The BJP government under the leadership of Narendra Modi, in its second term, has taken a number of steps in quick succession affecting the Muslims: abrogation of Triple Talaq, alteration in the status of Kashmir, and then the National Citizens’ Registry (NCR) and Citizens Amendment Act (CAA). The Supreme Court judgement on a long-pending Ayodhya Masjid case fell in between and that is also taken as an anti-Muslim event.
The following are the comments I made in response to a letter drafted on behalf of the Gandhi Peace Festival Committee here in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada) that is under consideration to be sent to the Prime Minister. In politics and history, things are always fluid and anything can happen tomorrow.
On violence following the passage of the bills: Latest reports indicate conditions aren’t deteriorating. Violent protests were limited, confined and under control. Initially, the peaceful protests turned into violent clashes with police in certain areas and educational institutions where Muslims had an overwhelming presence. At Jamia Milia Univ campus from where the chain of violence started, a peaceful student protest was overtaken by outsiders, arsonists and political forces opposed to the Prime Minister and his party, the BJP.
In India, like many parts of the world, police, if attacked, are infamous for using disproportionate force. That’s why Gandhi’s peaceful method of protest is always recommended.
The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, whose government had pioneered the bills in question, will hardly pay attention to this letter proposed to be sent by the Hamilton Gandhi Peace Festival Committee. From many reports, he enjoys popularity among Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI).
A community effort at dissemination of information and self-education among Indians settled here and other parts of the world will be the first useful step.
On the National Citizenship Register (NCR) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA):
The NCR and the CAA have two different purposes. The NCR is intended at collecting information on undocumented people who have settled in the states, particularly Assam, bordering Bangladesh. This is an attempt to find solutions to the problem of illegal immigration that has been lingering on for years. Rajiv Gandhi was the first Congress Party Prime Minister in the 1980’s who began to handle this problem. The implementation of the NCR legislation is currently under the supervision of the Supreme Court of India and is restricted to the state of Assam only. Fears are being expressed for its possible India-wide application. The government has given mixed signals.
The CAA facilitates the path to citizenship of India to the members of the religious minorities of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It does exclude the Muslims under the assumption (not stated in words) that the Muslims, being the religious majority, in the three countries wouldn’t have to seek refuge in a different country, but if they have to, they can be relocated to any of the 50 Muslim-majority or 45 declared “Islamic” countries in the world.
The CAA doesn’t shut down entirely the possibility of Muslims from the three countries becoming refugees in India. Their cases may be considered separately on individual merits and exceptions could be made under different provisions.
Being a Hindu-first party elected for the second time with improved majority in 2019, the BJP fears the demographic composition of India would change if unregulated transfer of population continued into India from neighboring Islamic countries. It claims it has electoral mandate to do so.
The GPF has an obligation to spread the message that the crisis of refugees and population transfer is a humanitarian crisis caused mainly by poverty, climate change, internal conflict, scarcity of resources and corrupt political/administrative systems. The crisis is made worse by the neighboring countries who brandish the Islamist theology.
The Hindus of India, who constitute 80% of its 1.3 billion population, can easily be provoked into having a seize mentality against the Islamists by a pro-Hindu political party for electoral gains. Other political parties could also play the communal card.
The Gandhian approach is to help generate goodwill and trust in a country which is doing great with its 20% minority population (of which 200 millions are Muslims).
Role of Gandhian Institutions in Times of Turmoil
On exclusion of Muslims in the CAA being a violation of the Indian constitution: Like in the USA or Canada, the right to equality or constitutional protection is guaranteed only to the citizens of the country. In India too, non-citizens cannot claim the protection of the Indian constitution. In any event, the CAA is before the Supreme Court of India for a judicial review.
On the anxiety among the Indian Muslims to prove their nationality and detention centers: As immigrants to another country, all of us know we have to produce certain documents to gain a status. That’s not new. Harassment of genuine people in the matters of processing applications by the corrupt government agencies is quite possible in any part of India. That’s where the government has to be kept on its toes by the civil societies and citizens’ watch groups aided by the Gandhian institutions.
According to the reports, the detention centers were constructed and used first during the prime ministership of Rajiv Gandhi in the mid 80’s. In the following decades, new additions have been made by the successive governments to meet the needs. The detention center matter appears to have been hyped up and sensationalized as if they were along the lines of Guantanamo prison. This is a non-issue.
On the question of all India NCR: True, there’s confusion because of absence of clarity and the government has been advised to communicate better. Perhaps, the application of the NCR nation-wide could mean an immigrant, in violation of laws, could be apprehended in any other part of India as well. It can be said in defense of the government, however, that there’s no grand plan to drive all the Muslims out of India or take away their rights, as rumored by forces politically opposed to the BJP.
The Gandhian organizations must take an active part in clearing up the confusion and assist those who need help. In any conflict situation, bridge-building and reconciliation become the supreme task that only peace groups can do.
On alleged violence by the supporters of the ruling BJP directed towards minorities, the role of media and the police: In a highly regionalized country like India sub-divided along caste and religion, the minorities are always subject to intimidation and violence perpetrated by the local majority depending on the demographic composition.
Many purely criminal acts are given the caste or communal shape. The situation becomes worse, when they get the patronage of the leading political parties. Unfortunately, every political party in India engages in political manipulation of a criminal act. Violence and intimidation everywhere, in any shape and form, are condemnable. Since the law enforcing agencies have to maintain order, certain measures, which appear to be extreme, have to be taken. In the recent flare ups, the governments have shown remarkable efficiency in controlling the situation. There are many stories of young Hindu and Muslim police officers doing an excellent job.
On the priority of the Indian government: The ruling elites all over the world do create conditions to divert attention of the people from pressing economic and other issues. Unfortunately, the Indian subcontinent is not an exception. Despite many challenges, however, India is a thriving democracy where members of all communities follow the principle of ‘Live and let live’ and many powerful political leaders and parties have been roundly defeated by the people’s vote. Also, proud Indians are sensitive about what the outside world, including the Diaspora, ‘lecture’ them to do.
There’s enough scope for Peace Groups like ours to work at the grassroots level in India for its health, environmental, social, educational and economic emancipation.
These comments are purely intended to be in the spirit of trying to exchange our views where we may have honest agreements or disagreements.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.