File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
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Protests have broken out across India, a few of them violent, against a new law that fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from three majority-Muslim countries. In the northeastern state of Assam, where migration has long been a major political issue, four protesters were killed when security forces opened fire. In both the capital of Delhi and the town of Aligarh, local police stormed university campuses, beating up and arresting students. It is no coincidence that both the universities are historically Muslim.

In response, the government has arbitrarily turned off the internet across wide swathes of India and many states and cities have prohibited the gathering of four or more people — including in parts of Delhi, the software hub of Bengaluru, and the entire state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people. Hundreds have been arbitrarily detained, including some of India’s most prominent public intellectuals.

The widespread dissent has surprised nobody. The citizenship law is dangerous enough on its own terms: It imposes a religious test, which should in any case be anathema in a secular republic, and it deliberately excludes neighboring countries with persecuted Muslim minorities.

But it shouldn’t be seen in isolation. Officials have also promised a nationwide register that would require Indians to jump through hoops to prove their citizenship. Thus the two bills together are what have caused real concern: Very stringent requirements to verify citizenship can be imposed, and only Muslims will be required to fulfill them. The result is a sort of hideous hybrid of Trump’s “Muslim ban” and Britain’s “hostile environment.”

India is home to 200 million Muslims, the world’s second-largest national population. Like India’s other religious minorities, they’ve always been well integrated into the political system; for decades they were courted by politicians, and the law carved out special protections for them. In recent years, that has changed, especially after the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister in 2014. Right-wing ideologues declared gleefully that Modi’s party had “demolished the theory of a Muslim veto” on who ruled in India.

Now Muslims are slowly being pushed into a corner by a government completely in thrall to Hindu nationalism. This year, India’s only Muslim-majority state was split into two, and suffered the added indignity of having its statehood taken away and replaced by direct rule from New Delhi. A long-running dispute over a mosque that had been demolished by a fanatical mob to make way for a temple dedicated to a Hindu deity ended with the Supreme Court essentially legitimizing the attack by giving the land to “the Hindus.”

When the mosque was originally demolished in 1992, religious violence broke out across the country and India’s cities burned. This time, Muslims have accepted the injustice quietly. Even after the citizenship bill, and despite incidents of violence and vandalism in rural areas, many of the protests in the largest cities have been peaceful. Yet India’s leaders have chosen to draw attention to the violence: Modi, addressing a political rally, gave vent to a characteristic dog whistle when he said those “setting the fire” could be “identified by their clothes” as Muslims.

In fact, the protests in the cities — many led by students from some of the country’s best-regarded universities — have attracted young people of all faiths and none. They understand that the government wants to make things ever more difficult for religious minorities, and fear the logical endpoint of this strategy. Yet India’s Muslims are faced with an impossible choice. If they don’t protest, they’ll allow their homeland to slide further down a path that ends in the detention camps that are already being built on the border. If they do, then India’s rulers will seize on the crowds to further bolster insecurity among the Hindu majority. It is no coincidence that the harshest crackdowns on protest are in states ruled by Modi’s party; elsewhere, huge demonstrations have been peaceful and unimpeded.

To many in India and around the world, it’s inexplicable that the government would choose to play with fire in this manner. An overwhelmingly peaceful, well-integrated religious minority of such size is something other countries would envy. But cultural insecurity and demographic paranoia are a toxic cocktail, even when you are — like India’s Hindus — four-fifths of the country and almost a billion strong.

In the end, we’ll have to hope that good sense prevails in the rest of the political class. Some state officials have already said they’ll refuse to apply the laws as they stand. India’s federalism, already under strain, looks like it will be stressed still further.

The government in New Delhi might well have been pleased at first. After all, the angrier that liberals, secularists and minorities got, the more successful its divisive gambit would seem. Yet the growing scale of the crisis — the protests and the internet shutdowns and the assembly bans — suggests that even Narendra Modi’s government might now be wondering exactly what it has unleashed.-Bloomberg 


Also read: Did Modi govt underestimate protests against CAA, NRC or have critics walked into its trap?


 

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6 Comments Share Your Views

6 COMMENTS

  1. “even Narendra Modi’s government might now be wondering exactly what it has unleashed… ”
    hope they have the good sense to ponder this. the nation elected Modi and got Shah instead. Shah now runs the show, he is pushing through dangerous agenda, he is unleashing brutality. hope Modi sees this and decides to get rid of Shah along with CAA and NRC.

  2. Please try a balanced approach to your writing. This piece, although, asks valid questions is not being intellectually honest or responsible by deliberately framing a suite of government actions only to the minority. These problems definitely have high emotive currrency and should have been resolved at a considered pace with more meaningful dialogue with the less political and more rational representatives of Muslims. But to keep on fueling an already tense situation does no one any good. Many atheists like me don’t much care about religious affinities but there are some historical and cultural issues and wounds that must be discussed even if, at surface, they sound impolite or politically incorrect. By painting the majority (the non elite variety) as lesser people, only out there to harm will not be doing justice to these very complex and painful issues in our society.

  3. This bill was long pending and no political party dared to take on the pseudo secularists who were against interest of the majority in order to create a vote bank with the help of the minorities . Only this government has dared these people to reveal their hidden ideology. This is the true secular India after CAA and the selfish protesters are no match against the supporters of this historic bill.

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