Attack on Democracy: CAA and NCR expose the hypocrisy of Modi and the BJP Government

The BJP and Narendra Modi have been feeding the message to the Indian public that Modi is the “God” saving the persecuted Hindus in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. Since December 19, 2019, Twitter feeds have been filled with responses to Citizenship Amendment Act protests, some calling CAA a lease on life for Hindu and other minorities in Pakistan, while others decrying it as a giant paw trampling India’s secular democratic constitution. The Modi government’s cunning launch of CAA with the National Citizenship Registry needs to be seen within the larger picture of heartless right wing governments wielding heartless policies that deny justice to minorities, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, as well as promote policies that don’t mitigate climate change and global warming. 

Why is the CAA undemocratic? The BJP government argues that CAA secures India from Islamists. In selecting who is the “good’ foreigner and who is not, the BJP is creating a false dichotomy, and selectively eliminating citizens on account of their religion. Is it any wonder that Muslim citizens feel targeted and unsafe? Moreover, the lack of serious accountability by Modi after the Gujarat pogrom has deeply scarred not just Muslims as it has left many Indians questioning the policies of the Modi government that is driven by its Hindutva ideology equating Hindu and India. One need not watch videos of the protests to know that Muslims are bracing under the crosshairs of right wing groups. The echoes of Nazi Germany’s “Aryan nation” are loud and clear in the current context. 

A common theme of all the heartless right wing leaders: Elimination. The Modi government’s National Citizenship Registry came at the heels of the CAA. These together with the speeches made by different BJP politicians spread a climate of fear. Upon seeing anti-CAA protests, Amit Shah, Minister of Home Affairs, came on mainstream radio and announced that drones will surveil every protest site. After the protest at Aligarh Muslim University, Modi said the videos clearly show who the protesters are, since they were wearing Muslim caps. These statements instigate fear and retaliation which result in protests, police brutality and loss of life. Witness the police brutality against students and professors at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia University. As Mukul Kesavan writes, “The Delhi police made an example of Jamia as a warning to India’s Muslims. When that didn’t go according to plan, the same police travelled several miles across the city to help make an example of a university that the BJP sees as the institutional incarnation of the secularism that might yet thwart its dreams of a Hindu nation”.

The Assam Accord signed in 1966 and amended in 1971 after the Bangladesh war, states that the refugees, both Hindu and Muslim, from the war who came into Assam between 1966 and 1971 should go back to Bangladesh. The Modi government extended the cut-off date to 2014 in order to increase its vote bank. According to the Assam Accord, a sizable number who were illegal Hindu who did not go back to Bangladesh after 1971 (since they did not feel secure in Bangladesh) would be considered illegal. Since the BJP ideology equates Hindu with Hindu nation, they devised CAA to provide a point of entry for these Hindus. Obviously, the Modi government could not have a policy for just Assam; so when CAA was applied to the whole country it showed the BJP government’s hypocrisy. The National Citizenship Registry and CAA together expose major flaws:

  1. India became a secular republic after 1947. The British mandate of partition based on religious separation of India into India and Pakistan resulted in tremendous bloodshed. The current CAA is following this old historic British thinking and is creating fear among Muslims about their security. 
  2. How can a secular democracy declare selective rescue of the persecuted and not include Muslims? This pits Muslims against other groups.
  3. If the BJP bleeding hearts feel for the persecuted minorities in Muslim countries, why aren’t they including persecuted Muslims across the world to come into the country and claim citizenship? Why is the BJP engaging in a double speak where they are welcoming persecuted Hindus and at the same time saying the country cannot carry a large influx of migrants?
  4. Both CAA and NCR show BJP’s brand of “cultural nationalism.” As Sadanand Menon writes, “Its cunning agenda is to evacuate all ideas of political rights from the idea of a nation state and transplant in its place ideas of cultural rights.”

