Unravelling The Fascism In India
The nation has been rocked to its core by protests surrounding the much talked about and sparsely understood Citizen Amendment Bill (Act), or the CAA and the yet to be implemented National Register of Citizens (NRC). Both of these have long been in the manifesto and the agenda of the ruling party BJP, currently in its second tenure.
As India wades through the second week of the ongoing protests, the country has never been more divided on an issue before in recent memory. The rendering of Article 370 inoperative by The Honourable President of India, acting like a marionette was obviously a topic of contention, but the debate surrounding it died out quickly following complete alienation of the state (now Union Territory) from the country by shutting down all mobile data services, an unprecedentedly elongated ban which is yet to be lifted, aided by strict curfews and a total lockdown by the police. However, during a time of severe crisis (to which we’ll get to in a bit), Amit Shah and co. made passing of this Bill from the Lok Sabha to the desk of Mr. Ram Nath Kovind in the span of a mere 3 days with the swiftness and urgency that would put the gun swinging, vigilante cops of Telangana to shame (an act I would condemn as cowardly and inglorious, but that’s a topic for another day).
So what is The Citizenship (Amendment) Act? Well, even though a number of people reading this would already be rather well-informed, but in order to discuss the issue at hand here, I feel the need to go through this one last time. The Act offers an expedited process to gain Indian citizenship to the religiously persecuted minorities from three countries, namely Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, ie. our neighbouring states which primarily identify themselves as Islamic majority nations. So when it boils down to practicality, immigrants who had entered India without valid travel documents before 31st December, 2014 and had been living in India for the last five years, are to be exempted from the Foreigners Act of 1946 and granted Indian citizenship, given they are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from the aforementioned three countries. However, for all the Muslims, the rules remain the same. For them, the naturalisation process stays for 11 years, only after which they can apply for a citizenship, unless they are already detained on the grounds of illegally entering the country. So as it stands, this Bill is stated to add more than 31,000 immigrants to the population of India immediately, of which 81% are supposed to be Hindus.
So, if we get down to the very fundamentals, Article 14 guarantees “equality to all persons, including citizens, corporations and foreigners”, which the Act seems to be violating. However, upon close examination, Article 14 is bifurcated into two concepts, ‘equality before law’ and ‘equal protection of laws’. While the former ensures no special privileges to any individuals, it is the latter which may prove to be of tumultuous consequences, because in several past cases, the Supreme Court has used this clause to uphold decisions where it clearly legitimises the state to make rules which may benefit a certain class of individuals, which could likely apply to illegal immigrants in this case. So while the Supreme Court is certainly going to be be called upon checking the Constitutional validity of the Bill, its loyalty to the Constitution and preserving human rights is severely going to be tested.
However, another spanner thrown in the works is the famed NRC, or the National Register of Citizens of India, which HM Amit Shah has repeatedly said will be surely implemented after the CAA. Interestingly, PM Narendra Modi disputed those claims when he remarked that ‘an NRC for India was never on the table since his government took over office’. But in a scenario where a nationwide NRC is implemented, the number of people who might be scrambling to prove their Indianness is mind boggling, given 1.9 million Indians have been left out of the NRC, in Assam alone. The grave problem which arises is that of all the people who are going to be left out, it is the Muslim community who will bear the brunt because of them being left out of the Citizen Amendment Act, whereas a person belonging to basically any other religion will find it relatively easy to navigate his way around this overly complicated double whammy of NRC and CAA.
The biggest argument of pro-CAA and pro-NRC loyalists is, “How is this affecting Indians? Dastawez nahi hai tumhare paas dikhane ko? Agar hai to darr kis baat ka?” (Don’t you have documents to show? If yes, then why are you scared?) This brings us to the first issue at hand, are we supposed to care for only ourselves? Is this the foundation our so-called ‘civilised’ society is built on? Because procuring these dastawez is going to be an extremely harsh and exhausting predicament, not only for all those people living below poverty, but pretty much for any class of citizens who have been estranged from their family, or displaced from their place of origin without the proper documents.
