When the Citizenship Amendment Bill became law, a distressed friend moaned: “As we clearly don’t need our Constitution, why not give it to the rebel Naga NSCN who have been demanding a separate flag and Constitution for Nagaland?” In one fell blow, the CAA has struck at the heart of India’s secular, democratic Constitution. By sanctifying a faith-based division of people into law, the Act has paved the way for the Hindu Rashtra conceived by V D Savarkar, who first formulated the two-nation theory. Judging from the social turmoil in its wake, with Muslims no longer shrinking back in the shadows, the CAA has also resurrected the ghosts of Partition. Yes, dear PM, in the truly eclectic anti-CAA protests, many can be recognised by their skull caps and hijabs.
The CAA is a critical component of the Hindutva project that has been gathering pace in the last few years. The lynchings, ghar wapsi and love jihad campaigns, cow vigilantism and the recent abrogation of Article 370 are all part of a sinister design to consign Muslims to second-class citizen status. Now with the CAA — and the ominous NRC and its blood brother, the NPR — looming on the horizon, M S Golwalkar’s exhortation that Muslims “may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizen’s rights” is perilously close to becoming a reality.
A large section of the country is outraged at the sheer injustice of it all. Even allies of the BJP who had supported the CAB in Parliament have now balked at the implementation of the NRC, but only after witnessing the outburst of anger against this patently discriminatory legislation. Their craven, opportunistic backing of an unconstitutional, unjust law that threatens to tear the country apart will not be easily forgotten or forgiven.
The implicit message of the CAA is that Muslims do not “belong” in the new idea of India crafted by the ruling dispensation. In fact, even before the public discourse on the CAA, a clear distinction had been drawn between Hindus and Muslims. When the final list of the Assam NRC left out lakhs of Hindus, contrary to the common perception that it would weed out an overwhelming number of Muslim “termites”, a tendentious central government announced a fresh NRC for Assam. Amit Shah then repeatedly insisted that no Hindu would ever be deported. The hastily enacted CAA is the direct consequence of that inconvenient outcome. Contrast this with what Shah said about the exclusion of Muslims in the CAA. His condescending concession to them was that “Indian Muslims have nothing to fear”, making it sound like he was doing them a huge favour. Far from assuaging their fears, the home minister’s assurance has filled them with dread. They have not forgotten how the Kashmiris were lulled before the great betrayal of abrogating Article 370.
The CAA is riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions that expose its real intent. The rationale of considering illegal migrants only from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh defies logic. Afghanistan was neither a part of British India nor shares a common boundary with this country and hence was immune from the trauma of Partition, which is touted as the genesis of the migrant problem. Furthermore, if religious persecution of minorities was the criterion, the omission of Myanmar and Sri Lanka is unconscionable. The Rohingya Muslims, in particular, are the most persecuted religious minorities in the Subcontinent. Also, how do the apologists for the Bill explain the omission of Ahmadiyas who suffer greater persecution than even Christians and Hindus in Pakistan?
What terrifies Muslims the most is not what is incorporated in the CAA but the predictable repercussions of its implementation. Given the institutionalised bias against this beleaguered community, lakhs of poor Indian Muslims face certain disenfranchisement for want of documentation to prove date and place of birth.
In a vibrant democracy, there is infinite belief that the courts are the last resort against injustice. However, the relaxed pace at which the Supreme Court has dealt with the anguished petitions against the CAA inspires little hope. That’s how the SC has also responded to the cries for justice by Kashmiris after abrogation of Article 370. Today’s Supreme Court is suspect in the eyes of Muslims — more so after its shocking Ayodhya judgment, a barefaced concession to majoritarian sentiment.
Howard Zinn referred to civil society as the “ultimate power” and “the locomotive that drives the train of government in the direction of equality and justice”. It is gratifying that the ordinary citizens have crashed through the sound barrier of complicit silence to register their opposition to the CAA and NRC.
The oasis of hope are our universities. In striking contrast to the smugness and social apathy of the ruling elite, the young have emerged as the standard bearers of a more caring and inclusive society. The country-wide protests spearheaded by university students are essentially about upholding the foundational ideals of our Republic — democracy, freedom, equality and brotherhood — which have frayed badly in the last few years. They are fighting for India’s soul.
It would be an exaggeration to call the current upheaval India’s “Tahrir moment”, but the unrest is an encouraging sign of growing resistance to injustice.
This article first appeared in the print edition on January 21, 2020 under the title “The republic’s defenders”. The writer is secretary general of the Lok Janashakti Party. Views are personal.
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