunger Index report of the same year placed India at 102 out of 117 countries, behind Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. India led the world in Internet shutdowns last year, accounting for 67 per cent of the total recorded worldwide. And two days after Republic Day came the news that India has fallen by two spots in the global Corruption Perceptions Index 2019, with a score of 41 – nearer zero (highly corrupt) than hundred (very clean). What has any of this to do with the CAA? Quite possibly, a lot. “This [CAA] is not about our papers but the report card of the government,” says Richa Sharma at the YMCA Ground, Mumbai (January 24) in this Satyen K. Bordoloi video.
● The bloom is off the lotus. Modi’s “development agenda”, such as it was, lies in tatters. Unemployment touched an all-time high of 8.5 per cent, in October 2019 (after a record low of 3.53 per cent at the start of the decade). The GDP growth rate slid all year, and the government’s former chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanian, announced in December that the economy was heading for the ICU. Moreover, in 2017, 71 per cent of India was under BJP rule; that figure is down to under 40 per cent with the loss of Maharashtra, followed by Jharkhand.
Also Read: How will an all India NRC affect women?
● Hence the CAA? The party is certainly doubling down on religious bigotry. Take Parvesh Sharma’s statement (January 28) that the lakhs of people gathered at Shaheen Bagh will “enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters, kill them. There’s time today, Modi-ji and Amit Shah won’t come to save you tomorrow…” Such were the words of our member of parliament from West Delhi. The previous day, Anurag Thakur, minister of state for finance in the central government, had led an election rally in a happy-clappy chant of “goli maaro saalon ko”. He later clarified his stand to the Indian Express: “I was asking the people whether they want to support those who stand with the Shaheen Bagh protestors or (sic) the tukdé-tukdé gang.” Amit Shah used the same day to urge an electoral rally to “press the button with such force that the current reaches Shaheen Bagh.” To a party that reaches for Islamophobic rhetoric before every election Shaheen Bagh is a convenient proxy for Muslims, but the women protestors certainly seem to have the BJP spooked. Watch The Wire’s video report (January 27) of frantic police efforts to prevent the women at Nizamuddin West from starting a new sit-in on Republic Day.
Or witness the perfect storm that has broken over the head of Sharjeel Imam, JNU student, for a speech he made on January 16 at Aligarh Muslim University. He had called for blocking off the North-East — "a chakka jam" as he later clarified — in order to force the government to listen to protestors. For the BJP the conjunction of JNU, Muslim, AMU, and Shaheen Bagh was too good to pass up. The governments of UP and Assam were joined by Arunachal, Manipur and the Delhi Crime Branch in lodging FIRs against the PhD scholar (in modern Indian history). Well known defenders of the truth, such as Sambit Patra, have described Imam’s words as "a classic case of jehad", while Assam's finance minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, called him "the main organiser of the Shaheen Bagh protests" — Imam was a volunteer there till January 2 — adding, "This entire agitation — Shaheen Bagh or rest of India — has been caused by members of a community who want to destroy India." When Imam surrendered himself to the police on January 28, at Jehanabad (his hometown in Bihar) — read the Newsclick report — his being taken into custody was reported as the result of a massive manhunt. (An odd factoid that may be important. Journalist Aseem Mohammed reveals to NDTV here that Imam did not once mention the RSS or BJP in a forty-minute speech that described Gandhi as the greatest fascist of the twentieth century, accused the Congress and Left parties of Islamophobia, and was critical of Kanhaiya Kumar and the JNUSU.)
Also Read: Is Raising Azadi Slogan sedition?
● If Shaheen Bagh stands proxy for Muslims, the Muslims are proxy for other obvious targets. “Illegal Bangladeshi migrants” became the pretext for a slum clearance drive at Bengaluru on January 20. More than a hundred makeshift homes at the Kariyammana Agrahara were demolished by police — who claimed they had acted on the basis of complaints in social media posts. BJP MLA Arvind Limbavali was not named by the police, although he had tweeted about Bangladeshi immigrants settled in the locality. Remarkably, the police didn’t have a written order authorising the action. And, in case you wondered, no, there were no Bangladeshis there, just poor people from various parts of the country. Here’s a report from The Wire and a video from NDTV. In a country that is home to 28 per cent of the world’s poor, where social discrimination is the norm, and the very poorest communities — such as dalits and adivasis — have frequently been taken to the edge of complete dispossession, the CAA-NPR-NRC is a dire prospect. Newsclick reporter Mohd. Imran Khan writes here (January 24) of the landless musahar community of Bihar — frequently displaced, lacking documents, living on government land, and with the lowest literacy rate in the country (9.8 per cent) — as they contemplate a new threat to their survival.
● One of the sidelights of the CAA mess has been the spectacle of several regional parties attempting to speak from both sides of their mouth. Telangana’s ruling party, the TRS, voted against the CAB in parliament; yet, on January 26, Chandrashekhar Azad was detained by police at the Hyderabad airport and sent back to Delhi the next day. Odisha’s BJD voted with the government on CAB but has now decided not to implement the NRC. As for Nitish Kumar’s JDU in Bihar, no one can tell which way it is going. We’ll keep you posted (sigh!). Before you leave, do watch Faye D'Souza give the urban middle class a dressing down for its safe equivocation and for hiding behind the young. This was at the Mumbai Spoken Fest 2020.
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