Tumult in India

Updated December 21, 2019

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OVER the past week, Hindutva backed by the brute force of the state has bared its fangs in India.

Hundreds have taken to the streets to protest the BJP-led government’s ill-planned moves of passing the Citizenship Amendment Act — which allows only non-Muslim refugees from some of India’s neighbouring states to apply for citizenship — and the introduction of the National Register of Citizens, widely seen as a fig leaf for stripping Indian Muslims of citizenship.

Clearly, there is an Islamophobic agenda behind these diabolical moves by the Modi clique, which is why India’s Muslims as well as conscientious citizens from other communities are protesting. Violence continued on Friday; at least 13 people have been killed in various cities so far, while hundreds have been temporarily detained as the state tries to put a lid on the protests. Curfew has also been enforced in certain areas, while the internet has been shut down in many cities.

While the Sangh Parivar was largely shunned in the post-independence era, because M.K. Gandhi’s assassin was an ideological child of the RSS, in today’s India, the storm troopers of Hindutva control the levers of state.

It is no surprise then that ever since coming to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to remake India in the image of the Sangh — a Hindu rashtra to be built on the model of a fabled Vedic golden age.

In this programme, there is no place for minorities, specifically India’s Muslims, hence the legal efforts to disenfranchise the community.

However, though the Sangh ideologues are trying their best to label Indian Muslims as ‘outsiders’, history points to another reality. Islam has existed in the subcontinent for over a millennium, while Muslims have been living in what is now India for centuries. That should remove any lingering doubts about the right of India’s Muslims to citizenship of that country. No bigoted law can be allowed to deprive them of their identity and dispossess them from the land of their ancestors.

As India drops the facade of a secular democracy and champions the politics of hyper-nationalism, the international community needs to speak up.

Under the Modi regime, Muslims have been lynched by vigilante mobs on suspicions of consuming or transporting beef and the world has kept silent. Under the BJP dispensation, India-held Kashmir has been under lockdown for months and its people held prisoner, but the world has looked away.

Now, as New Delhi lights the fires of communalism by disenfranchising millions of Muslim citizens, will the international community still keep silent?

Moreover, questions of identity and citizenship are best left to academics to discuss.

If zealots — guided by imagined histories — are put in charge of such sensitive matters, and worse, given the legal powers to decide who is and who is not a citizen, disaster is sure to ensue.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2019