Protests have erupted across many Indian cities throughout December after the Citizens (Amendment) Act was passed by the Parliament of India. In amending a 64 year old citizenship law, the CAA allows all religious minorities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to fast-track Indian citizenship.
The Hindu nationalist agenda of Prime Minister Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party is evident: by making faith a condition of citizenship, and the calculated exclusion of Muslims, they violate and undermine India’s secular constitution.
Defendants of the Act argue it will not affect Indian Muslims and will protect religious minorities in Islamic majority countries from “conversion or harassment.” Yet it disregards persecuted Muslim minorities, like the Royingya people of Myanmar, and Tamil Muslims in Sri Lanka.
Being both dangerous and aggressive, the Act further institutionalises discrimination against an already targeted, oppressed and often violently persecuted Muslim minority within India. Indeed, historian Mukul Kesavan states the bill is “couched in the language of refuge and seemingly directed at foreigners, but its main purpose is the delegitimization of Muslims’ citizenship.”
Protests included a five-mile march from Mewat to Ghasera village in the state of Haryana where 25,000 people followed the same journey made by Gandhi 72 years prior to promote religious harmony and conciliation. His great-grandson, Tushar Arun Gandhi was present, with the ominous warning that in 10 years, the nation “won’t be India any more. It will be a fascist dictatorship. And, mind you, it will be a dictatorship using democratic process, and that is even more dangerous.”
Such it seems is further legitimised with the sinister actions of the authorities. Uttar Pradesh, where they have shut the internet to prevent “inflammatory material,” put a ban on public gatherings. These sentiments are widespread across different communities, triggering the strongest demonstration of dissent towards Modi since he was elected in 2014.
Indeed, chants of “Remove Modi” resonated at a protest outside the Jamid Masjid (Mosque), after Friday prayers in early January, and over 100,000 protesters gathered for a peaceful march in Hyderabad organised by an umbrella group of both Muslim and various non-Muslim social organisations.
This is not, however, to suggest total uniformity or harmony during protests. Protests around the North East of India bordering Bangladesh stand against being “overrun” by immigrants, demonstrating the alternative concerns around the act. Additionally, six people were killed during protests in Uttar Pradesh, where long-standing communal tensions imploded between Muslims and non-Muslims resulting in the arrest of 144 people by police.
Events at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islam University also turned violent. Students called for a march to parliament against the bill but were met with immense police brutality. The police deny allegations and defend their detainment of 50 students; however, videos on social media show otherwise. Not only has the act raised concerns over the governments attitudes towards the Muslim minority, it has exacerbated existing divides too.
When placed against the background of the government’s lockdown of Muslim-majority Kashmir, which has now been stripped of its semi-autonomous status as a state, or Modi’s appalling failure to halt sectarian violence against Muslims during his time as chief minister of Gujarat, it must be understood that the BJP are endorsing an increasingly hardline Hindu nationalist attitude in India.
Modi defends the actions of the Indian government, accusing the parliamentary opposition of creating a “fear psychosis” amongst the Indian people to topple him from power; however, perhaps his removal is what is required to protect the freedoms of minorities.
Image: via Wikipedia.org