The lacerated came back, first in cadre, limping woefully and stumbling across the doorways, with pulverized skulls and smashed eyes. Then came the automobiles with corpses of the assaulted, the pelted and the burnt. This isn’t a depiction of some horror movie, but the treatment meted out to Muslims in India during the recent riots.
India passed The Citizenship Amendment Law (CAA) in December last year, providing route to citizenship to members of six religious minority communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The law however, does not offer amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants. Coupled with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) – supposedly definitive list of Indian citizens, the provision is facing criticism for being anti-Muslim, unconstitutional, and deliberately biased.
The law means that Muslims would be unfairly disadvantaged when seeking immigration to India. While members of other faiths would be facilitated and have shield of the CAA as a passage back into Indian citizenship if they’re branded as illicit by the NRC process, Muslims have no such respite.
There has been a systematic scapegoating of Muslims under Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. A 2019 report by the Human Rights Watch said that members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), since coming to power at the national level in May 2014, have increasingly used communal rhetoric that has spurred a violent vigilante campaign against beef consumption and those deemed linked to it. Between May 2015 and December 2018, at least 44 people—36 of them Muslims—were killed across 12 Indian states. Over that same period, around 280 people were injured in over 100 different incidents across 20 states.
Protests against CAA started from the state of Assam in December 2019. The protests soon started in other states resulting in killing of more than 60 people and leaving thousands of protesters, mostly Muslims, in police detention. Reportedly, the police in many cities was found asking citizens for their identity cards. Muslims were identified, tortured and arrested. In most incidents, the Indian police served as facilitator to the extremist Hindu rioters. In Mujpur and Delhi, Muslims were tortured and forced to sing the Indian national anthem. They were later reported to have been viciously beaten. Videos circulated over social media where police were seen standing with the RSS goons, coordinating with Hindutwa rioters to assault Muslims.
Addressing a huge election rally in New Delhi on December 22, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the CAA/NRC had nothing to do with Indian Muslims and that “no Indian Muslims will be sent to any detention centers.” The speech was accused of being a “combination of falsehoods and half-truths.” Critics have called the CAA/NRC the “greatest act of social poisoning by a government in independent India,” aimed at making the country a Hindu state and turning a large number of Muslims into stateless subjects.
Zakia Soman, a co-founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), a nationwide rights organization for Muslims, said the “diabolical” developments have led to great apprehension in the Muslim community, which makes up 14.2 percent of the Indian population. Many Muslims have approached BMMA to understand and prepare for the repercussions. The organization has launched posters raising awareness and community meetings in 15 states across the country.
“Since CAA is so discriminatory, it has given way to fear that even if people have their documents in place, they will be left out of NRC. Ordinary people think, and not without substance, that this is an attempt to rob them of their citizenship,” Soman said.
Rais Shaikh, a member of the legislative assembly in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, said the CAA-NRC combination has created panic across the community. “I have had 75-year-old men and women approaching me, asking for help with documents,” he said. “At least 500 people visit my office every day, expressing similar concerns. Most of them are now running around to ready their documents, approaching lawyers and agents. They’re scared of being stripped of their citizenship.”
According to Nishat Hussain, the founder of the National Muslim Women Welfare Society in Jaipur, many Muslims are apprehensive of the future and have joined protest march to oppose the controversial CAA/NRC. According to her many Muslims do have the basic, essential documents, such as passports and Aadhar cards, which have unique 12-digit identification numbers for Indian citizens. However, these might not be enough.
It is no secret that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its political face, the BJP, both have Hindu dominance designs. However, the unprecedented public recoil has surprised Modi’s BJP.
The current situation in India can easily get even more violent, as it did in Gujrat. Without international intervention and reprimand, who knows what effects this will have in the long run, on both micro and macro levels.
Protests against the citizenship law have not been limited to India. Late in January, thousands of Indian Americans, joined by several civil rights organisations, staged protests across dozens of US cities.
Protesters raised banners against Indian Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, the ruling BJP and RSS. The protesters demanded the repeal of the CAA in India, and called for action by the US government, including possible sanctions on India’s Home Minister Shah, as recommended by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Protests were also held in multiple European cities including London, Munich, Warsaw and Amsterdam.
The CAA is much like Nehru and Patel’s actions in the run-up to the partition. BJP, in its quest for further electoral power, wants to alter the demographics of India and in its passion for Hindutva, wants to crush millions of Muslims, thereby signaling to the world that the two-nation theory is alive and well and the creation of Pakistan was necessary.
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