A letter from Nambiath Vasudevan, trade unionist in Mumbai (India),
coordinator of the International Workers Committee against war and exploitation, for a workers international (IWC ).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hindu right wing government passed a Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in parliament on December 11 denying citizenship to Muslim immigrants living in India. Using CAA Modi government plans to create a National Population Register (NPR) and later National Register of Citizens (NRC) in a calculated manner to exclude Muslims. People belonging to all religions, students, teachers, youth, lawyers, doctors, scientists, artists are in the streets opposing CAA, NPR and NRC demanding the withdrawal of government move to discriminate citizens based on religion.
Immediate effect of the CAA and NRC will be felt in the north eastern state of India, Assam. People of Assam and neighbouring areas have opposed the new law and the opposition protest led to police firing when two deaths were reported and several injured and large number of people were arrested. Government imposed curfew and armed forces are brought to contain protests.
The eastern state of Assam is on the border of Bangladesh. There are many Hindu and Muslim Bangladeshis in Assam as also in many parts of India. Besides Bangladeshis in Assam and elsewhere, in India there are migrants from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Tibet. In 1971 East Pakistan became Bangladesh.
At a time when Bangladeshis revolted against the military crackdown in East Pakistan in the beginning of 1970s, India had allowed Bangladeshis to cross over to the Indian territory. After the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 many Bangladeshis continued to live in India and many more came thereafter and settled within India. Apart from Bangladeshi migrants Bengalis from India’s West Bengal also settled in Assam. Indigenous Assamese resented the swelling of Bengalis and other outsiders in Assam. Violent agitations took place in Assam to protect the local Assamese language and their indigenous cultural identity. The agitation ended when an agreement was reached to identify the non-Assames. As per a decision of the Supreme Court of India a National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared.
After a lengthy process the NRC revealed there were 1.9 million people who did not have required documents to prove they were Indian citizens. Out of this 1.9 million 1.5 million turned out to be Hindus. Hindus were BJP’s vote base. Thus, deporting 1.5 million Hindus from Assam was politically suicidal for the Modi government. Hence, in a clever move, on December 11, BJP bulldozed the parliament resulting in Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) coming into force which act would legitimize Hindus’ right to Indian citizenship and denying citizenship right to Muslims. Such religious discrimination is not permissible under the constitution. But, in order to justify the majoritarian supremacy in parliament, the BJP argued that Hindus who crossed border to India were the persecuted minority in Muslim ruled Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and they had sought asylum in India because of such persecution.
It is India’s duty and obligation to grant citizenship to migrant Hindus, BJP claimed. No evidence was produced to establish whether Hindus were persecuted in the countries from where they came to India and whether they sought asylum on the ground of persecution. Strangely, those born in India were definitely not persecuted. Afghanistan does not even share a border with India. Yet non-Muslims who migrated from Afghanistan would be eligible for Indian citizenship under the new CAA. That raised the question, if persecution was the only criterion for according Indian citizenship, why persecuted Muslims cannot be granted citizenship in India. India did not accept Monghyars from Myanmar. What is still worse, in the amended law there is no provision for citizenship to Hindus settled in India from Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka Hindus are a minority. The discrimination in the matter of citizenship has angered people throughout the country.
Stateless citizens would be dumped in detention camps. In Assam detention camps are already in operation. BJP has allocated funds to create detention camps in other states too. This too has angered people.
People still remember the world’s largest exodus that took place in 1947 when British imperialists divided India in 1947 into India and Pakistan when they had to wind up their colonial rule after 250 years . The division on religious lines had left scars and Kashmir continued to be a disputed issue ever since. A free India adopted a constitution in 1949 and chose to be a sovereign democratic, secular, socialist republic. BJP’s parent organisation, RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), never accepted the basic tenets of India’s constitution and considered secularism and socialism as alien to India’s ethos. India has 200 million Muslims living in different parts of the country in harmony.
People have come out in the streets throughout India against CAA, NPR and NCR. The government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in confrontation with the people across the country.
The anger is not limited to the amendment in the citizenship act. CAA is just a trigger. The simmering discontent was evident from the time of demonetization in 2016 and even before. India has been in the grip of imperialist globalisation since 1990 and is a victim of volatile global financial and trade vulnerabilities. Life of common man was always neglected. Less than 5% of the 1.3 billion reaped the benefits of capitalist development agenda implemented by Modi and previous regimes. India’s corporate bosses decided in 2014 to back Modi’s Prime Ministership and they projected him as a model for development, to end political corruption, bring about industrial growth as per the plan drawn up by the capitalists, to take bold steps in acquiring land for industry and reform labour laws, give push to privatisation, end public sector domination in defence, banks, insurance, transport, so on and so forth. Modi thundered in 2014 that he has a 56 inch chest to create a new India and carry 1.30 billion people for a better tomorrow. With the liberal financial support extended to Modi by the corporate houses, BJP won election and assumed power.
