Demonstrators take part in a musical concert to protest against Citizen Amendment Act (CAB) in Guhawati on December 15, 2019. - Some 5,000 people took part in a fresh demonstration in Guwahati on December 15, with hundreds of police watching on as they sang, chanted and carried banners with the words "long live Assam". (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP) — AFP or licensors

Is secular India finally saying 'enough is enough'?

The anger of a new generation against divisive politics of a leader is not an ordinary protest — it’s a revolt.

Updated 08 Feb, 2020 11:02am

An image — sometimes more powerful than words — defines the mood and momentum of a nation in crisis. The pictures of a group of intrepid female students, defiantly standing up to aggressive policemen seen thrashing their male friend for being part of a demonstration in a viral video, have become a symbol of a resistance being witnessed in India over the past few weeks.

The acts of bravery demonstrated by the students of Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) not only scared the baton-wielding uniformed men but also sent a stern and clear message to the ruling party in Delhi: no matter how powerful you are, the will to resist is stronger than it has ever been before. In his chequered political career, Narendra Modi has never had to face this kind of contention and resistance.

Related: Meet the brave women of Jamia who rescued a fellow student from the clutches of Delhi police

Police brutalities on the students of Jamia and other universities have stirred campuses across India and the streets have been reverberating with protestors; India remains agitated and angry.

Institutionalising religious fault lines through the garb of citizenship

As unprecedented as the current resistance and protests are, for many they are a reminder of the 1970s when a nationwide uprising of students and common people took place against the imposition of a general emergency in the country.

While the protests from five decades ago were to save democracy, this time the agitation is to protect the very idea of India — an idea where all religions exist with a constitutional guarantee of equality and where there is no discrimination in the name of religion.

Yet, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) promises to grant religious groups — that includes Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and Jains — from the three neighbouring countries Indian citizenship. The act bars Muslims from the same privilege.

By defining and framing citizenship in terms of religion and excluding the Muslim community from the list of the persecuted minorities to be considered for citizenship in India, the Modi-led government is making a very blatant attempt to legalise and institutionalise religious fault lines by altering the very foundation of the Indian constitution and the fabric of its secular society.

Read: Violence flares at Delhi university as protests continue against Indian citizenship law

Not only this but with Delhi’s declared intent to bring in a National Register of Citizens (NRC) — an exercise to identify the genuine citizens of India — the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is making it more obvious that its political goal is to 'otherise' the Muslim community. Once the NRC rolls out, the only religious community who will not have any protection of law are Muslims. Other communities have the protection of the CAA to grant them an official status of citizenship.

It is this divisive design of the government that has upset India.

Responding to protests with state-sponsored violence

No doubt Muslims are on the streets everywhere in India, but so are people of other faiths who strongly feel that Modi is going too far in the pursuit of his divisive agenda.

Be it students, civil society members, academics or the common man — a sizable mass of India is standing together against what they call a discriminatory and exclusionary policy of the Indian regime. This secular opposition is upsetting the ruling dispensation and going against their political calculation of polarising people in the name of religion.

Explore: India's protesters: A cross-section of society

The BJP has been trying hard to discredit the campaign and make it Muslim-centric. Surpassing all democratic standards, the government has been very harsh on protesters — particularly in the BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Delhi.

In the national capital, the government imposed section 144, not allowing more than four people to gather at one place. Despite this, people have been gathering in large numbers and expressing their anger.

The worst violence has taken place in UP where various media reports are claiming protesters were targeted with harsh measures. At least 25 people have been killed in clashes with police since early December, out of which 22 deaths were from the Muslim community. A New York Times article documents mistreatment of Muslims and harsh tactics employed by the police and state officials to vandalise their homes.

The reports of violence by the law enforcement agency have exposed the mindset of a regime that not only wants to curb democratic dissent but also treat the largest minority of India as a pariah.

Is challenging the authoritarian regime of Modi enough?

The continuing protests have gathered speed with opposition ruled states announcing that they would not implement the NRC.

Additionally, allies of BJP are now saying that the CAA is discriminatory. Akali Dal, a Panjab based regional party and the oldest ally of the BJP, declared that excluding Muslims from the CAA is not a good decision. The vice president of the BJP in West Bengal Chandra Kumar Bose, who also happens to be the grandnephew of the celebrated freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose, said that if the CAA is not related to religion, then why does it exclude Muslims.

Meanwhile, the government itself has come out with a series of conflicting clarifications, muddying the water further. Modi says there is no cabinet decision to implement NRC. Home Minister Amit Shah claims that there is no link between CAA and the NRC, a claim which is not substantiated by his past utterances that the CAA is a precursor to the NRC.

