A day after more than 60,000 people took to the streets of Malegaon to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), prominent religious and political leaders said the time for Muslims to get their identification documents in order was over.
“Since the past one month, we have stopped telling residents to concentrate on putting together their documents. After the citizenship bill became an Act, we have been appealing to people instead to come out on the streets,” said Maulana Umrain Mahfooz Rahmani, secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and founder of the Dastoor Bachao Committee.
Maulana Rahmani was the organiser of Thursday’s massive protest, which began at the town’s historic fort and concluded at Shahidon ki Yaadgar, a junction at the heart of the town. Even as violent protests swept parts of the country, slogans opposing CAA and NRC were etched along the route of the march.
“When the NRC exercise was underway in Assam, we had circulated an appeal to the town’s Muslim residents along with a list of 23 essential documents, which they had to ensure were in proper condition and had no spelling mistakes. It is strange that the Central government is talking of offering to make identification documents for minorities fleeing religious persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but will not grant citizenship to local residents if there are spelling mistakes in their documents,” Maulana Rahmani said.
Following the Assam exercise, queues of worried Muslims outside the Malegaon Municipal Corporation have grown over the past six months. A major chunk of requests to the five agents seated outside the corporation’s entrance are applications for new birth certificates.
Malegaon Central MLA Mufti Mohamad Ismail said the town’s Muslim residents have been going to extreme lengths in preparing for the NRC. “A large chunk of Malegaon’s population migrated from Uttar Pradesh nearly two centuries ago. Locals, whose families have been settled in Malegaon for at least three generations, have been travelling to their native villages in UP to search for documents proving that their ancestors had purchased property there. People are really scared,” he said.
Immediately after he was elected to the state Assembly in October, the MLA had gone on a letterhead printing spree. “To get a spelling mistake in an Aadhaar Card corrected, you now need a letter from your local MLA. In the first few weeks after I got elected, at least a thousand people would visit my office every day requesting for such letters,” he said.
Jaywant Nikam, an agent who has been filling applications forms by hand for the past 20 years, claimed that since October, nearly a thousand people have been visiting the corporation every day. “People are scared ever since the NRC was implemented in Assam. They have been applying for birth certificates for themselves, their parents and grandparents. I have been doing my best to tell them that they do not need to scramble to make multiple documents. Just one document is enough,” he said.
Abdul Khalid, 44, however, begged to differ. “If and when the NRC is implemented across India, it is better to be completely prepared. We do not know what documents the government might ask from us,” he said. Khalid was among those who had queued up outside the corporation Friday holding a laminated birth certificate in Urdu. “I want to get a new computerised birth certificate so that my son does not have to struggle to prove his citizenship,” he said.
Sunil Gaikwad, president of BJP’s Malegaon unit and a sitting corporator, however, dismissed the fear prevailing in his town as “propaganda spread by maulvis and maulanas”.
“These people are telling uneducated citizens that they will be turned out of India. They have created a fear among the people without giving them the actual facts about CAA and NRC. Muslims have nothing to fear, only those who are not citizens should be afraid. I do not deny that crowds of citizens (at the corporation) applying for birth certificates have increased, but the lines are not long. That is not such a big issue,” Gaikwad said.
Maulana Rahmani, however, said that citizens are wasting their time queuing outside the civic body. “We need to put pressure on the government to make changes to the Act and ensure that NRC is not implemented… In the days to come, if the government does not amend the CAA, Malegaon’s Muslims will no longer be applying for documents, they might have to take steps like blocking National Highway 3 (Mumbai-Agra Highway).”
Like Maulana Rahmani, MLA Mufti Ismail also agrees on the need to step up protests if the Union government implements NRC nationwide.
“All of India’s 20 crore Muslims should then unite and say that we will not show documents to the government to prove our citizenship. Let the government put us all in detention camps,” he said.
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