From the time BJP came to control the government in 2014, they implemented a series of sinister moves in a calculated manner fulfilling the demands of the corporate bosses on the one hand and concentrating attacks on Muslims and depicting all those opposed BJP policies as anti nationals. Climate of intolerance and fear psychosis came to occupy prime political space. Hate against Muslims was in evidence. Indian Muslims were blamed for 1947 division of India, Kashmir imbroglio, disturbance at India’s border with Pakistan, terrorism everywhere in all is manifestations.
Beef eating was banned in many BJP ruled states. Banning cow trade was projected as a big achievement. Muslims were lynched alleging they smuggled cows for slaughter and beef was found in their possession. BJP arrogated to itself as the only party defending nationalism and patriotism in India. The mass media controlled by the corporates sang virtues of Modi. Any criticism of the ruling dispensation came under severe attack. Just before the general election in 2019 Modi had boasted about surgical strikes against Pakistan and several BJP leaders vowed to retake Pakistan occupied Kashmir and make it a part of India.
In the second term of Modi rule, in 2019, economic parameters further worsened. Unemployment rate stood at higher than what it was 45 years ago. GDP growth from 8% in 2014 has dropped to less than 5%. Senseless sudden and overnight demonetisation resorted to by Modi government whereby 85% of currency notes in circulation in November 2016 became invalid and thoughtlessly introduced one nation one tax, General Goods and Service Tax (GST) have played havoc with the economy. These steps resulted in ruining many industries and more than 20 million jobs were lost. People suffered and more than 106 died due to demonetisation cues in front of banks. Sadly, the government has always been in a denial mode despite their own economists and financial experts declaring the dangers ahead.
In 2014 Modi received support from middle class and young voters who were fed up with a plethora of financial scams prevailing then. Modi assured jobs to one and all and offered to bring back black money stacked in Swiss banks and remit 1.5 million lakh rupees (20,000 euros) to every Indian’s account. During 5 year rule people experienced Jobless growth and price rise on the one hand and the poisonus hate political atmosphere created by Modi clique which alienated the younger generation who backed Modi earlier. Modi government has no answer to peoples’ demands for jobs, social welfare, better health, education. Routinely Modi spoke about his determination to teach Pakistan a lesson, indulged in tasteless theatrics branding all his critics as anti nationals and supporters of terrorism. Modi and BJP rejected Nehru legacy and always praised Mahatma Gandhi and some other national icons. But when one BJP member of parliament euolgised Gandhi killer as patriot recently while speaking in parliament Modi remained silent.
With a view to divert attention from major live issues affecting people, Modi government in August this year ended the special status enjoyed by Kashmir since 1947 and bifurcated Kashmir State into three parts and imposed complete communication ban on Kashmiri people. Kashmir is a muslim majority state and Modi government took this calculated decision with an eye on Hindu votes in other parts of the country. Political leaders of all hues and activists in Kashmir were thrown into detention camps. Even after five months Kashmir continues under military control.
Muslims received another blow when Triple talaq was made a criminal act. This legislation was passed under the pretext of liberating muslim women from the inhuman system of divorce but the real aim was to project Muslim men as criminals and punish them. In reality a miniscule number of muslims married thrice and indulged in Triple talaq.
It was BJP’s long standing agenda to build a temple for Hindu god Ram perceived to have born at a place in Ayodhya where a mosque stood for 500 years. Hindu fanatics demolished Babri mosque in 1992. Recently the Supreme Court of India ruled that the land belonging to Babri mosque should be given to Hindus to build Ram temple and Muslims are entitled to alternate land in the vicinity. This decision too boosted BJP arrogance.
All the above developments took place after June 2019. The abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution pertaining to Kashmir and the prolonged locked down there including the incarceration of all opposition leaders did not go well with people opposed to BJP. While the people of Kashmir were denied every right to decide their destiny, Modi government bulldozed all criticism and claimed that Kashmir has been liberated from anti national forces.
