Dissenting voices:  CAA and NPR-NRC

citizenship amendment bill

  Recently majority of the countries are witnessing massive protests and agitations world over on the issues of economic inequality, public corruptions, political freedom, and suppression of dissenting voices by the state agency such as police and army. The ongoing protests on the said issues in the countries like, Hong Kong, Chile, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, India and other West Asia could be cited as examples. Historically speaking, late 18th and 19th centuries already witnessed several Protests, Revolts, Revolutions and social movements. In this respect, a noted British Marxist historian like Eric Hobsbawam in his path-breaking works like, The Age of Revolution(1789-1848), The Age of Capital ( 1848-1875), The Age of Empire (1875-1914) and  The Age of Extreme,(20th century) especially in the cases of European countries vividly outlined that the world had already experienced the critical phases. It is beyond the scope of this essay to discuss the details about these critical times, however, if  one could study closely these  historical great events, it would help us to understand the present contemporary world crisis

While analyzing the 21st century political and social upheaval along with the rise of socially conservative, Right-wing forces across the world, a noted columnist and scholar like Pankaj Mishra in his book, Age of Anger (2017) talks about the rise of the Right-wing and conservative parties across the world. For instances, the rise of Donald Trump in the USA, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, PM Modi in India can be taken as examples. According to Pritam Singh, rise of socio-economic slowdown, cultural intolerance in the form of ‘institutional racism’ (against blacks and Muslims) in western countries and ‘institutional communalism’ (mainly against Indian Muslims) in India has tremendously increased. However, due to the recent sustain protests, in respective countries like Hong Kong in China, Chile and others have succumbed to pressures and as a result, they have rolled back the proposed legislations.

Many protests have been organized around the world which has brought positive results where as in India not much positive change is discernible. In this essay, I am not going to explore the details nitty-gritty of the legal/constitutional aspects of the CAA and the NRC-NPR; it has been already discussed and written by the legal/constitutional experts extensively in the public sphere.  As I have earlier mentioned that from the perspective of domestics (such as Constitution and Articles like 14, 15, 21 enshrined in chapters of Fundamental rights) and international humanitarian laws as mentioned in several human rights documents. The said Act is fundamentally anti-democratic, communal in nature which violates basic human rights of citizen irrespective of caste creed, ethnicity and religion. Besides, after reading the discourse around Citizenship closely which took place in the Constituent Assembly deliberations and later mentioned in 1955 Citizenship Act (which has been several time amended by the  successive governments); one can  rightly argue that India’s concept of Citizenship, since beginning was inclusive and secular in its spirit and based on the ‘humanistic values’ rather than excluding fellow human being simply because of he/she belong to different religion and ethnicity which current ruling dispensation has done after passing the anti-constitutional Act like CAA.

In what follows, I will confine myself and draw attention to the manner in which terrible public discourse unleashed by the BJP-RSS combine including by the upper-caste dominated corporate media to quell and suppress the dissenting voices essentially of young imaginative students who are still fighting to save the Constitution and legacy of secular democracy, which were envisioned by the founding fathers of our Republic like Ambedkar, Nehru, Gandhi and Azad.  The fact cannot deny that strength and landscape of current ongoing protests are no longer restricted to one region; it has truly acquired a ‘Pan-Indian’ character. However, I will limit my discussions with special reference to places like Jamia Millia Islamia and Shaheen Bagh simply because both are the most vibrant protests and their modes of struggles are peaceful, democratic and inclusive in character. It would be not utterly wrong to say that these protests sites which are going within the vicinity of Jamia Nagar is considered as the ‘Epicenter’ as far as launching  protests against the CAA–NRC and NPR is concerned.

