The On-going Struggle Over India’s 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act

Nikhil Sangroula

The South Asian Society and the Peace and Conflict Studies Club organized an open discussion on  Citizenship, Religion, Resistance in Postcolonial South Asia, on February 16, 2020. The panelists for the discussion were Father Robin Seelan from Loyola College, Kartikeya Uniyal from Georgetown University in Qatar, and Dr. Lipika Kamra from O.P. Jindal University, who joined virtually through zoom.

The discussion centered on the current protests happening in many cities of India against the draconian citizenship bills proposed by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government. Modi, who got re-elected with an overwhelming majority vote in May 2019 for his second tenure as Prime Minister is infamous for his harsh policies towards Muslims. In December 2019, Modi’s government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which fueled grassroots protests in India. The discussion revolved around these historic protests that India is seeing for the first time after its Independence in 1947, and the participation of women and youth in mass protests.

 

Major events of 2019

Father Robin introduced the topic by highlighting three major events of 2019 that led to the current protests in India: the abrogation of Article 370 in August which revoked Kashmir’s special status, mass detention centers being built in Assam for illegal immigrants excluded from the National Register of Citizenship (NRC), and the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Babri Masjid issue of 1992 which favored Hindus. 

He asserted that all these events led to the government’s intention of spreading Hindutva ideology. CAA, which grants citizenship for all the minorities except Muslims of neighboring countries Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, is against Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which states no discrimination based on religion. 

 

Women’s participation

Dr. Lipika Kamra, who is monitoring protests closely in Delhi, talked about the overwhelmingly large number of women leading the protest in Shaheen Bagh, Delhi. In fact, the protest, which is mostly led by Muslim women, has been compared to the Tahrir square protest in Egypt during the Arab Spring. 

Modi, who had shown himself as the savior of women by outlawing the Muslim Triple Talaq bill, was baffled to see ordinary women out in the street protesting against his government. This form of mass movement is new in India, especially as people from every strata and age have been protesting since last December. 

Karma points out that not only women but students’ participation in the protests is also high, with students mostly from minority backgrounds. She sees this as the beginning of the social revolution by women and students against this wider issue of citizenship.

 

Protest participation

Kartikeya Uniyal, who symbolically wore a “Waah Modi Ji Waah’’ printed T-shirt (a sarcastic heil to Modi-urban dictionary), shared his experience as participant-observer of the student protests in Delhi. In the past months, multiple incidents of police brutality had occurred inside the premises of public universities like Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University. 

He was bitter in describing the suffering of innocent students who were beaten up by the Police and ABVP (student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party – BJP) for protesting against the CAA and NRC. He claimed that the recent noisy state election of Delhi which re-elected the Aam Aadmi Party with the overwhelming majority over the Bharatiya Janata Party is the citizens’ rejection of the proposed bills.

 

Regional issues

This bill, which has divided the nation internally, can be harmful to South Asian regional politics as it could stir up the issues in India’s relation with other countries. Kamra, who is a scholar in the field of digital politics and democratic practices, highlighted how the Indian narrative of Pakistan as the enemy has been mostly spread through Whatsapp. The panelists feared that rising Islamophobia in India will worsen the passive unity within South Asia.