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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 6, New Delhi, January 25, 2020 - Republic Day Special

The Making of a Hindu Nation

Monday 27 January 2020

by Suranjita Ray

Thousands of men and women across the country have poured into the streets to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019. Despite assurances by the government that no Indian Muslim will lose citizenship, the new citizenship law is widely opposed by the large majority of people. We see increasing anxiety, insecurity and helplessness amongst the latter. Widespread fear and anger amongst the ordinary people, particularly the Muslims, was usual, but what the government had not foreseen was that the protests would cut across faiths, religion, ethnicity, language, age, gender, profession, ideology and region. Raising their voices against the discriminatory and divisive nature of the Act, the protesters decided to stand united to protect the Constitution and its values. As more and more people from several backgrounds have come together against the Act, the government’s usual strategy to blame the Opposition parties, ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘urban Naxals’ for instigating the protesters has become less convincing.

The student-led protests, the largest ever since the Emergency, have become a historic movement demanding the right to peaceful protest and dissent in a democratic country. The police brutality against protests by students in Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University led to nationwide mobilisation of students in solidarity to condemn the police violence and oppose the CAA. The fact-finding team which interacted with faculty members, students and other members of the administra-tion in Aligarh Muslim University stated that use of stun grenades, rubber bullets, teargas shells and lathicharge injured several students protesting peacefully. Alongside, religious slurs were used against the students. It is not just that the University administration and State authorities had failed in their duties to protect the campus and the residents against brutality by the police, but the latter were invited with weapons to the campus. The police had also barged into the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia and launched multiple rounds of teargas shells, stormed the library destroying furniture, beating up students and seriously injuring them and hurling communal slurs. Was there a need for the police to attack so brutally students protesting peacefully and even students who had little to do with the protest? On the other hand, no arrests have been made by the police who have been standing around when the masked goons armed with sticks and rods escaped from the JNU campus after vandalism and assaulting the students and teachers on January 5, 2020. These are uneasy questions bothering not just the students but also most common people of this country. The imposition of Section 144, clampdown of internet, blocking of social media, and police excesses across States to block/repress the protests on the pretext of preventing disorder reveal the power of a Police State. The measures taken by the police in the aftermath of the protests, particularly in the BJP-ruled States such as Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, was to frighten the local people. Most of the 19 people who died during the protests were attacked by the police. Thousands of people were arrested and detained. The local people stated that it was ‘the high-handedness of the police that led to the violence...the police was pursuing a vendetta against the protesters’. However, the brutality of the police failed to deter the people in large numbers from protesting. People across the country overcame their fears and helplessness to stand united against the discriminatory and divisive intent of the law. This reflects the strength of a democratic, secular and republican society, where people across diversities united against the authoritarian and divisive strategies of the state which is bent upon discriminating, marginalising, and alienating certain sections of society. It is critical to understand that the roots of the protests against the CAA are much deeper.

Hostility against the Muslims

Interpreting its electoral victory as a mandate consistent with its imaginary idea of a Hindu Rashtra/Nation, the ruling party has put into practice a series of policies and Acts that preserve the hierarchy and dominance of Hindu religion and its culture. Based on sheer prejudice, many such policies have repeatedly targeted the minorities in the recent past. The victims of mob lynching in the name of cow protection, anti-conversion law, increasing communal riots from Khairlanji to Una, mass atrocities and hate speeches, have been criminalised. Constant use of the communal axis to isolate, alienate and divide the people has resulted in marginalisation and exclusion of the large sections of society. The continuance of atrocities and repeated assault of minorities which have legitimised bigotry and hatred have alienated the Muslims, Dalits, and Tribal people.

The government has capitalised on the policies and campaigns to consolidate a pan-Hindu identity that has been built by creating hostility against the Muslims in particular, resulting in inter-communal alienation. Mis-constructing nationalism as majoritarianism has led to rising intolerance of nonconformity with Hindu cultural supremacy. The political denial of discrimination and exclusion of minorities has only compounded the injustice done by the conformists of caste hierarchy and religious fundamentalists. Alleging the nonconformists as anti-nationals has put the nation’s patriotic discourse of respecting multiple identities based on the fundamental principles of secularism, multiculturalism, and pluralism, under threat.