In the midst of the ongoing protests and the government’s denial of implementing the NRC, Delhi announced that it is going to roll out a National Population Register (NPR) that would prepare a comprehensive demographic database of the country’s population. Shah says that this exercise has nothing to do with the future NRC and that the NPR is a continuation of the policy of the old Congress government.

However, the words of the sovereign government today are not inspiring trust among its citizens.

Questions are being asked that if the government’s intent is honest, then why is it not declaring in clear terms that there would be no NRC? Why is the government launching a counter-protest in support of the CAA and NRC?

This duplicity on the part of the ruling party is making people all the more anxious and further pushing them into revolt.

But is that enough to challenge the unbridled majoritarianism and authoritarian regime of Modi?

Read: 'Now we have woken up' — India's protests: why now?

In truth, the Modi brand of politics remains popular in large swathes of India. A sizable section of media continues to play second fiddle to the ruling party and act against the larger interests of democracy. The very fact that the government looks defensive demonstrates that the resistance has shaken BJP's confidence. But its hold on power remains as firm as before. It will, however, have to work extra hard to polarise the electorates and create a wider Hindu-Muslim divide in the time to come so that it can pave the way for its continued hold on power.

And despite the widespread crackdown by the ruling party, an all-India uprising is also not expected to abate soon.

The anger of the new generation against the divisive politics of a leader who promised the moon to them is not an ordinary protest; it’s a revolt against the powers in Delhi. It’s an uprising of secular India against a majoritarian state.

People are finally saying enough is enough.


Header image: Demonstrators take part in a musical concert to protest against the Citizen Amendment Act in Guhawati. — AFP

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Sanjay Kumar is a New Delhi based journalist covering South Asia. A keen observer of politics in India and the subcontinent, Kumar in his 15 years of journalistic career has worked with both national and international media. A news reporter, columnist, commentator, producer and blogger, Kumar does not confine himself to one particular genre in journalism.


The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (21) Closed

Arshad
Jan 03, 2020 04:24pm
Modi or BJP is not realizing the long term consequences of this divide. They are acting very naively but when you are living in a secular state then you protect all communities like a family. I am hoping this will be rectified quickly and any policies they will make in the future they will consider all the stakeholders. Modi/BJP has the power and it is not going to be like this forever.
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SATT
Jan 03, 2020 04:29pm
India has invaded by Hindutva.
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Ghani K
Jan 03, 2020 04:31pm
India has to make a choice - justice for all OR accept tyranny of the BJP majority in the parliament.
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Guru Bhagat
Jan 03, 2020 06:16pm
Nothing happened so far. India is and will remain secular. All wishful thinking has no base.
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M. Siddique
Jan 03, 2020 06:35pm
When was India a secular country? It was an hoax all along.
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Jyoti Chandnani
Jan 03, 2020 06:43pm
Very well written & unbiased in depth analysis of falling Indian regime.
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Observer
Jan 03, 2020 07:33pm
No. There is no threat to secularism. This was in BJP’s election manifesto. If this was a concern why did people vote for Modi? Opposition to CAA is politically motivated.
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Rustum
Jan 03, 2020 07:39pm
India’s secularism is just a white wash .
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Ahmad
Jan 03, 2020 07:40pm
India is fast turning into a fascist country unless the sane people rise up and force fascist out of power. Hope this is done soon or goodbye India into self destruction.
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Kk
Jan 03, 2020 08:16pm
We support NRC CAA
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JustSaying
Jan 03, 2020 09:30pm
Secularism is still Alive and Vibrant in India...
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Amar
Jan 03, 2020 10:04pm
We are always with Pm Modi.
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Chiranjeev
Jan 03, 2020 11:27pm
Did any Muslims migrate as refugees, due to the Citizenship bill?
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Fastrack
Jan 03, 2020 11:43pm
Very good piece. But will the Divider in Chief listen?
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venkat
Jan 04, 2020 12:01am
Yes enough is enough.
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Surya Kant
Jan 04, 2020 02:22am
This is real democracy
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Suresh Tekade
Jan 04, 2020 03:20am
India is secular, no more. Indian Constitution is mortally wounded.
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Chatterjee
Jan 04, 2020 09:39am
Yes, but its too late for enough is enough.
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Jay
Jan 04, 2020 10:07am
@JustSaying, Where in India?
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raj kumar
Jan 04, 2020 10:20am
No Modi or Amit Shah can change the secular nature of Indian constitution.Religion has no place in how state will be run. If both of them dont change track immediately we will see them in election.
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Sridhar Raghunatha Rao
Jan 04, 2020 12:49pm
Let me correct please. India will and shall remain secular. It is the vote bank politics that is now projecting a bad image
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