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Students’ Rage

Students’ Rage

Students in large numbers took part in a demonstration in Chandigarh. They were protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Panjab University has few Muslim students, though it was originally located at Lahore in Pakistan. 

It is one university that migrated along with the millions who migrated across the border in the wake of the Partition, advocated, first, by “Veer” Savarkar, long before MA Jinnah took it up as a political demand.

Yet, the students felt compelled to join the agitation. And so did many of my friends and colleagues. One of them, a lady, suffered bruises while taking part in the protest. Writer and academic Ramachandra Guha said that if he had not joined the agitation, he would have missed a great opportunity to stand for the truth. He is a Gandhian by conviction.

Why I mention all this is to bring home the point that it is not a Muslim agitation as some vested interests have been trying to portray it. Agent provocateurs are also at work to defame the agitation as the act of “urban Naxalites”. In West Bengal, the police have arrested some BJP workers wearing Muslim caps and veils. 

In Delhi, I have seen pictures showing an ABVP worker wearing police gear and attacking the students of Jamia Millia Islamia. There are also videos showing policemen in uniform putting DTC buses to the torch and destroying two-wheelers of students. 

I do not know how many people know that in Jamia at least fifty per cent of the students are non-Muslims. The point is that CAA and NRC are not a Muslim issue at all. 

When many persons who were concerned over the goings-on in Jamia brought the matter to the notice of the Supreme Court, its first reaction was to ask the students to end violence. The fact of the matter was that it was the goons of a particular kind, aided by the uniformed, who were resorting to violence to show the students in a poor light.

When almost everybody is equipped with a video camera in the form of a mobile phone, such violent acts are unlikely to escape the notice of citizen journalists. It is not the first time that students have resorted to an agitation. Since the 13th century when the Paris University students resorted to an unprecedented agitation, students had always shown the way when governments took undemocratic paths.

American campuses were up in flames when the US attacked Cambodia or Kampuchea in the seventies. In Gujarat, it was an agitation led by the students which led to the fall of the Congress ministry during the same period. Lalu Yadav, Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar are some of the products of the student protest. The agitation has no religious or class or caste colour.

In fact, the agitation against the CAA and the NRC began first in Assam and Tripura and they were not led by the Muslims. What’s more, the Republic TV owner Arnab Goswami, whom most television viewers see as the unofficial spokesman of the Modi government, was seen for the first time questioning the Centre’s foolishness. 

The people have many reasons to protest. The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) is one party which supported the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament. When the party realised that its MPs and MLAs could not walk on the roads in Assam because of the public anger, they changed the stance and said that the CAA was unwarranted.

Some of the BJP’s allies like the JDU and the Akali Dal seem to have developed cold feet over supporting the CAA and the NRC. Yet, the government is adamant that it will not budge an inch and would go ahead with the new Act. Amit Shah’s decision to pilot the CAB all of a sudden was as thoughtless as Modi’s demonetisation.

He thought that he would get clapping like the one he received for the abrogation of Article 370. The fact is that even months after Jammu and Kashmir was vivisected to form three Union Territories, the Kashmir Valley remains like a jail with citizens suffering untold miseries. 

The world has been watching the atrocities committed on the people there. Of course, Islamophobia, widely prevalent in the West and elsewhere, has helped Shah and Co. to pretend that everything is hunky dory in the Kashmir Valley.

The latest heard is that Kashmir would be renamed like Mughalsarai, Gurgaon, Agra and the Aurangzeb Road. 

The only logic in abrogating Article 370 was to let citizens from the rest of India buy land there and eventually reduce Muslims to a minority there. The BJP and its forerunner, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, were opposed to the Inner Line Permit system prevalent in states like Arunachal Pradesh.

When I got a fellowship from the National Foundation for India to study the problem of Chakmas, mostly animists from Bangladesh, in Arunachal Pradesh in the mid-nineties, I was told that I should have the permit from the Arunachal Bhavan in Delhi. Since I was a journalist, it was not difficult for me to get the permit which I had to show the police a couple of times while I was in the state.

The permit was the brainchild of Verier Elvin, who came to India as a Christian missionary, lived with the tribals, married one only to abandon her, married again one of them from Meghalaya, settled down in India, and wrote several books on tribals in Central India and the Northeast. He became an adviser to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and fathered the Inner Line Permit system to ensure that the tribal states did not suffer from the exploitative characteristics of the “mainlanders”.

Elvin feared that if people from the rest of the country were allowed to buy land, the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) as Arunachal Pradesh was known, would become like modern-day Jharkhand where non-tribals are in majority now. The BJP opposed tooth and nail the Inner Line Permit system. Yet, neither Atal Bihari Vajpayee nor Narendra Modi had the guts to end it.

In order to douse the flames of protest against the CAA and the NRC in the Northeast, Amit Shah promised introduction of the Inner Line Permit system to Manipur also. He has called the leaders of Meghalaya for talks after Christmas to discuss the possibility of letting its introduction there as well. In Assam, which is ruled by the BJP, everybody cannot visit some areas without an Inner Line Permit.

In other words, Verier Elvin’s idea is now fully endorsed by the BJP. Of course, this is because of the realisation that the government will have great difficulty to control the situation if the people of Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, too, join the agitation like the Assamese people. 

This is because China has been claiming that Arunachal Pradesh is a part of the Chinese territory. It does not allow any citizen from Arunachal Pradesh to visit China on Indian passport. Its argument is that the people of Arunachal Pradesh do not need a passport or visa to visit their own country. In short, AP is a province of China!

This stance has been irritating India which does not want to complicate the situation there. That is why Amit Shah does not want the special provisions in the Constitution for the Northeast to end the way he ended Article 370. 

A significant point is that out of the 19.2 lakh people identified as illegal migrants in Assam, a majority belongs to the Hindu community. To get the benefit of CAA, all of them will have to give a declaration that they reached India because of religious persecution. Many of them might have migrated because of economic, rather than religious, reasons.

They will have to give a false affidavit that they were persecuted for religious reasons to get the citizenship, a provision denied to the other because they are Muslims. It now transpires that Amit Shah gave Parliament incorrect details while piloting the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

For instance, he claimed that the population of Hindus in Pakistan had been dwindling over the years. The fact is that the percentage of Hindus in Pakistan, earlier West Pakistan, has been consistently increasing, not decreasing. This itself knocks the bottom off his argument that Hindus in Pakistan have been decreasing, as he says, on account of 1) forced migration, 2) killing and 3) migration to India.

What is under attack is not Muslims but Article 14 of the Constitution. It specifically rules out discrimination on the basis of religion, caste or class. The principles of equality is applicable even to non-citizens who live in India. For instance, a tourist from, say, Europe or Africa, cannot be barred from entering a restaurant because she or he is a foreigner. Ditto for a Dalit or a Muslim or a Christian.

There was a time when restaurants and students hostels in India were reserved for separate communities. This is illegal now. It is this provision of the Constitution which is threatened by Shah’s CAA, which seeks to exclude foreigners who are Muslims from citizenship. That is also why people all over India have stood up against the discrimination.

The government has every right to protect the borders and prevent infiltration. But how can some infiltrators become eligible for citizenship because of their religion while some others cannot? It is like making a terrorist who worships Gandhi’s killer as a Member of Parliament. This is what is questioned. Spokesmen of the Sangh Parivar like Rakesh Sinha, MP, argue that there is no plan to extend the NRC to the rest of the country.

Amit Shah had time and again stated that the NRC would be extended to other states also and no illegal migrants would be allowed to live in India. How does an infiltrator enter India? He or she enters India only because of the failure of the Border Security Force and the Indian Army. 

For instance, the Pakistani terrorists could create mayhem in Mumbai only because they could not be intercepted by the Indian Navy, the Coast Guards Organisation, the Indian Army, the Maharashtra Police, the Mumbai Port authorities and, finally, the Mumbai Police.

By the way, how do beggars prove their identity to be eligible for citizenship? Shah can see them at every intersection in India. It is he who has been terrorising the Muslims and other minorities by such talk of disenfranchisement. It is not just loud talk.

The BJP is just an extension of the RSS. The RSS founders like Guruji Golwalkar had in their books like Bunch of Thoughts proclaimed that Muslims and Christians would be allowed to live in India only as second class citizens and that, too, at the mercy of the Hindus. It is not easy for the minorities to obliterate such fears from their minds, more so when Shah frequently refers to extending the NRC to the rest of the country.

The clever propagandists of the BJP have been misquoting Rajiv Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, CPM resolutions etc to claim that CAA was in accordance with their thinking. Pray, when did the BJP commit itself to follow the resolutions of the Marxists and the statements of Congress leaders?

It would be pertinent to quote a leader from Tripura whose ancestors allowed Bengalis seeking shelter from Noakhali  to settle down in Tripura. Recently, he asked whether Modi and Shah would announce that in view of the Assamese’s protest against settling the “illegal migrants” in Assam, Gujarat would accommodate the 12 lakh “Bangladeshi Hindus” to settle down in Gujarat? 

Then, the duo would know how the Gujarat Navnirman Samiti resorted to violence in their protest against Chimanbhai Patel’s government at that time.

One good thing has happened. Now the people know, how Indians, irrespective of caste or colour, fought against the British to gain Independence. There is another aspect to the agitation. People have stopped talking about the decline in the economic growth rate, the growing unemployment and the total failure of demonetisation and skill India. 

Countries after countries have been issuing advisories to their citizens about the risks of travelling to India. Japanese Prime Minister, who was taken to Varanasi to show Arti in the Ganga, preferred to cancel his visit to India this time. Yet, Shah continues to say that the CAA is here to say. For once, people know the danger of entrusting responsibility with irresponsible people. This is the New India Modi had promised!

( ajphilip@gmail.com)

(Published on 23rd December 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 52)