India: CAA, NRC, NPR: How is the Josh?
While India has been trying to navigate through the maze of nationalism, Hindutva ideology and a sense of déjà vu, the people are also trying hard to figure out what to express - a sense of festive spirit as the year comes to an end with Christmas and enters the New Year, or to struggle with the onslaught of the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), the NRC (National Register of Citizens) and the NPR (National Population Register), the last being the latest in line announced by the Union government to the tune of Rs.13,000 crores, at a time when the nation's economy has taken a nose-dive for the worse.
While the intent of the NPR may be beneficial, the timing is ill-advised. On the eve of Christmas, the Union Cabinet approved a proposal to update the NPR (National Population Register) that will cost the government Rs.3,941 crores. According to the Census Commission, the objective of the NPR is to provide a comprehensive identity data base which contains the demographic details of 'every usual resident' of the country.
For the NPR, a 'usual resident' is a person who has lived in an area for a period of six months or more, or intends to live in that area for six months more. There will be a mobile app for people to upload their details. No document, proof or biometric is required; it is just a self-declaration.
With rumours and speculations rife about the NPR being the initial step towards the NRC, the government has denied the statement, with Minister for Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar saying that in the earlier regime, Dr. Manmohan Singh had distributed cards as proof that people had been registered in the NPR. "The cost of the Census will be Rs. 8,750 crore while the cost of the NPR will be Rs.3,941 crore," noted Mr. Javadekar.
The NPR exercise is being held between April and September 2020 in all states and Union Territories except Assam, where the NRC has already been conducted.
People are protesting all across the nation and recently the IT hub of India, Bengaluru, witnessed lakhs of people gathered pledging not to furnish any documents if the National Register of Citizens was updated nationwide, and the Citizenship Amendment Act was enforced. The 'idgah' located near the Cantonment railway station in Bengaluru was packed with people, who had responded to the call of several Muslim organizations. Many people spoke, among them clerics, activists and eminent citizens.
The CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) has been seen as a law based on religion as it has excluded Muslims and allows people of other minority communities suffering from religious persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, to avail of Indian citizenship. The outcry of the people is that it is not secular in keeping with the framework of the Constitution, that is seen to be violated by this new law. They say it reeks of discrimination against the Muslim community.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that the act had literally pitched Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the people of India in a battle and warned him to prepare for the backlash. Mr. Gandhi said that the Prime Minister was trying to spread hatred and divide the country. "But he can't attack India, can't divide India," he said.
The Congress leader went on to emphasize that the Constitution reflected every religion, every community, every culture, every individual and every voice. He was vociferous in stating that PM Modi had learnt from his organization (the RSS) on how to follow their agenda that had been taught by them for years - how to divide India and spread hatred. "India's enemies wanted to halt it's progress. Modi did that by destroying the nation's economy," he added.
One of the statements made by PM Modi that received prime-time was that 'the protesters of CAA and NRC could be identified by their clothes'. There could not be a greater misnomer to address a situation thus. The Prime Minister however could be identified by his suit worth crores, noted Mr. Gandhi, referring to the monogrammed suit worn by PM Modi when U.S. President Barack Obama was visiting India.
The Prime Minister has been trying to deflect the wave of anger and criticism by claiming that the anger of the people was 'mis-placed'. PM Modi had tried to back-track and say that he was not exactly aware of the nationwide NRC, and that the CAA would not snatch citizenship from the people. All this when Home Minister Amit Shah had been very lucid that the NRC would be conducted across the length and breadth of India before the 2024 elections, and that every illegal migrant would be thrown out. The Congress leader observed that the Prime Minister was trying to suppress the judiciary, the students, the media, and had wrongly taken on a political battle against the Congress party.
What is of concern is that PM Modi in his recent speeches has not only tried to deflect the anger by trying to be vague about the NRC and CAA, but has avoided touching upon the subject of the number of deaths in the protests across India. He asked people to pray for the policemen affected in the nation-wide protests and their families, which in itself is the right approach. Yet, he made no mention of the 22 plus- odd people who had been killed in the protests as the police tried to quell them.
While it is reasonable to state that protests cannot turn into acts of vandalism and violence, the response from the police forces beg for clarity. Many students at the Jamia Millia University were attacked by policemen and beaten up badly. Many received grievous injuries.
The Prime Minister recently addressed a gathering in Uttar Pradesh on the occasion of the birth anniversary of India's former Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee. While asking the youth to abstain from violence and damaging public property, he did not make any mention of the legislation of the NRC.
Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of casualties across the country in the protests that broke out across the country. The assault by the police in the state has been tremendous with policemen breaking into Muslim homes, and vandalising them.
One example is the residence of seputugenarian, a timber trader in Muzaffarnagar. Some 30 odd policemen, some in plainclothes charged into his home. They assaulted him with a rifle butt, and then beat him up with sticks. They broke bathroom fittings, washbasins, beds, refrigerator, washing machine and utensils. They also looted him of cash and jewelry.The septugenarian cried and begged for mercy. Yet they continued their brutal assault and told him that he had only two places to go to - Pakistan or Kabristan.
It is a firm affirmation that while protesting, no individual can indulge in violence or aggression of any kind - be it stone throwing, burning public property or make any physical attacks on anyone. On the other hand, the police need to be present to stabilize the situation, and not give leverage to any kind of aggression or brutality. What image do the police paint when they pick and choose Muslim homes to destroy and inflict physical violence on them or, as in the JMU attack, singling out 'Kashmiri-looking' students? Where is the secular intent of containing violence and providing safety to the public?
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath talks about 'taking revenge' on people indulging in aggression during protests. While action should be taken against protesters indulging in arson and looting, the mode in which he speaks is nothing short of the demeanour of an irresponsible leader, notably a man in power. The Muslim community in Uttar Pradesh has been systematically targeted against and they are being chillingly brutalized into silence, so that they cannot speak out for their rights.
The Prime Minister stressed on the responsibility of the youth to protect public property and said that there were false rumours about protesters who had died or were injured, as well as injured policemen. However, Muslims living in Uttar Pradesh have voiced their fears that they would be deprived of their citizenship rights, as many of them did not have birth certificates.
Meanwhile, author and activist Arundhati Roy spoke at a protest at the Delhi University against the CAA. The noted personality asked people to provide confusing details to the officials who would come knocking at their doors. She asked them to provide wrong names and addresses when the officials came for the NPR drive."We have to fight against it and have a plan. A lot of subversion will be needed. We are not born to face lathis and bullets," she said.
The Centre seems to have been taken aback by the spirit of the people's anger and rebellion. In the face of a fallen economy, about which they have no idea of how to turn it around, and women's safety falling to the pits, they rode on the response of controversial acts that failed to garner any positivity for them. If these laws were to bring on communalism into the fray , then they have succeeded in pitting people against the police, and creating a national wave of crisis that will only worsen with the implementation of laws that spout sectarianism, and fall woefully short of secularism.
If religion is going to be the test of citizenship in India, then it fails the Constitution in spirit, and belies that India is a democracy.