By Oliver D’Souza
“Anywhere, anytime the ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of secret police.”
THE CORE ISSUE
No matter how the BJP government tries to explain away the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA), it is universally seen as the most brazen attempt to alter the secular constitution of India by injecting religious discrimination into it. Through the Act, the government, under the clause of ‘religious persecution’ intends to grant citizenship to Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Parsi refugees from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan (BAP) who have illegally migrated largely to the North-East and to a very small degree to other parts of India, while excluding Muslim refugees from these countries from the same benefit. The government’s argument for exclusion of Muslims is that BAP are Muslim countries and there can be no persecution of Muslims there, whereas India is a Hindu nation and is therefore a natural destination for persecuted Hindus.
The proposed inclusion-exclusion on the basis of religion is foul on multiple grounds. To begin with, it erroneously propounds that people are free to practice their faith when the faith they practice is that of the majority. There are over 2 million Indian Hindus holding US citizenship who are practicing their faith in total freedom in what is predominantly a Christian nation in its ethnic composition. They are able to do so because not only does the secular US Constitution guarantee it but also because the government and the courts actively protect this freedom. You have hundreds of temples spread all over the US. The same goes with millions of other Hindus who are citizens of other Western nations. Even in hardcore Islamic states, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman and Qatar, where most of Indian expatriates reside for employment, millions of Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains et al are peacefully allowed by the rulers to practice their faiths within their homes or in temples, churches, Gurudwaras wherever permitted under their theocracy. When was the last time one heard of Hindus being persecuted in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman and Qatar, because of their religion?
At the same time, In India we have Dalit Hindus (16% of the population) who are beaten and murdered by other majority Hindus for merely entering a temple, leave alone their exclusion from reading scripture or being initiated into Hinduism with the thread ceremony. This occurs despite the Constitution prohibiting such religious discrimination and persecution of Dalits, which is also a serious crime under the SC/ST Atrocities Act. A significant number of the illegals in Assam are Dalit Hindus. How will giving them blanket citizenship under the ‘religious persecution’ category give them religious freedom in India ?
Rather, it is the democratic constitutional principle of religious freedom for all, which is then earnestly acted upon by the government that ensures religious freedom for everyone. The secular Indian state’s role with regards to religion is not to patronize, protect and promote adherents of one religion, even a majority one, but to equitably do so for people of all faiths living inside its boundaries, even refugees. It is a constitutional duty of the state under article 25 and it has to enforce it. Under Article 14 of the Constitution, which provides for equality before law for all those people and entities including corporations and foreigners residing within the borders, the state is also required to deal with all refugees equally. Religious majoritarianism enshrined in the CAA cannot take the place of Article 25 or Article 14 and ensure religious freedom, much less equality before law.
Similarly, whoever said India is a Hindu nation in its Constitutional character? A majority of the people in the country maybe following Hindu religion (which the Supreme Court has defined as a way of life, not a religion) but it is constitutionally a Secular, Socialist, and Democratic Republic. Wherever we go abroad, we are not seen as Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs etc but as Indians. India maybe a natural home for all those of ethnic Indian origin irrespective of the faith they practise, but it can never be said to be the natural theocratic home for Hindus only, firstly, because the constitution does not give this exclusive status to Hinduism. Secondly, the natural home for any religion is any country that protects and enforces the right to freedom of religion; not where a majority of the people follow it. If this was not so, the over 2 million Indians who have become US citizens would not have given up their Indian citizenship. For them, US is their natural Hindu home. So is India for ethnic Hindus, Muslims, Christian, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and other faiths that are practiced in it by its citizens. The constitution lays this out very clearly under Article 25. It is only the BJP-RSS combine that wishfully sees India as a Hindu nation and has been trying to make it a majoritarian theocratic Hindurashtra by othering the Muslim and Christian minorities thus far.
The proposition that Muslims are not religiously persecuted in BAP too is an invalid argument because there are Muslim sects that are persecuted for their beliefs there. The government has been harping about the persecution of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians in BAP but the fact is that the sum total of all such persecution is minuscule compared to the persecution faced by entire Muslim communities, such as, the 4 million Ahmediya in Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of those opposing the Taliban’s Muslim fundamentalism in Afghanistan and those that are atheists or members of sects in Bangladesh. They experience regular violence, bombings and social exclusion for their religious leanings.
In fact, by on one hand excluding Hindu refugees from Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Burma, where Hindus face persecution from the dominant religious communities, while on the other excluding Muslims from the CAA, the false narrative is being promoted that it is only Muslims who persecute those from other faiths. People of all faiths are persecuting in varying degrees someone or the other all over the world all the time.
