A bandh has been called by Prakash Ambedkar to protest against CAA and NRC in Maharashtra. We don’t know how much this bandh is going to be supported, but ever since the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, one is witnessing protests across the length and breadth of the country. And post the events at Jamia Millia, the agitation has only intensified and has come to involve the student community in large numbers. How does one explain this spurt in the protest?
Five factors need to be budgeted into any analysis of recent developments. The protests have resulted in thousands of arrests and 27 deaths as of 27 December 2019. Two 17-year old minors were among those reported to have been killed due to police firing live ammunition on protesters in Assam. On 19 December, the police issued a complete ban on protests in several parts of India. As a result of defying the ban, thousands of protesters were detained. So far, at least eight states have announced that they will not implement the Act or the National Register of Citizens (NRC). While one state and two union territories have refused to implement the CAA, three other states have only declined the implementation of the NRC. However, the Union Home Ministry said that states lack the legal power to stop the implementation of Citizenship Amendment Act.
The Citizenship Amendment Act protests are a series of ongoing protests in India which was enacted into law on 12 December 2019 and against proposals to enact a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC). The protests that began in Assam slowly spread to Delhi, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura on 4 December 2019. In a few days, the protests spread across India though the concerns of the protesters vary. The Amendment benefits Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Christian and Parsi refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who sought refuge in India before 2015; the Amendment leaves out Muslims and others from these countries as well as refugee Sri Lankan Tamils in India, Rohingyas from Myanmar and Buddhist refugees from Tibet. The proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be an official record of all legal citizens of India where individuals would have to provide a prescribed set of documents issued before a specified cutoff date for inclusion in the register. The exercise of the NRC has already been carried out in the state of Assam. Those who fail to qualify for the NRC will be able to avail the benefits of the CAA if they claim to be religious minorities fleeing persecution from the listed countries.
Protesters throughout India see the new law as discriminating against Muslims and as unconstitutional. They are demanding the amendment to be scrapped and the NRC to be not implemented nationwide. They are concerned about Muslim citizens of India that they will be rendered stateless and put into detention camps by the proposed nationwide NRC in combination with the CAA. They are also concerned that all citizens will be affected by the bureaucratic exercise of the NRC where they will have to prove their citizenship for inclusion in the registry. The protesters have raised voices against authoritarianism, the police crackdown in other universities and suppression of protests.
The CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) have evoked much stronger reactions than the decision on revoking Article 370 or the Supreme Court verdict on the Ram temple-Babri Masjid dispute. The CAA and NRC touch a much wider segment of society. While in many parts of the country, the debate is on whether the basis of citizenship is religion, in the North-East it is being looked at from the insider-outsider lens. In the North-East, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces challenges from both its allies and among segments from within the party. Meanwhile, when the Citizenship Bill was being debated in the two Houses, the Prime Minister was not present. It was left to the home minister to defend the stand of the government in both Houses. The equating of partition with religion could well have been a tactical error. The debate in the two Houses heightened tensions and could have well caused the unrest. The involvement of the youth in the agitations got heightened after the developments in Jamia Millia University. Police action always invites a reaction. Finally, from the protests one notices on the street may not necessarily be led or inspired only by the parties opposed to the ruling coalition. Those who have been bitter critics of the Congress and the Left have been part of the agitation especially in the North-East and in premier state-funded research institutions. One would be underestimating the intensity of the protests by laying it at the door of select political forces.
NRC (National Register of Citizens) was an exercise solely for Assam to identify indigenous people and those who would have proof of entry into the state/country latest by midnight of 24th of March, 1971. The state of Assam decided to increase the ambit of relevance to people who for all intents and purposes were believed to be localized enough if they had voted in an election or two or could prove positively a direct descendant connection with somebody who had passed the 1951 NRC test. CAB and NRC prove to be disasters like Demonetisation, this time, the supporters can dump all the blame on rulers of India. This government blamed Nehru for failing to integrate Kashmir with the rest of India – now the supporters of Nehru can blame this government for doing exactly the same with the North Eastern states of India with the Inner Line Permits. At the end of the day, all of this friction is happening just to grab political power in the state of West Bengal. Where most saw a defeat of all purposes, a few special ones saw an opportunity. Thus was brought in the Citizen Amendment Bill 2019, an old tool, with a renewed purpose primarily to ensure that all the Hindus identified as Aliens by the process of NRC in Assam get Indian Citizenship. Now you know the actual reason why CAB welcomes Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, Sikhs, Christians into the Indian fold but does not mention the Muslims. The next move on this political chess board is the ‘promise’ of holding a nationwide NRC. Please do not get excited, it won’t be executed in real – it is just a long carrot to stir the political pot in West Bengal.
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