Seattle City Council, one of the most powerful city councils in the United States, recently made history. It became the world’s first elected body to pass a resolution asking the Indian government to repeal the CAA, stop the National Register of Citizens and uphold the Indian Constitution. It also sought ratification of United Nations treaties on refugees. The said resolution is being seen to be “leading the moral consensus in the global outcry against the CAA”.
Seattle is definitely not an exception.
Many concerned voices have spoken against the highly controversial discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019, which excludes Muslims [and Jews] and enforces a selective citizenship criteria based on faith. This new law effectively reduces the status of millions of Muslims in India to illegal migrants. A similar resolution was tabled by members of the European Union Parliament last month. It stands postponed right now, but that will be a short reprieve, for the members have resolved to take it up again shortly.
For the first time in independent India’s history the Indian diaspora—which is normally projected as pro-Prime Minister Narendra Modi and which does participate in rallies in his support—has been protesting against the bill along with Indian students studying in the West. These protests have been going on for close to two months in different cities and towns in different cities in the West.
Couple this development with the resistance within the country spreading to new areas and broadening to include more sections of society, as people gradually wake up to the CAA’s grim portents. Definitely, there is growing discomfort against the Modi-Shah regime. Perhaps it is a sign of desperation that in order to legitimise this law, the government has been peddling half-truths even in Parliament. Prime Minister Modi quoted selectively from the Nehru-Liaquat pact to buttress his case. He used the same Nehru-Bordoloi letter to defend the CAA, which his party had earlier used to slam the Congress. Gopinath Bordoloi was the first Chief Minister of Assam after Independence.
This churning against the CAA was witnessed when tribals of Madhya Pradesh launched a protest against it. Starting from Burhanpur, huge rallies have been held in other parts of the state in which people asserted their “troubled relationship with documentation”. Since a majority do not even possess caste certificates or ration cards, not to mention a defined religion, this changed ambience puts a question mark on their very existence. More than 30,000 Dalits and Adivasis urged the Centre to withdraw the contentious law at rallies held in Khargone. An appeal was issued to the state government to pass a resolution against it.
Shaheen Bagh-style sit-ins that have erupted in different parts of the country have refused to allow a religious tinge to mar their protests. They have, remarkably, turned them into a struggle to save the Constitution and fight for a secular India. They have not let faith-based political formations capture their fora, nor let them drive the movement. It is a marker of their doggedness that they have insisted on the Constitution, and reminded all citizens of Gandhi and Ambedkar, who built a modern India. That is perhaps what pushed forces such as the Jamaat-e-Islami—which is among the most widespread and networked organisations in this part of South Asia, and whose national office happens to be close to Shaheen Bagh—to the margins.
Even the “Mumbai Bagh” protests have unleashed the assertion of women, despite the compromising attitude of the local community leaders. These protests, as they unfold, have given voices to those who were earlier neglected in debates about the CAA, as the National Coalition for Inclusive and Sustainable Urbanisation (NCU), a network of activists, researchers, lawyers, informal sector workers, collectives and individuals involved with issues of urban class and caste inequalities has vividly explained.
According to them, the CAA-NRC-NPR will directly target unorganised sector workers, homeless people, migrant workers, basti dwellers, transgender persons in a big way. The enumeration process of the proposed NRC-NPR will have an adverse impact on the 1.77 million homeless people, the NCU has stated. Surveys conducted by them in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu reveal that on an average, 99% of all homeless people do not have their own birth certificates. And, 30% of urban homeless population do not have any proof of identity. Millions of nomadic and de-notified tribes, as well as migrants driven by rural distress will not be able to furnish documentation either.
Should the burden of proof of citizenship fall on the citizens, as envisaged by under this law, or should the onus be on the state, as earlier, is the fundamental issue. The assumption behind the new imagination is that everyone living in India is an illegal immigrant until proven otherwise. This is patently unconstitutional and violates the inalienable rights of all Indians.
That is why the debate around the CAA and or how NRC is to be implemented will lead to a great humanitarian crisis, but nobody has considered yet how this new legislation also helps the Islamists across the border.
After all, what acts as a counterweight when Islamists unleash their diktats against free thinkers? Who is not ready to fall in line with the Islamists, but the minorities in their own community? Who is the “biggest enemy” of any formation that peddles Islamism? It is those people within the community, who are unprepared to buy their version of Islam who are its greatest enemies. Commentator Milind Murugkar has brought out this aspect vividly recently.
Think of Malala Yousufzai, a Pakistani activist for female education, who comes under attack by the Taliban, who oppose education for women. Think of noted writer Taslima Nasreen, who earns the wrath of the Islamists, or of Salman Rushdie. Take the case of Asiabi—the Christian woman who was falsely accused of blasphemy and, though she was later acquitted by court, still feared for her life because the hardliners were displeased with the judgement. Or think of Mukhtaran Mai, a gang-rape survivor who fought for the right to education of the underprivileged. All these people would have been long dead if liberal voices from across the border or across the globe had not supported them.
Persecution by Islamists is not limited to individuals, but extends to communities within Islam. The more than four-decade-old persecution of Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan, who have been declared non-Muslims, is a case in point. Ahmadiyya mosques have been burnt down, their houses have been set afire and they are effectively forced to live as secondary citizens in Pakistan.
When India, whose pluralism was celebrated by the world, and which is known to shelter the persecuted from around the world, enacts a law which even refuses to recognise any such persecution, one can imagine how gleeful it makes the Islamists in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
There are umpteen reasons to oppose the CAA, NPR and NRC, but none as critical as the Islamists across the border feeling cheered and enthused. It is time Indians woke up to this truth.
Subhash Gatade is an independent journalist. The views are personal.