Various news reports from TheWire.in, TheCitizen.in and Caravan say that after the Assam NRC, the RSS was furious that over 12 Lakh of 19 Lakh illegals headed for detention camps in Assam were Hindus. In Assam, the BJP/RSS had taken the stand that Bengali Hindus migrating from East Pakistan/Bangladesh are “refugees” and only the Muslims are “infiltrators”. That is said to be the reason for the reintroduction of the CAB, leading to the CAA. The CAA is an attempt to give the illegal Hindus in Assam and elsewhere a second chance at citizenship. However, what is the proof that these 12 lakh Hindus came to India due to religious persecution? The Intelligence Bureau (IB) told a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) in 2016 that there were only a total of 31,313 people (Hindus – 25447, Sikhs – 5807, Christians – 55, Buddhists – 2 and Parsis – 2) who have sought refugee due to religious persecution.
The fact is, as is the tendency among populations in third world countries including India and Bangladesh, Hindus and Muslims from these countries have legally and illegally been going all over the world for employment and better life opportunities from colonial times. Currently there are an estimated 7.8 million Bangladeshis working abroad, especially the middle-east. Apart from the 31,313 cited by the IB, all other Bangladeshi refugees – over whom the NRC got triggered – are here for economic purposes and for a better life – not due to religious persecution as the government falsely claims. That is why the Assamese are accepting the NRC and rejecting the CAA.
Perhaps, what conclusively reveals the foulness of the NRC-CAA is the BJP language concerning it. You have Home Minister Amit Shah calling Muslim illegals as ‘infiltrators’ and Hindus as ‘Sanatanis’ in Assam. You have PM Modi responding to the nationwide protests by saying “You can recognize who is protesting by the clothes they wear”. After the protests started, you have a BJP leader in Karnataka who openly threatens the repeat of the violence that followed the Godhra train burning incident. Then you also have a Haryana BJP MLA saying the protests can be wiped out in one hour. These statements clearly highlight the ethos that drives not just the CAA and NRC but also the BJP.
Irrespective of BJP’s claims, the NRC-CAA combination is being pushed by the party to achieve two other goals than the ones it claims. One is that, with Bangladesh being predominantly Muslim, the BJP assumed that most illegals in Assam were Muslims and that by throwing those into detention centres via the NRC, it could consolidate for itself the larger Hindu vote in Assam and, therefore, it did everything it could to exclude Muslims during the NRC process. That’s how even relatives of former Muslim President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and many Muslims who have served in the defence forces, civil administration and police have found themselves and their families in the list of illegals. The NRC-CAA is the new national communal issue the BJP has created to keep the communal pot boiling to polarize Hindu voters. The party can no more go to the people with Ayodhya, Article 370 or Triple Talaq to do so because these have been accomplished. The BJP’s footprint pan-India is fast reducing. Other than in Gujarat, Karnataka and Assam, and in the N-E, where it is in power as part of coalitions, it has earlier been evicted from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Punjab, Maharashtra and now Jharkhand.
The other goal is that the BJP-RSS combine, through the CAA, has sought to alter the secular character of the constitution of India and set the stage for classifying Indian society on the basis of religion in keeping with its goal of creating a Hindurashtra. Importantly, if this is given a free reign, they will not stop with classifying Indians on the basis of religion; the next step would be classification of people on caste basis, which is the stated model of Hindurashtra as put forth by Golwalkar and Savarkar in their writings. In the end, there would be no Hindus, only Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, Sudras and Dalits.
THE TRUE CAUSES
Following the widespread protests against the CAA, the government is blaming the opposition political parties for instigating them through misinformation. It is also blaming vested interests for the same.
Other than the protests called by their own respective parties, no opposition politicians are leading any of the larger number of protests around the country. Rather, several of them who tried to were told to leave. Secondly, a lot has been written in the English and vernacular print media about the CAB-NRC, while a section of TV channels too have been debating the same, highlighting the anti-constitutional nature of the CAB before it became CAA and also about the dangers of the NRC. Thirdly, for months, the NRC and CAA have been dissected threadbare on social media, particularly Facebook, which has 241 million and WhatsApp, which has 400 million Indian users. A significant number of people, as seen in their numbers in the protests across the nation, are convinced that the CAA in particular is a direct attempt to alter the secular nature of the Indian Constitution that will eventually lead to theocratic authoritarianism. Unlike the canards being spread by the BJP, these are spontaneous protests that gathered momentum after the assault of the police on students protesting the CAA and NRC. The participants are no more only students and includes the larger Indian society comprising of people from all religious communities, creeds and castes in India. Political parties, on the other hand, are having their own protests through their various organizations.