In listing the religious minorities/communities such as Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, and Buddhists fleeing religious persecution in Islamic-centred Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh (who had entered India before December 31, 2014) to be protected, the Muslims have been intentionally and explicitly kept out. Reading the CAA and proposed National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC/NRC) together, asserts that Muslims are the only illegal immigrants/refugees.The government’s selective protectionist approach which claims rescuing specific minorities and providing justice to the refugees to correct a historical wrong (Partition), reflects its vision of the New India as a land only for the Hindus. Making religion the sole criteria to provide citizenship has reopened the most fundamental debates on citizenship and the secular character of the state.

While the CAA-NRC added to the anger and agitation of people, mostly the minorities, the confrontation and contestation with the government endured due to several disturbing policies and developments by the present regime. Its strategy to use religion as a convenient currency of mobilisation against the minorities has seen exclusionary and obscurantist politics of denying Muslim ness any space in India’s democratic polity. The slogans to assimilate the language of Hindutva, Hindu religion and Hindu culture within patriotism has defended the institutionalisation of cow vigilantism, the beef ban, the ban of triple talaq, abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, and the verdict of the Supreme Court on Ayodhya. Therefore, the people of this country decided to dispute, dissent, and protest against the discriminatory and authoritarian state.

Failure to Reassure the Minorities

 

In the wake of the protests against the CAA in conjunction with the proposed NRC, the Prime Minister is making all possible arguments to convince the Muslims of this country that they have nothing to fear as the Indian Muslims are the ‘sons of the soil’.The increasing unrest across the country against religion being the sole criterion to provide citizenship compelled the Prime Minister who in his address at a rally on December 22 at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, stated that ‘there has been no discussion on NRC for India since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014’. This clarification contradicts the statement of the Home Minister in the Lok Sabha on December 9 that ‘the government is very clear that NRC will happen in this country’. The latter has repeatedly vowed that the NRC will be implemented across the country to identify and remove the ‘infiltrators’ from the country whom he termed as ‘termites’ in one of his election speeches. The Defence Minister and working President of the BJP have also made public statements about a pan-India exercise. The Law Minister has stated that ‘there is a possibility that the NRC may happen, but the legal process attached to it needs to be finalised’. While it was important to further explicate whether the existing Foreign Detention Centres that are used as temporary detention homes for foreign nationals staying illegally in India ahead of deportation can be linked to the proposed NRC, the Prime Minister’s statement that no such camps exist in India has only added to the distrust.

While the Home Minister declines that there is any link between National Population Register (NPR) and NRC, the Annual Report of the Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA) 2018-19, states that ‘the NPR is the first step towards implementation of NRC’. In the past, similar statements have been made in the Parliament. These contradictory statements have further added to the suspicion. Though the NPR was implemented in 2010 alongside the 2011 Census, under the present circumstances of distress and suspicion they have only aroused fear and doubts in the minds of the people. The addition of information to be provided in the NPR 2020 regarding place and date of birth of parents, place of last residence, voter identity, passport number, driving licence, Aadhaar, mobile phone number, Permanent Account Number, makes it not only very different from NPR 2010, but also more intervening and forceful. Given the context and text of the NPR 2020, implementing it will lead to more and more resentment and frustration amongst the minorities, mostly Muslims. The arguments by the government that ‘there has been no discrimination in providing basic rights to the minorities’ and that ‘NPR will not affect anyone’s Nationality and that even if somebody’s name is missing in it, his/her citizenship will not be threatened’, have all failed to build the trust. Being apprehensive about the intent of the Centre, a few states have suspended the NPR process.

The experiences of the NRC exercise in Assam in the recent past was painful leaving 19 lakh people who face the prospect of statelessness. While the non-Muslim migrants excluded under NRC will be included as citizens under CAA, the Muslims will continue to remain excluded. Replicating the same exercise on a national scale will not only single out the Muslims but will also force them to live as second class citizens. The Act will further change the political demography of the country where Hindus will remain the majority voters.The nationwide protests have compelled even the allies of BJP who had voted for the Act, to rule out the implementation of NRC in the respective states.Instead of understanding the fundamental objection/concern of the ongoing protests, the Centre argues that ‘all states have the constitutional duty to implement the laws made by the Parliament’. The BJP Government claims not to backtrack on CAA and has announced a door-to-door campaign and a signature campaign as part of its outreach programme on the Act to clarify its provisions which promise citizenship rights and rehabilitation to the refugees. Amidst the ongoing protests, the government notified the controversial legislation, making it effective from 10 January 2020. Accusing the opposition parties for misleading the people to secure their vote-banks, the Home Minister argued that the CAA is an ‘inclusive law that treats the persecuted brethren with respect’. The government’s explication that the Act is consistent with the constitutional morality and its secular values and preserves the secular tradition of providing shelter to the persecuted people on religious grounds thereby fulfilling the historical responsibility of ending uncertainties, is only imploring history partially.