We can find some reprieve in the protest marches across the country. Although Amit Shah is insisting that CAA and National Citizenship Registry are not related, we know that both these policies worked contiguously in Assam to “select” the Muslims who immigrated there post 1971 and put them in detention centers since they could not prove that they are Indian citizens. People are highly alert that this template will be used for the rest of India. Hindus who are in the detention centers will obviously hope for the CAA to rescue them, so they can go back to their lives. This selectivity clearly shows the chaos created by the Modi government as a result of its harmful ideology. Not only is it undermining the values of Hinduism but it is showing the worst kind of human rights abuses that can happen when ideology and country are equated.

(Photo Credit: Anushree Fadnavis / Reuters / The Wire)

India strips millions of women in Assam of their citizenship. Call it femicide

The documents these women presented were deemed invalid.

What’s it called when, with one sweep of a pen or publication of a report, millions of people `lose’ their citizenship. Today, India dropped over four million people living in the resource-rich state of Assam, in northeast India, from the citizenship lists. Poof. Gone. Four million. In one state. And, to no one’s surprise, the majority of the four million are women. Even if women weren’t overrepresented in the rollcall of the suddenly disappeared, the impact on women, individually and collectively, is particularly deep and vicious, and is particular to policy formation in patriarchal states and societies.

Today, the Indian government published the final draft of the National Register of Citizens, NRC, for Assam. Assam has been experiencing a considerable population growth over the last decade. About two-thirds of the state is Hindu, and one third is Muslim. For over seventy years, Indigenous Assamese, in particular the Bodo, and Bengali Muslims have opposed each other, often violently.

Those dropped from today’s citizenship lists are largely, almost exclusively, Bengali Muslims. Many view this as part of the national government’s saffron policies, turning secular multicultural India into Hindu India. Whatever the reasons, the NRC predictably targets, and eliminates, Bengali Muslim women. Shorbhanu Nessa’s story is typical of many Bengali Muslim women in Assam … and typical of many women across India and beyond.

Shorbhanu Nessa married before she was 18. She is surrounded by nevers that result in her elimination from the NRC: never went to school, never owned property, never had a bank account, never thought she needed to. She is the mother of five adult children. As far as Shorbhanu Nessa knew, being married to her husband was sufficient. Not any longer.

Shorbhanu Nessa’s son, Hussain Ahmad Madani, explains, “Because she never voted in her maiden home, she had no way to prove now that she was her father’s daughter. Her father’s legacy data is there, but she has no document to establish her linkage to him. There is no school certificate which would have mentioned his name. Her family settled in this char (a sand bar by a river in Assamese) when she was one-and-a-half years old after their char (Majarlega Char) was swallowed by the Brahmaputra. She was married off to my father in this same char. Though her father passed away, everyone in the neighbourhood knew whose daughter she was; trouble began when documentary evidence was sought by the NRC authorities to prove who her father was.”

Everyone knew, but this particular category of everyone doesn’t count.

Many of those who were dropped from the rolls are women. Almost all of them are Muslim. Most, if not all, are married. As of yet, there’s not an exact gender breakdown of the disappeared, but the stories are everywhere, repeating one another.

No matter how one cuts it, the design for the data collection for the NCR predictably attacked Muslim individuals and communities, who, for various reasons, would not have the documentary evidence to prove what everyone in the neighborhood knew and had known for years, decades and generations. What is it called when millions of people are stripped of their citizenship? Genocide.

But there’s something else here. The NRC structures specifically targeted Bengali Muslim women of Shorbhanu Nessa’s generation. In 1988, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. Bengali Muslim women, like Shorbhanu Nessa, were `encouraged’ to marry before they turned 18. Thus, they never voted using their birth, or maiden, names, and so now they can’t prove they are, and were, who they are, and were, precisely because they were dutiful daughters. None of this is surprising. It’s part of publicly and widely known culture in Assam, and it’s equally part of the NRC plan. The way the data was collected meant Bengali Muslim women would be disappeared, in large numbers, and that was perfectly fine with both Assamese officials and those in the national government. What’s it called when millions of women are disappeared in a single day? Femicide. In this world, citizenship is life. In one fell swoop, India created the single largest stateless population ever, and at the heart of that effort is the nation-State assault on women.

 

 

(Photo Credit: The Wire / Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty)