The discriminatory, exclusive and divisive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) put in place by the ruling dispensation appears to a blessing in disguise. It has generated spontaneous protests throughout India. The people of India can feel proud of the fact that the protests are mainly led by the young people and women.
Except in UP, Mangalore and Delhi the protests have been peaceful, adopting non-violent means. People belonging to different religions, castes, professions etc. are voluntarily taking part in the protests to reclaim the constitutional and civilizational values of India.
Feeling of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is being rekindled at the venues of the protests when the protesters read portions from Gita, Quran, Bible and Guru Granth Sahib along with the preamble of Indian Constitution. The national flag, national anthem and the Constitution of India have become the symbols of Protest and the divisive symbols are being replaced by uniting ones. The protesters and the speakers – those who encourage the protesters – talk about the constitutional values which are nothing but the values that have existed as part of our millennial heritage as Indians.
A speciality of the protest is abundant use of songs and poetry. People, particularly the youth, use their creativity to express protest and disagreement. Some of the famous songs/poems sung during the protests are legendary poet Faiz Ahamd Faiz’s 'Hum Dekhenge', Punit Sharma’s ‘Tum kon ho be’ and Varun Grover’s ‘Hum kagaz nahi dikhayenge’. The following is an excerpt from one of Kaushik Raj's poems that he performed:
I will stand in the dead centre of your detention camps and read out the Constitution.
Each and every word of it will challenge the very bricks of the camps
Like light challenges the dark…..
These bricks do not have the power to endure the Preamble,
Let alone the Constitution…
If I just shuffle through its pages, a heap of rubble is what will be left of your detention camps.
And I will stand tall on that heap and read out the Constitution…
The nationwide protest by people from all sections of the Indian society affirming and celebrating the core values of the Indian Constitution, especially Sarva dharma sambhav and Banduthva (brotherhood), is a rediscovering of the original vision of India and reasserting it. The constitution envisages India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, assuring its citizens justice, equality and liberty, and endeavours to promote fraternity. The vision of India, according to the constitution, is inclusive, equal and striving for a modern democratic society.
When we turn the pages of history we can find that religions, movements and organizations that started with noble values and principles not only deviated from the original vision but also become corrupted in course of time. India also deviated in the practice of the values of the Constitution during the last 70 years. When the Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly and came into force in 1950 there existed among the Indians a parallel vision of India, entirely different from the vision of the Constitution. Those who accepted this vision were a few in those days, but they had strong determination to replace the vision of the Indian Constitution with their narrow, exclusive and divisive vision. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was committed to promote this vision of India. In order to realize its vision the RSS in course of time formed about 100 organizations and infiltrated into all sections of the society, the governance system and all wings of the government. The RSS tried to capture political power through its political wing Bharatiya Jan Sangh which was rechristened as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) later.
The vision of RSS and BJP for India is Hindutva or establishing a Hindu Rashtra. Hindutva is an ideology seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindus, Hindu values and the Hindu way of life in the political arrangements of India. Hindutva believes in one race, one religion and one language. According to the ideologues of Hindutva, V D Savarkar and M S Golwalkar, the minorities (Muslims and Christians) have to either become Hindus or live in India as second class citizens without having rights or privileges, including citizenship right. Golwalkar justified caste system, terming it as a “great bond of social cohesion”.
RSS was vehemently opposed to the Indian Constitution. It wanted to adopt a constitution based on the Manusmriti that envisages a hierarchical and caste based patriarchal society in which the status of women and dalits is more or less like that of slaves. In 1949, while speaking about the Constitution, the Organizer, the RSS mouthpiece, stated, “But in our Constitution, there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.”
The failure of the secular parties, especially that of the Congress, to practice and promote the constitutional values and the rampant corruption that increased year by year provided ample opportunity to the RSS/BJP to expand its political footprint throughout India and capture political power in the States and finally at the Centre. During the last 70 years many deviations and distortions took place in the practice of the constitutional values. For example secularism is one of the core values of the Constitution of India. Article 25 of the Constitution clearly states, “ The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on the ground of religion only and that the State shall have no religion of its own and all persons shall be equally entitled to the freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion”. In other words, the State shall treat all religions equally.
Unfortunately, the State has become an advocate and promoter of the majority religion. Without amending the constitution the practice changed radically. Mira Nanda in her 2011 book, ‘The God Market’, states that India has become a Hindu state in practice. “ Aided by the new political economy, a new Hindu religiosity is getting ever more embedded in the everyday life, both in the public and private spheres. Use of explicitly Hindu rituals and symbols in the routine affairs of the state and electoral politics has become so commonplace that Hinduism has become the de facto religion of the ‘secular’ Indian state which is constitutionally bound to have no official religion.
Some politicians ridiculed the concept of secularism and nicknamed it as ‘pseudo secularism’. The concept came to be misinterpreted as “appeasement” of the Muslims. The BJP weaved its strategy to capture power by blatantly mixing religion with politics. The Ayodhya movement brought it to the political centre stage. The Muslims were demonized and marginalized. After the BJP came to power at the centre in 2014 the strategy of dividing the people of India on the basis of religion continued vigorously through hate speech against the minorities by the members of the Sangh Parivar with impunity, mob lynching of innocent Muslims by cow vigilantes with the overt and covert support of the administration and beef ban for snatching the livelihood of lakhs of Muslims.
The demonization and marginalization of Muslims took robust form after the re-election of Modi government in May 2019 with enhanced majority in the Lok Sabha. Abrogation of article 370 and article 35A of the Constitution and bifurcation of the Jammu and Kashmir State into two Union Territories without much discussion in the parliament was another blow to the Muslim community. The Supreme Court judgement with regard to Ayodhya went in favour of the culprits who illegally demolished the Babari Masjid, even after the acknowledgement by the SC that demolition of the Masjid was a criminal act. Triple Talaq was criminalized through legislation.
Anyone who opposed the views and policies of the RSS-BJP combine was branded as anti-national, naxalite and terrorist and was put behind the bars. Sedition law of the British Raj was liberally used to silence the Indians who question the policies and actions of the government. Blocking the internet and imposing 144 of CrPC have become the common tools to silence the dissent. Dissent is the soul of democracy and the constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression to all citizens. The recent judgement of the Supreme Court regarding the ban of internet in Kashmir makes clear that internet access is integral to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution. The SC also upheld the right of citizens to dissent peacefully and declared that governments should ensure the press is allowed to do its job freely.
All these violations were taking place when the economy was tumbling and millions of people were losing job. Without giving any attention to the promise of sabka saat sabka vikas and sabka vishwas, the “arrogant and the incompetent government” put in place a law, CAA and declared that NRC will be implemented throughout India. CAA links religion with citizenship and thereby violates the fundamental principles of the Constitution: secularism, equality and fraternity. People of India realized that CAA in combination with NRC will be a disaster. They decided to shed their fear. They went to the streets for protest in thousands and lakhs to save the inclusive vision of India. They continue their struggle in the freezing cold in Shaheen Bagh of Delhi, Lucknow, Indore and many other places.
Pandit Sunderlal has beautifully described in his book, “How India Lost Her Freedom”, the inclusive and liberal heritage of India in the following words. “No person can be considered a foreigner in any country simply on account of his her religious belief. Absolute freedom in matters of religion is a necessary condition of life in every civilized country. During thousands of years of her history, with her broad-minded and cosmopolitan outlook on life and with her spirit of perfect tolerance, India has lived up to this ideal of human civilization much better than any other country in the world”. This rich experience of India is reflected in the preamble of the Indian constitution and people of India have taken to the streets to regain the soul of India.
The first paragraph of an article by Javed Anand, “ Muslims are protesting not because their religion is in danger, but for the imperilled Constitution ” is pertinent when Indians celebrate the Republic Day 2020. “ Until a month ago, the words secularism, justice, liberty, equality and fraternity seemed to be just that: Words, devoid of much meaning, locked up in the pages of a book few had read. Today, these words have come to life, are chanted daily on the streets and maidans of cities, towns and villages by millions of Indians. “We the People of India”, cutting across caste, community, gender and language, are collectively reading the Preamble, reiterating the pledge of our freedom fighters. The Constitution of India is now a Book of the People”
In the peaceful and non-violent protests all over India, the father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, has become alive. Civil disobedience and non-cooperation, methods used by Gandhiji, are in action across the length and breadth of India. People are fighting for restoring the original vision of India as enshrined in the Constitution. Let Republic Day 2020 encourage all those who are involved in regaining the Constitutional Vision of India so that people of India will be able to enjoy the ideal India dreamt by Rabindranath Tagore in his poem, “Where the mind is without fear”.
“Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high,
where knowledge is free.
where the world has not been broken up into fragments
by narrow domestic walls.
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection.
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.
Where the mind is led forward by thee
into ever widening thought and action.
Into that heaven of freedom, my father,
LET MY COUNRY AWAKE.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 27th January 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 05)