Several BJP leaders have addressed public rallies to clarify that the CAA seeks to bestow citizenship rights on the minorities and not snatch away the rights of anybody’. Accusing those opposing the amended law of ‘playing political games and fuelling misconception among the youths’ the Prime Minister in his address on January 12, to a gathering of youth at Belur Math in West Bengal (on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda) argued that the Act ‘aimed at giving citizenship and not taking it away’. While the problem is not with the inclusion of those persecuted, but the exclusion of sections of Muslims, who are India’s largest minority, the irony is that the government tries to convince the Indian Muslims that ‘they have nothing to fear from conferring citizenship to the religious persecuted minorities which will provide the latter a dignified life as they will have to access the governments welfare schemes’.

The campaign popularised through the slogan sabka saath sabka vikas to build solidarity and togetherness and privilege dominance of cultural unity in the name of national security has failed to assure the large sections of society who feel excluded, alienated, and betrayed. Alongside the publicity of huge data that lists the recent welfare schemes which claim to have uplifted the living conditions of the minority communi-ties, has not been able to dissuade the protesters. Is it only the fear of losing the rights of being a citizen that has led to the ongoing agitation across the country? Can the govern-ment simply escape/bury the contesting questions and multiple voices raised by the minorities who battle every day to survive with dignity? Can the ruling party simply get away by accusing the Congress party, its allies, and the so called‘anti-nationalists’ and ‘urban naxals’ for spreading pernicious rumours/misinformation and misleading campaigns that has led to the countrywide massive unrest?

Need to Rethink beyond Campaigns

Given the agenda of making India a Hindu Nation which has seen increasing hate speeches and enough laws and policies that are prejudiced against the Muslims, and the legitimacy they have acquired, majority of the Indian Muslims feel insecure, helpless and vulnerable. The lack of trust, hope, and confidence amongst the Muslims have made them apprehensive, worried and concerned about their identity, dignity and future. Some very revealing studies of everyday living experiences of the Muslims in India confirm the collapse of everyday normality which is a big factor that contributes to the trust gap. If the government continues to be repressive and feed the distrust by increasingly creating a feeling of non-belongingness, it will have serious consequences that will be detri-mental to nation building.

Making religion a criterion of Indian citizen-ship consolidates the majoritarian idea of a Hindu Nation which is discriminatory and not only offends the Muslims but also the citizens of a secular, democratic and republican country. While it is not easy to define what exactly religious persecution is, and there is always a subjective understanding of it, in the larger context, the multiple forms of persecution based on language, culture, caste, race, region and politics (which have also been left out from the Act) have essential inter-face with religious persecution. Conversely, the official sources of MHA state that ‘there would be no need to prove that the applicant had faced religious persecution as a member of the minority community in the mentioned countries ...that would be deemed to be true’.

The idea of India cannot be isolated from the people’s lived experience. The CAA and NRC is the immediate reason for protest. But for many protesters, it was a cumulative protest against the relentless, inexorable and obstinate anti-Muslim agenda of the government since 2014. When the people of a particular caste, community, race, religion, language, customs, and culture continue to feel increasingly threatened, isolated, alienated, marginalized, oppressed, suppressed, excluded, and insecure in their everyday living,the democratic values enshrined in the constitution such as equality, freedom, justice, dignity and inclusiveness remain mere abstract ideas/campaigns and slogans.India can only build itself as a strong nation when the most ordinary/common citizen can take pride in being an Indian, develop a sense of belonging, when atrocities based on religion/race/caste/language/region do not become a feature of their everyday living and when the minorities do not experience insecurity and fear as normal. It is significant for the government to give up its majoritarian arrogance, rise above its political interest, and listen to the voices of people who uphold the values of the Indian Constitution.

Suranjita Ray teaches Political Science in Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi and can be contacted at: suranjitaray_66[at]yahoo.co.in

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