Resident, usual resident; citizen, non-citizen; immigrant, illegal immigrant; Muslim, non-Muslim; Kashmiri, non-Kashmiri. In 2019, ascendant nationalism made way for narrowing definitions of who is a national — neat enough to fit a box to tick on a paper. 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 from Sabarimala to Ayodhya, old identities proved strong despite the passage of centuries.
Towards the end of the year, the contesting figures took the shape of protests against the government. This shape seemed to have a common identity: 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 reaches out to men and women across the Republic, from the uneasy calm of the 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.
Rights That Matter Most: ‘Right to Education, freedom of religion and right to vote’
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).
What does India mean to you?
To me, India is like an emotion. In spite of its diversity, we are united. So many religions, so many states, so many cultures, yet we are bound by patriotism… There are many negative forces in the country as well. Many try to stoke religious controversies for their own political gains, but we (the country) stand united against them. And this is evident from the protests that we are currently witnessing.
You were born in Delhi. What made you choose Jamia?
The ideological and historical background of Jamia attracts me. The university has had an association with (Mahatma) Gandhi and Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Many say the students in Jamia are terrorists. But I know the reality as I study there. Jamia is like a diverse city. There are students of every religion and every culture. We wear shorts, burqa, even smoke. We find everything in Jamia.
What is the farthest place you have travelled to from your hometown?
I have been to Muzaffarnagar (in Uttar Pradesh, about 140 km from Delhi). It’s my hometown. My paternal grandmother stays there… I visit Muzaffarnagar every month.
I haven’t had the opportunity to travel much because of the difference in ages among my siblings and me. When I have free time, my other sisters have exams. Our schedules are different.
Do you have a friend from another part of the country?
Many of my friends are based in Mumbai, Agra, Thrissur (Kerala) and Kolkata. I also befriended many people when I joined a work-from-home internship with a Mumbai-based organisation that conducts certificate courses for students.
What are the three important rights you enjoy as a citizen of this country?
Right to Education, freedom of religion and right to vote. Many people still can’t afford education, the government should ensure that everyone can study. Also, these days, Muslims are being targeted… The present government has a role to play in it.
For you, the government is…
People are the government. The government is chosen by the people and they can bring it down if it does not work for the benefit of the people. The government should always keep the interest of the people in mind and work for the development of the nation, while following the values enshrined in the Constitution.
For you, a good citizen is….
The one who speaks up against (the atrocities of) the government. The one who freely exercises his or her right to speech. Fortunately, we have many citizens who speak up without any fear against powerful governments.
For you, the most important historical event has been…
I think it is the drafting of the Constitution. It gave the nation a set of principles that should be supreme for any government. And it also gave people basic rights, including human rights.
In the New Year, what is the one change you hope for in the country?
I want a new Prime Minister who abides by the Constitution and believes in it. People should be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of speech and their right to protest freely.
On the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act…
CAA would have been welcomed if it did not exclude a particular religion. It excludes Muslims in particular and therefore it is unconstitutional. We have elected you (the government) and you are asking us to prove our citizenship. The government is temporary, we are permanent. I have my Aadhaar Card and passport. I have also applied for my voter identity card but it is yet to be delivered. However, if my citizenship is questioned, I will not show my document.