Let’s talk about what’s happening in India. Why is a citizenship law causing so much anger? And why are some people worried about what this means for India as a secular country? India’s going through a tough time. There are a lot of unresolved issues that date back to those protests. It’s all about identity and what it means to be Indian.
India has almost 1.4 billion people. About 80% of them are Hindu. But the minorities are still huge—in the millions. Muslims, Christians, Sikhs. Plus, immigrants from neighbouring countries. Now under India’s secular constitution everyone is guaranteed equal rights— regardless of their religion. But right now, a lot of people say that equality is being threatened, that the ruling party, the BJP, has an agenda to make India a Hindu nation.
The Citizenship Amendment Act
They say the latest sign of that is a law passed in December called the Citizenship Amendment Act. The Act offers a pathway to becoming an Indian citizen for migrants who arrived before 2015 from these countries and who belong to these religions. Muslims aren’t on the list. But the BJP says it’s because they’re not a persecuted minority in those three countries.
The law they say is meant to help those at risk. But critics have been saying that if the CAA is there to offer citizenship to persecuted minorities. However, critics have been saying that if the CAA is there to offer citizenship to persecuted minorities there are plenty of Muslim minorities in that position.
The CAA alone isn’t the problem. It’s the combination of the Act with a National Register of Citizens that India wants to introduce. It’s basically a massive headcount. So, here’s the issue. To register people, have to prove that they’re Indian citizens. But not everyone can. Not everyone has the documents.
There’s concern that immigrants could be granted citizenship under the CAA while Muslims who are actually from India could be left out. The government is forging ahead with the CAA and the register anyway. But people aren’t just worried about it not working.
Many Muslims say it’s just another example of injustice. In 1992 Hindu nationalists destroyed the Babri mosque. There were riots and nearly 2,000 people were killed. Nationalist groups as well as BJP leaders were linked to the violence.
Ten years later in Gujarat fighting between Muslims and Hindus ended in a thousand people dead. Most of them Muslims. At the time the current prime minister, Narendra Modi, was chief minister there. He was accused of deliberately allowing the riots to happen.
So it’s off the back of that history that the BJP brought in the CAA. It wasn’t just Muslims protesting. Plenty of Indians from other faiths were against it too. There were also rallies in favour of the CAA where BJP politicians spoke to the crowds. Protesters started getting attacked. Then both sides started fighting. Hindus attacked Muslims. Muslims fought back. Muslims and Hindus were killed. But it was mostly Muslims.
What is the stance of BJP?
The BJP and its supporters have dismissed accusations that Muslim protesters suffered disproportionately. They also deny using hate speech that might’ve fuelled violence by Hindu nationalists. But a report by Amnesty International says some Delhi Police were complicit in the violence. But a report by Amnesty International says some Delhi Police were complicit in the violence.
They’ve also been accused of actively taking part. But the government says the rights group is biased. Meanwhile Delhi Police have been questioning, arresting and detaining hundreds of people. Some of them under an anti-terror law.
India or a Hindurashtra?
Rights activists in India say that more than 800 Muslims have been picked up, that it’s being misused to crack down on political dissent and that police have used the pandemic to clampdown.
Professor Apoorvanand, who we heard from earlier, was one of the people taken in for questioning. It all comes back to the idea of identity and a lot of people feeling powerless and excluded. They want to know who gets to be Indian. And who gets to decide.