But what was the need to implement the CAA and the NRC, you ask? “India needs to be cleansed of any illegal Muslim immigrants who are feeding off our country.” Well, first that sounds an awful lot like you hail from the Third Reich, and secondly the estimated cost to implement a nationwide NRC is 336,000 crore rupees; and the Act is only going to add more people to the already soaring population, but since those people belong to religions of your choice, so I guess that deems it alright? As far as deciding the legality of these immigrants goes, currently in Assam, the court can only hear up to four cases a day, and although tribunals are being set up to fast track these cases, the whole procedure is still going to cost a lot of time, and even more money. “But don’t the refugees need a shelter and deserve equal rights?” Yes, they do. But what you can’t see is how conveniently the government has decided to turn a blind eye to the estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar, who have been labeled by UN as ‘one of the most persecuted minorities in the world’. The Indian states neighbouring Myanmar have been shrewdly left out of the CAA, stating the importance to sustain their tribal cultural identity. Withal, the Hindu nationalist government, which considers these refugees a threat to the national security has deported them back to Myanmar, where their own country’s government has been carrying out a systematic genocide against them. Or what about the Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka, who were also adjudged not important enough to cover under the Bill?
The only visible answers to this question, are: First, the obvious vote bank politics any party in India is culpable of participating in. By allowing immigrants of certain religions to apply for citizenship, BJP is surely locking up the votes, as well as pandering to the arduous followers who laud the party for doing same. For instance in Assam, of the 1.9 million people left out in the SC-controlled NRC, more than 500,000 were Bengali Hindus living in the Brahmaputra valley. Now that the Act is in effect, all the bearings are in place for the proceedings against them to be discontinued. In fact, the only proceedings still to be continued will be against the Muslims. Incorporating the Bengali Hindus in Assam gives BJP a clear edge in the next elections. A similar scenario is to be seen in West Bengal where the Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, mostly belonging to the Matua community helped BJP secure 9–10 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. With NRC and CAA in place, the electoral base for them is only going to increase.
The second reason is a bit sceptical, for it forces you to look past the apparent and delve deep into the nefarious nature of games in play here. About 18.6 million Indians are currently jobless, 393.7 million work in poor quality jobs, the economy is dwindling and facing severe liquidity shortage and the GDP is the lowest it’s been since 2012. Surprisingly, none of these have been unexpected. Experts and analysts have been raising questions since the last quarter. What better way to quell those voices and deflect the attention from these more pressing issues?
Even amidst all this, there are a plethora of people who are subservient to what is taking place within this nation. And hence lies our biggest problem, the worst kind India may have to face in this decade, nay, this century. And the problem is, that India is plagued by neo-Nazis. Hear me out before dismissing me as another cynic: Do you think prior to 1935, when the Nuremberg Laws, including the Reich Citizenship Law (which is eerily similar to the Citizenship Amendment Act) were passed, Germany was devoid of any such ideologists? The answer is no, but the ascent of Hitler to power provided them with a voice and an exoneration to speak out against the Jews. And then comes the second kind, the helpless, the conformist, who banally follow orders, without heeding to the heinous evils they are committing, or at least being a silent supporter to. And sadly, India has no lacking of both these groups of people. The so-called mature people (or, boomers as per the internet slang) are absolutely giving in to the malpractices of the government. And not only them, the tragic part is the informed, educated youth of the country have also allowed themselves to be brainwashed by Modi and Shah’s rhetoric. And just like the support of the youth was a key factor in Hitler’s dominance, the same might just prove to be this country’s undoing.
So, what are we supposed to do in a time when the state is more concerned with building detention centres than it is with housing the poor? Narendra Modi may as well try to deceive the masses in his speeches by saying no Indians are being sent to these centres (rather, he straight up said there are NO detention centres in the country, when there are six in Assam), the truth is they are being used to detain people since May. Yet the masses stay mum, the free media is regulated and those who dare to protest are locked up, or worse, injured or killed. In times like these, the least we can do to save this nation’s soul is cultivate a sense of fellowship amongst the people (especially the youth) and stand strong against the oppressors, in the most non-violent and peaceful way as possible. The world has started taking notice, and the only way to beat this government’s divisive designs is by making our voice heard. Since December 2018, the NDA has lost five State Assembly elections, and if the country wakes up to see the truth with its own eyes, come 2024 and the fascists will lose their central stronghold as well. But till then, we need to survive against the government’s inharmonious policies.
I’m aware of the bleak portrait I’m painting; in the end, everything may turn out to be alright. However, history points differently, and thus it is in India’s best interest that we altogether avoid going down a path which cries inhumane and has led to subsequent destruction.