But, at the same time, to say that the ongoing pan-India protests are a result only of the CAA-NRC would be to completely misread the situation. Rather it is the culmination of a long season of intolerance, suppression of dissent, economic doldrums and complete misrule of the BJP that has brought the nation out onto the streets. CAA-NRC was only the tipping point.
The misdoings of the government that created the present situation for it began with the targeting of youth, namely, students in universities. This led to the suicide of Rohit Vemula, whose fellowship was stopped because he was raising issues under the banner of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) in Hyderabad Central University. This was followed by targeting student unions and their leaders, prosecuting the outspoken former JNU student’s Union President leader Kanhaiyya Kumar on cooked up charges of sedition, besides beating him up. The government then started replacing Vice-Chancellors (V-Cs) in universities it controls with those aligned to Hindutva ideology. The V-Cs have been systematically targeting the secular and free voice among the students and the staff. A good example is that of JNU, with the conduct of the V-C now having landed in court. The government also began tampering with the finances of education in the country, cutting back on student stipends or withholding them altogether, cutting student voice in the conduct of universities and tacitly instructing universities and premier institutions to toe the Hindutva line.
Simultaneously, sangh parivar gangs started violently enforcing cultural, social and dressing diktats of the BJP-RSS combine, with youth as the primary target. Couples were attacked; those dressing in western clothes shamed and those living liberal lifestyles were categorized as anti-national and anti-Indian. All along the government has been a patron of all this criminality through its acts of omission and commission.
The general population too was targeted by the government for ‘hinduising’ it, beginning with forced vegetarianism, with the Cattle slaughter rules being the first step. These rules were preceded by lynchings of Muslims over beef to make a case for it. Once the rules were thrown out by the Supreme Court, the extra-constitutional sangh parivar mobs continued enforcing the scrapped rules by lynching more Muslims regularly, most of the time on false charges of cattle slaughter and cattle smuggling. A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report “Violent Cow Protection in India: Vigilante Groups Attack Minorities,” says that between May 2015 and December 2018, 36 Muslims were killed in lynchings over consumption of beef and cattle trade.
Thereafter, the government indulged in the dubious demonetization which put the entire nation in queues, leading to over 150 deaths and causing untold misery to millions of people who had no bank accounts. This also affected the economy severely, hitting the MSME sector which accounts for over 40% of the GDP the most. The situation was made worse by the poorly rolled out GST which complicated the problems the economy was already facing after demonetization. Subsequently, the economy severely tanked leading to millions of job losses. The government then meandered from one blunder to another to correct the economic mess it created, even dangerously getting the RBI to part with its reserves to inject it into a failing economy to revive it, with no results. Manufacturing, production and consumption in key industries came down to unprecedented levels, eventually causing business leaders such as Rahul Bajaj, Biocon head Kiran Majumdar, Larsen & Toubro’s A.M. Naik and Piramal Group’s Ajay Piramal to speak against the government’s policies. Prices of essential commodities, fuel and medical care continue to shoot through the roof. Added to all of this, there is not a single district in the country which is not hit by communal disturbances invariably traceable to the BJP-RSS combine. Any dissent from anyone over the state of affairs is not tolerated and met with the refrain ‘Go to Pakistan.’
Even the Supreme Court, by virtue of its rulings in closely watched cases, has lost the trust of the people. This particular phase began with CJI Deepak Misra, who refused legitimate petitions for a detailed investigation into Justice Harikishan Loya’s mysterious death. This was followed by CJI Tarun Gogoi, who along with the bench he constituted gave a bizarre verdict in the Ram Temple title dispute. Then the court summarily and uncouthly dismissal of 19 review petitions regarding the Ayodhya verdict. Later, when the present protests began, the SC told protesting students that they should not come to the court if they indulge in violence even as West Bengal police caught BJP workers caught red-handed trying to set a train on fire after dressing in skull caps and lungis as many rural Muslims in Bengal do. State after state has imposed blanket Section 144, shut down the internet, arrested or detained protesters on flimsy grounds, but the courts have not acted. The Police in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka opened fire at protesters, and at least 28 people have been killed across the country, including an eight-year-old in Varanasi. Meanwhile, many senior leaders, including three former chief ministers – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – continue to be incarcerated for no justifiable reason, with the courts once again turning a blind eye to all these misdoings.
