Resident, usual resident; citizen, non-citizen; immigrant, illegal immigrant; Muslim, non-Muslim; Kashmiri, non-Kashmiri. In the year 2019, ascendant nationalism made way for narrowing the definitions of who is a national. From Kashmir to Assam, the complex matrix of identities woven over hundred of years of history and geography disintegrated into a jumble of numbers (370, 1971, 19 lakh), while old identities proved strong despite the passage of centuries from Sabarimala to Ayodhya. The contesting figures took the form of protests against the government towards the end of the year. This seemed to have a common identity defined by the following characteristics: young, articulate, seeking its rights under the Constitution, and rallying around the Preamble, beginning with the words, ‘We, the people of India’.
The Sunday Express reached out to men and women across the Republic, from the uneasy calm of the Kashmir Valley to the angry disquiet of a campus, the desolation of Bastar to the solitude of a rape victim, and the hope for a job next to Millennium City Gurgaon to the longing for a temple in Ayodhya — to find out, in their own words and their own photographs or sketches, what they talk about when they talk about ‘being India’ and ‘being Indian’. What does the Constitution mean in their lives, in letter and spirit? Which rights matter to them the most, at home and beyond, as they enter 2020, the 70th year of the Republic.
20-year-old Khrielievinuo Suoho, a first-year student of English Honours, lives in Kohima with her parents and three siblings. In October, she participated in the Miss Kohima beauty pageant. Suohu is a member of the Angami tribe, one of the major ethnic groups of Nagaland. On October 31, the deadline for the final settlement of the Naga peace accord lapsed.
A law graduate, Ankit Tiwari was born two months after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. The 26-year-old believes living in Ayodhya has taught him “how to follow politics without being political”. In November, the Supreme Court ruled that the entire disputed land be handed over to a trust for the construction of a Ram temple.
With Assam the epicentre of the protests against the new citizenship law, following which the government suspended the Internet for 10 days, Rishav Rajguru, a final-year student at Guwahati Medical College and Hospital, says the government must talk to the protesters as the Act affects all citizens.
Anshuman Singh is a post-graduate student of English at the Udaynath Autonomous College at Adaspur in Cuttack. While pursuing his passion of making films, Anshuman would also like to work as a translator, and someday join the Odisha Administrative Service.
A post-graduate in history, Seena Uppalakkal Thazhe Kuniyil is an activist associated with the Renaissance Committee, an initiative of the CPM-led LDF government in Kerala that has been campaigning for the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple. In November, the Supreme Court referred the issue to a larger bench.
Yogesh Makwana lives in Ahmedabad’s Rama Pir No Tekro, Gujarat’s biggest slum, with around 13,000-15,000 households, most of them Dalit like him. Since the 2016 Una assault on a group of Dalits, Gujarat has seen increasing Dalit assertion and, often, a resultant backlash from the upper castes. Having studied till Class 8, Makwana provides plumbers to various construction sites in the city.
Four years after the 25-year-old Dalit was raped by her neighbour, the accused was sentenced to five years earlier this year. This year, at least two incidents of rape and murder — in Hyderabad and Unnao — and the death in a police ‘encounter’ of the four accused in the Hyderabad case, turned the spotlight on women’s security and the definition of justice.
Third of five daughters, Saima Anjum lives with her family in Jamia Nagar and is currently a second-year law student at Jamia Millia Islamia. She was in the library on December 15 when police stormed the university over protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Sanjay Kumar has been looking for a job since he completed his BA English (Hons) from a government college in Gurgaon in June this year. He is a resident of Nuh in Mewat district, which has been identified by NITI Aayog as the country’s most backward district. In 2017-18, the unemployment rate in the country stood at 6.1 per cent, according to data released by the government earlier in 2019.
Shoib Khalil, who lives with his mother and elder brother, owns a hotel in Srinagar. Most of the bookings and queries for his hotel would come through email, WhatsApp or Facebook. Since August 5, when the Centre revoked Kashmir’s special status and enforced an Internet shutdown, business has been down, he says.
Hailing from Berachampa village in North 24 Parganas district, Naikun Nessa just completed her MA in Journalism and Mass Communication from Jadavpur University (JU). She says that JU has changed her outlook towards life, shaped her opinions, and convinced her to become a social worker to try and change society. In recent times, the campus has emerged as one of the battlegrounds in the bitter and polarised tussle between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP for West Bengal.
With the Opposition accusing the Centre of following “Savarkar’s formula” with the new citizenship law, the Hindu Mahasabha leader and his legacy are once again part of public debates. Ashish Mude, a Hindu Mahasabha member and a manager with Nagpur-based Desh Publication, believes there must be no fear-mongering over CAA.
While the new Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra is the latest to announce a loan waiver, Ramesh Lingayat, whose family grows jowar and bajra, says he doesn’t want to take up farming since “farmers have always been at the receiving end”. From Choramba village in Maharashtra’s Nanded district, Lingayat is a final-year student of political science and history at the Shankarrao Chavan College in Ardhapur taluka of the district.
A native of Alappuzha in Kerala and the elder of two siblings, Bastin Bajiyo Job is in the third year of his course at the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Asia’s first space university. This year, India’s Chandrayaan 2 mission missed making a soft landing on the moon by a whisker.
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