However, my aim is not to undermine the protests which are ongoing elsewhere, but duo to space constraints, I will discuss the Jamia and Shaheen Bagh protests as said earlier solely because both are going on within the distance of not more than 2 kilometers. It is crucial to remind us that after 7.30 PM in the evening, almost every-day Jamia’s Teachers, Students, Staffs(which often joined by the DU, JNU students, teachers and active members of civil society) along with local communities of adjacent areas organize candle march  peacefully to extend solidarity and get synergy from each other. The uniqueness of both protests is that kids (who are hardly 10 years younger) also join along with their mothers and raising the slogans like ‘save constitution’, ‘save India’, ‘save Secular India’ and say ‘no to the CAA-NRC-NPR’ and ‘we want ‘justice’ and ‘Aazadi from hunger, unemployment, poverty, and fear’ etc. However, methods and tactics used by both protests are similar.  For instance, both protests are based on Gandhian mode of struggle such as non-violent, Ahimsa, secular and inclusive in nature. However, Shahhen Bagh protest is more vibrant because it encompasses women, young girls, children, the local masses and Dalits. These protests are also supported by the left and progressive forces, students of JMI.JNU, DU and other universities. Contrary to the RSS –BJP combine, on the basis of close observations and interaction with all shades of political and social thanking, I would strongly emphasis that ongoing protest at both places like JMI and Shaheen Bagh are deep down democratic and peaceful in its orientations. Having stated briefly about the mode of protests at both sites,  let me come to discuss the range of programme and cultural activities which take place every-day basis at the protests sites.

    After passing the anti-democratic and unconstitutional the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019) by the Indian Parliament on 12th December; it has triggered massive social unrest at the nation-wide. As a result, students, followed by Left and secular civil society groups have started opposing the said Act  simply because it violates the basic and fundamental values of our secular and democratic Constitution which is based on principles like multiculturalism, pluralism, and diversity. It is pertinent to note that issues and problems which led to massive protest might be different across the world as hinted above. But one thing is common that the current phase of protests are leaderless and not dominated by one political ideology and opposition parties, for instance, Right or Left or even Centre outfits across the world. The ongoing protest against the CAA-NRC and NPR in our country is also witnessed this fact too. After observing closely the ongoing protest at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh, I would like to say with a bit of confidence that (barring the Right-wing and BJP-RSS combine), besides the young generation of students of JMI, JNU, DU, BHU, AMU, the progressive forces like Left, Ambedkarites, Sikhs and secular-minded people across the shades of political and social thinking are continuously extending their solidarity rather than anyone single-handedly controlling and guiding the protests.

Country to the Right-wing allegations,(even recently PM has commented that he can understand who is behind the protest by looking at their clothes) after study and analyzing closely the events and programmes like public meetings, slogans, streets plays, display of posters/ banners,  reading for revolution ( to note that Jamia’s Library and reading rooms are closed since police brutality and vandalism took place inside the library and reading room), photos at protests sites, I have no hesitation to say that movement against the CAA-NRC-NPR (both places such as Shaheen Bagh and Jamia) are inclusive, non-violent and very educative in terms of not only awareness on the said issues but also deeply informative and secular in its orientations. Because of the slogans which have been written at several places like on the Jamia and Shaheen Bagh’s walls, and displayed on placards indicate that nature and forms of protests are full with the slogans of Gandhi, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ramprasd Bismil, Asfaquallah Khan, Nehru and other progressive poets and writers who were associated with progressive writers movement and played a vital role during the anti-colonial struggle. In short, the language and mode of protests at both places are based on the constitutional values, plural and secular legacy of our freedom struggle rather than based on sectarian and illiberal values as often alleged by a section of communal forces.  It is unfortunate that soft –Hindutva leader like Shahi Tharoor, the author of ‘why I am a Hindu’ has also commented that the Hindu Right-wing cannot be defeated by Muslims extremists forces. Recently he expressed his view on social media that present ongoing protests are not secularized enough because the protesters are using the non-secular slogans such as Allah-o Akbar, La_ illaha ilallah and Insha-allaha etc. For the so-called secularist like Tharoor, if senior Congress leader like Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders who had visited temples several times are not found objectionable but if Muslims are raising religious oriented slogans is matter of great concern for him.  However, I am not defending those forces within the community who raised such religious slogans. For me, in doing so, these democratic and peaceful protests will lose its potential and become easy target of the communal forces. On the basis of my regular visit at the protest sites both at Saheen Bagh and Jamia, I have not seen any one who is raising Islamic slogans. While addressing the protesters, even Ulama (Islamic scholars) who have spoken at the Shaheen Bagh in the Constitutional and secular languages. For instance, a well-known Maulana Janab Sajjad Nomani saheb(who is also associated with the BAMCEF and Muslim Personal Law Board) gave his talk in very democratic and secular manner.