Coupled with the above, the government decided to attack university students critical of the government policies. For the last two months students in the universities in Delhi were opposing steep hike in fees and other facilities. They were up in arms against the high handed approach of university authorities. During the first five year term of Modi government, RSS managed to place their followers to control the administration of educational institutions and their henchmen were appointed as Vice Chancellors and administrators. BJP’s efforts to control Delhi students unions failed. Students elected councils packed with those opposed to RSS ideology. Students opposed the RSS understanding that ancient India had planes, televisions and technical supremacy. Many who supported BJP began to feel that Modi government was taking Indiay backward. The government took measures to rewrite history claiming India’s ancient past has provided answers to the new generation’s problems. New generation rejected this.
Students in the elite Indian educational institutes were opposing Kashmir lock down. Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, turned out to be the chosen one for Modi assault. Students intensified their protest. On December 15 Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamiya University students were protesting against the authorities. To control the protest Delhi Police (Delhi police is under the direct control of Modi government) entered hostels and library of Jamia university and brutally attacked girl and boy students. Entering the college premises by the police without permission from the college authorities is strictly prohibited. Many students were injured. They were to be hospitalised. The news of police brutality spread. Students from Jamia and other Delhi universities came out in the streets and clashed with the police. December 15 found a full night agitation at Jamia gates in Delhi. Public in the surrounding areas and parents joined the agitation. Several were injured in police firing. Agitation of students against police atrocity soon sread to other universities. This agitation got linked up with the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The agitation against CAA, NPR and NCR gathered momentum in Kolkata. The Chief Minister of the state of West Bengal led the protests where hundreds of thousands marched in the streets.
From December 15 India against CAA has changed the political landscape of India. Uttar Pradesh (UP) is the largest state in India. It is a BJP ruled state. The state’s Chief Minister, a Hindu priest, openly declared that every protester will be punished. In the police firing in different parts of UP 19 people have been killed so far. More than 70 have been badly injured. 7000 people are detained. The government, acting with vengeance, has decided to impose summary punishment to protesters, confiscate their property apart from levying on them huge fines alleging they were responsible for burning vehicles and buidings belong to the government. BJP ruled states are brutally attacking peaceful demonstrators.
In Karnataka (BJP ruled state in South India) 2 deaths occurred in police firing. Protest has become a daily feature in several towns and cities including Bangalore.
Against such brutality people in their thousands are in the street in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and in every city and town throughout India. In the forefront of the protest everywhere are students and youth belonging to Hindus and Muslims. They have raised their voice to protect democracy, secularism and the plural culture of India. Millions of citizens irrespective of their age, religion and caste have joined the mass upsurge against Modi government – NO CAA,NO NPR, NO NCR. Slogans are against facism, majoritarian rule. General political orientation of the protest is left leaning as Rightist forces are in power.
The government has branded protesters as apologists to Congress and supporters of Maoists, branded the leftists as Urban Naxals. A number of activists and independent thinkers were arrested and jailed under draconian laws.
BJP has called upon its followers to hold pro CAA demonstrations. Simultaneous anti-CAA and pro-CAA demonstrations are taking place throughout India. In Mumbai Anti-CAA protest on December 27 found over 30,000 people. This was held in a ground near the city centre. BJP held a pro CAA rally on December 27 in Mumbai led by former Chief Minister of Maharashtra in another ground 2 kilometer away. According to police report BJP rally had 6000 people. On August 19 Mumbai witnessed unique protest action of several thousands. Protests continue every day resembling such protests in Chile, Hong Kong, Baghdad, Lebanon.
No law in India can be implemented without the cooperation of the state governments. States of Kerala, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Orissa and many others which have non-BJP governments have announced their non-cooperation in the implementation of Federal government decisions discriminating against Muslims. This would mean CAA, NPR and CNR would remain in statute book. NPR is essential for census 2021. India holds census every 10 years. But the present NPR format has asked for information which would damage the citizenship rights of Hindus and Muslims alike, hence it is rejected by the people and the state governments. In other words the census itself would not take place if the federal government stuck to its present adamant stand.
Barring BJP all political parties are opposed to CAA, NPR and NCR. From January 1 to 8 there would be nation wide protest actions called for by the political parties. This would involve rural as well as urban population throughout the length and breadth of the country. On January 8 trade unions have decided to organise strike by workers in all sectors. CAA, NPR, and NCR have become national issues. In Mumbai, erstwhile BJP ally, Shiv Sena, too is gearing up to make January 8 strike a complete show of strength. Maharashtra state government is headed by the Shiv Sena supremo and coalition partners are two wings of the Congress.
Some months ago TIME magazine cover described Modi as a great DIVIDER. Modi has proved TIME cover story right. People in India are opposing division of the country based on religion. It is going to be a long drawn out battle.