Tony Blair once said “Anywhere, anytime the ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of secret police.” This is similar to what is currently happening all over India. During the last 6 years the general population has been a fence sitter, not taking a stand against the deteriorating state of the nation because of the BJP shenanigans. Whether it is the youth or the general population, to begin with they already had enough with the emasculation of various pillars of democracy, the increasing intolerance, a wrecked economy, suppression of basic freedoms, the increased lawlessness and the government’s patronage of widespread criminal activity by cadres affiliated to the BJP-RSS. The protest was already simmering inside the people, unvocal and undemonstrative. It was the arrogant insistence of the government that it will implement the dubious NRC nationwide no matter what, followed by the enactment of the blatantly anti-constitutional CAA and the abuse of state power in assaulting those protesting against the CAA-NRC which finally got the people to say enough is enough and got them onto the streets.
As one young protestor told NDTV channel “All this time we were sitting on the fence, expecting someone else to take up these issues, but the violent suppression of students in Jamia Islamia, AMU and JNU, along with the anti-constitutional CAA made us take a stand. The constitution was being violated.” The goes same with all the other protestors throughout the land. The people have chosen freedom, democracy, rule of law and economic welfare over tyranny, dictatorship and abuse of power. The people want peace, communal harmony, jobs, economic prosperity and security – all of which the government has failed to provide. That a revolt against all this would essentially start with the youth was inevitable. They are the ones who lose the most whenever authoritarianism and dictatorship reign as it robs the youth of a future.
As denoted by the PM’s statement concerning the clothes of the protestors, and the specific naming of Muslims as those indulging in rioting without the charge actually being proved, the BJP is trying hard to give the protests a communal colour but people are not buying into the BJP’s rhetoric. The BJP rule since 2014 has been one of dividing the nation, lies and sheer incompetence camouflaged as nationalism and growth while supporting its shenanigans by suppression of dissent, doctoring of data and patronizing criminal gangs. The people have become familiar with the BJP’s charades and tactics, and even its own voters are losing their trust in it.
Fundamentally, the BJP has been brazen and arrogant about its anti-Constitutional activities, such as CAA, because it erroneously assumes that the party’s 2019 landslide victory was a vote for Hindutva, that the entire Indian population supports its agenda and machinations. The fact is, the BJP got only 37% of the vote from a voter turnout of 67%, while various surveys revealed that over half of those who voted for BJP did not vote for Hindutva but because of its promises of economic welfare, manipulation of the Pulwama terrorist attack and because of the lack of a united opposition led by a capable leader.
What indicates the future course of things is best demonstrated by the BJP’s response. The PM while speaking at the opening of the election campaign in Delhi denied that the government was considering implementing NRC nationwide. This, despite the fact that even after the protests started, Amit Shah is on record that it will be implemented pan-India, just as he earlier and repeatedly asserted the same in Parliament. At the same time, the government is trying to sneak in the NRC via the NPR, making changes to it that actually make it a de facto NRC. In the same speech, the PM also said that CAA was not anti-Muslim even though the CAA excludes Muslims. Along with these instances, the way the BJP has dealt with protestors in UP, specifically targeting only Muslims; killing and arresting the innocent and ransacking their properties, illuminates the government’s stance. What will eternally ring in the airwaves is the statement by a policeman to the Muslims, played on NDTV, that they (Muslims) would all be chased out of the country or, alternately, as stated by the Superintendent of Police, Meerut, that “they should go to Pakistan.”
In other words, so far the government is saying that it will go ahead its bigotry. But what the protestors, who are increasing by the day, want is the repeal or amendment of the Act. In textbook style of authoritarianism, we will see far more state repression, violence and curtailment of whatever freedoms exist. This is already occurring extensively in UP.
In all of this, not much can be expected from BJP allies who now say they won’t implement NRC. What about CAA? NRC may cause great hardships to the people, but CAA fundamentally starts the work of dismantling our secular constitution and nation. None of them has taken a stand on CAA till the writing of this piece. On the contrary, the CAA got passed because these very same allies who are now saying that they won’t implement NRC – one side of the coin – are the ones who voted for the other side of the same coin- CAA -, in the Rajya Sabha, where it could have been stopped. They are more concerned about their vote banks which a NRC would severely affect. But when it comes to preserving the secular Constitution, they don’t want to antagonize the central government on which they are dependent for funds. They are obviously relying on the courts to annul the amendment on constitutional grounds.
This is going to be a very long-drawn out battle between the people of India and the state. It is going to cost many lives- 28 people have already been shot dead by the police. Rogue criminal gangs enabled by the rulers will run amok doing the government’s bidding. With non-BJP states affirming that they will not implement the NRC and the CAA, the nation is also heading for an unprecedented face-off between the states and the Union government. Dark days await India. No one knows really knows how the current phase will pan out, but as someone has said “in the end Hitler always loses.”