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NO COUNTRY FOR MUSLIMS: THE CASE OF THE CITIZENSHIP ACT IN INDIA

By Sritma Chatterjee and Rahul Kumar

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA, hereafter) finally came into being this year and has led to a massive wave of protests all over India and also in various parts of the world. To an outsider it might seem like a sudden occurrence but the CAA was in the pipeline for at least three decades. The surge of militant Hindutva nationalism during the 1980s and its manifestation in the demolition of a centuries-old mosque and subsequent communal riots was a clear indication that India was looking forward to a majoritarian Hindu nationalist government in power. The current regime of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi draws its ideology from the fascist regimes under Hitler and Mussolini and is not even discreet about it. The BJP became the preeminent champion of neoliberal economic policies and Modi became the preferred candidate of corporate capital. 

This deadly combination of fascism and neoliberalism has led to the worst socio-political-economic crisis since India achieved independence in 1947. Unemployment is at an all-time high and GDP has been spiraling downwards. Social benefit schemes for the poor have been abrogated and the income gap between the rich and the poor has become huge. Public universities are under attack and the rights of students and faculty to dissent have been curbed to an extent that they are beaten up brutally inside their own campuses. 

It is also unfortunate that a large section of the media has sold out to the government, resulting in fabricated news and biased reporting. The failure of the government at multifarious levels has been complemented by a social crisis where a mobocracy sponsored by the government itself is engaging in the murder of Muslims in the name of cow protection. This crisis is but an extension of the murderous ideology of the BJP which was evident during the state sponsored genocide of Muslims in Gujarat, 2002 when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of the state. 

The CAA that the Constitutional Assembly of India passed last December was the culmination of these anti-Muslim sentiments that have been on the rise for many years. According to the act, “….any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 …shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act.” Given the singular, aggressive and hyper-masculine Hindu Nation that the current BJP government is bent on creating, it does not come as a surprise that the religion which is categorically excluded from this act is that of Islam, thereby reinforcing that the people who belong to the Muslim community do not have the right to citizenship. 

This Act is further complicated by the enforcement of NRC (National Register of Citizens), especially in the state of Assam, by which even current citizens need to furnish documents to show their countries of origin in order to prove their citizenship. Imagine a scenario in which a person is not able to show documents because such documents probably do not exist or a Muslim identifies as originally belonging to any of the countries mentioned above. By virtue of the fact that a person is just a Muslim (and the CAA specifically excludes Muslims), the person is deemed ineligible for citizenship in India. 

India has long upheld a spirit of secularism and the introduction of the CAA compromises the ideas embodied in the constitution of India. What is most frightening about the current situation is that the BJP government is currently building detention centers in several states in India and deaths in those centers have already come into the limelight. 

However, India is not a unique case that has seen this surging tide of anti-Muslim sentiments that is now legitimized by law, if one considers Trump’s Muslim Ban. As minorities continue to inhabit such positions of precarity, a transnational and global movement building up resistance and solidarity is the need of the hour because connecting our struggles is what will help us fight effectively against oppressive regimes. 

Sritama Chatterjee and Rahul Kumar are PhD students at the University of Pittsburgh. 

NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 50 No. 2. March, 2020. All rights reserved.

Categories: News

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