The BJP-RSS combine continue to assert that ongoing protests at the nation-wide are conspired and misguided by the anti-nationals, urban Naxals, anarchists, illiberal and Islamists to spread the confusion about the CAA- NRC.  For the BJP, this Act and exercise of the NRC-NPR is not anti-constitutional and discriminates anyone including the minorities on the grounds of religion. For them, through this Act the government is widening the concept of citizenship by including groups such as Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians who are the victim of religious persecutions in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. However, for the BJP-RSS combine, anti-nationals, frustrated groups like Tukde, Tukde, Gangs, urban Naxals and Jihadists are involved in these protests and manufacturing social unrest, fuelling chaos, confusion, and disorder amongst innocent masses. To be honest here, as a regular visitor of the protests sites at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh, I have no hesitation to say that contrary to the Right-wing allegations, both protests are deeply democratic and secular in nature and continuously going on without the support of opposition parties and there is no one group who are controlling and giving the political direction to agitated masses.

Till the date, the diverse social background of people is regularly visiting the protests sites and theorizing the mode of protest from their own political vantage point. For some, protests are still at the nascent stage; hence it will be too early to predict which political direction it will move in the time to come. For a section of Left minded activists and scholars, the protest (mainly at the Shaheen Bagh) has the potential and content of the working-class movement. Others see it is issue base protests simply because, if the unconstitutional Act like the CAA and exercise of the NRC-NPR will be withdrawn by the government, protests will cease to exist. What will be the future direction of protests, it is difficult to predict now because the ruling government is still adamant and indicated that the CAA has been passed by the Parliament and the government is fully committed to implement it in the time to come. The Indian Judiciary still has not taken this matter seriously, however, it is reported that it will take cognizance within this month. Given the intensity of wrath of protestors, let us hope some positive verdict from the Supreme Court.

After closely observing the ongoing protests which have completed 35 days at Shaheen Bagh and Jamia, it appears that day by-day people at large are joining the protests because it is energizing and educating the masses in which women, youths , students and kids  including the old age people are leading the protests. The social base of protests is widening and deepening every-day, because of new social forces like Dalits, Sikhs and other marginalized communities are also extending their social solidarity. The ongoing protests have not been captured by single ideological force. These are the leaderless protests as happing elsewhere in the world. The current ongoing protests are widening every-day and evolving its own distinctive political and cultural slogans accordance with the norms of our secular Constitution and in the light of progressive legacy of freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi. It is vital to note that Jamia Millia Islamia is a product of Non-cooperation and Khilafat movements and their stalwarts like Zakir Husain, Maulana Jauhar saheb, Hakim Ajmal khan and Mohammad Mujeeb saheb and several others had fought anti-colonial struggle with other nationalist leaders shoulder to shoulder. After observing the protest at Jamia keenly, it would be not erroneous to say that students of Jamia are presently reviving the rich legacy of  Jamia’s based on values like secularism, composite culture along with its role  against the Colonial rule in the current political scenario while launching a protest against the CAA-NRC-NPR and by raising the slogans like Humare logo  goro se lade hain  ab hum  chore se ladenge (our forefathers had fought with the British rule now we will fight against the present political thieves).

To be optimistic here in the dark age, (no doubt we are living in the age of darkness  ever since  Modi has became PM of our country as pointed by the noted Marxist historian and Prof. D.N Jha), only  through sustain and non-violent mode of protests launched by the masses (as our Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi had done during the anti-colonial struggle and finally we got freedom) themselves can put pressure on the existing ruling dispensation to review the anti-constitutional and draconian law like CAA. Besides, unnecessary and much expensive exercise of the NPR-NRC (mainly at the time when our economy is passing through the most critical phase and rate of unemployment is the highest in comparison to the last 45 years) is not worthwhile exercise, keeping the larger material needs of subaltern masses. Hence, the government must roll it back the CAA and stop exercising the NPR-NRC. Instead of doing this irrelevant and anti-constitutional step, present government should think of people’s welfare and address the material deprivations of underprivileged classes by preparing progressive and affirmative actions like the Unemployment National Register (UNR) as suggested by political and social activist Yogendra Yadav.

The author is research scholar University of Delhi




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