• Isalak, the David to a Goliath-like Indian State, and its struggles against CAA-NRC

    Amey Tirodkar

    February 11, 2020

    Its a tale of something extraordinary occurring in a tiny pocket of the country, one which could turn out to be important for the future of Indian democracy as well as for people's movements in the country. A small village called Isalak has passed a resolution against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which was passed by Parliament, saying that the amendment is not acceptable, and hence, will not be implemented in the village. The story of Isalak is path-breaking amid the nationwide protests against CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

    Isalak is located about 10 kilometres away from Ahmednagar city, in the district of the same name in Maharashtra. With a population of about 2000 people, the village is spread over close to one thousand hectares of land. Otherwise a tiny, peacefully village in Ahmednagar district, it hit headlines when its Gram Sabha passed a resolution on January 26 (Republic Day) opposing the implementation of CAA and the NRC. The village sabha unanimously passed the resolution, saying that Act will have a negative impact on villagers and that if government pushes for implementation, Isalak will protest with civil disobedience – the Gandhian way.

    "SCs, STs, OBCs and deprived people form the majority in the village. As the Union Government has decided to start NRC, the people of this village are unable to provide even revenue documents. So, the government should kindly reconsider the decision," reads their resolution passed on Republic Day.

    "How come a government asks its citizens to prove their nationality? Isn't it anti national act at the first step itself? In our village the population of NTs, SCs and STs is greater than open and OBC people. So, they don't have documents. In such a case, more than 50% of the people could be debarred from citizenship. How can we allow this to happen?," asks Mahadev Gawali, a young boy from Isalak who initiated the resolution against CAA-NRC. Mahadev has a small grocery shop in the village where villagers buy items of daily need.

    SCs, STs and NTs make up more than 55% of the total population in the village. The Marathas, otherwise a dominant ruling community of the state has less than a 45% share in the numbers game. Contrary to right-wing imagination that anti -CAA-NRC protests are dominated by members of the Muslim community, the village does not have a single Muslim citizen. There is an old, dilapidated mosque known as the place of 'peerbaba' where people from all religions and castes worship. Members of the Hindu community and tribals offer their prayers there.

    Alka Jadhav is about 65 years of age. One can gauge her financial condition by just looking at her house. She is lives with her husband, four sons, daughters-in -law and 13 grand children; a total of 23 members in her family. When one asks her to produce a proof of residence, she furnishes her ration card. What is there on it? Names of only seven names of her family members.

    "Who will go and make those papers? We don't have anything to eat. Will they give us food?" asks an angry Jadhav. "If the government wants to take us from here and put us in jail; let them do that. Tell them to give us food though. That will be better, no," she adds, laughing.

    She is not alone. Close to half the population does not have a single paper other than ration and Aadhaar cards. Home Minister Amit Shah refuses to take the aforementioned IDs as proof of citizenship. In that case, he needs to provide answers to the villagers here, as well as to crores across the country. Where will they go to seek papers in order to prove their nationality?

    Sarpanch Babasaheb Gerange throws more light on the situation. "We keep sending proposals of various government schemes to help these villagers. But our requests get rejected due to lack of proper documentation. If they are deprived of government schemes due to lack of papers then how will they prove their nationality?" he asks.

    Yogesh Gerange, another villager, is a lawyer by profession, who has also supported the resolution. "We are inspired by Gandhiji and have hence passed this resolution. It is not political. The government must understand on-ground realities before taking any such step," he says.

    Isalak is an inspiring story of resistance; a story of people’s will against the might of a mammoth state.

    First published in NewsClick

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