Citizenship fears fuel anger among India’s Muslims
December 22 2019 10:03 PM
CAA Protesters
Protesters shout slogans as they stand amidst the tear gas during a protest against the citizenship law outside the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi.

AFP/Barpeta, India

Habib-ur-Rehman was locked up for four years after failing to prove he’s Indian, and now worries he may be expelled. It’s a fear shared by other Muslims under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In recent days these worries have morphed into angry protests sparked by the passage of a new law giving non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh an easier path to citizenship.
Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh can apply for fast-track citizenship under the new law.
It does not allow Muslims the same option.
“Five generations of mine have lived in this village and today I am being told that I am an infiltrator because I am a Muslim,” said Rehman, 50, recently released from internment in Assam in northeast India.
He was declared an alien in 2015 by a special tribunal as part of long-running efforts in Assam to root out outsiders, which culminated earlier this year with a state-wide register that the Modi government now wants to roll out nationwide.
“I have voted in many elections and have followed Indian laws all my life,” the father-of-four told AFP. “They are planning to banish us from our motherland.”
Assam’s register excluded 1.9mn people who now face possible statelessness, detention in camps or even deportation, although that is not feasible.
“They will be stateless and non-existent... and won’t have a say in the affairs of the government. They cannot do business, take jobs or get education or buy properties,” Abdul Kalam Azad, a local researcher said.
“Those who cannot prove their Indian citizenship will either end up in detention centres or hide from authorities all their life.”
Decades of ethnic tensions and immigration from Bangladesh and West Bengal make Assam a case apart, as those excluded from the register are a mix of both Muslims and Hindus – the latter mostly Bengali speakers who Assamese fear will undermine their culture.
But elsewhere across India it is Muslims who fear they are Home Minister Amit Shah’s target when he says the national register will remove all “infiltrators” by 2024.
Modi says “genuine” Indians – the country’s 200mn Muslims included – have nothing to fear, but the experience in Assam of people left off the register suggests otherwise.
Inclusion required proof of residence in Assam before 1971 – something difficult in a poor state where many are illiterate of lack documentation.
The process was arbitrary and inconsistent.
In many cases one sibling made the cut and another didn’t, while some were left off due to a document typo or the whim of an overworked official.
These problems will likely be repeated when the register is done nationally – particularly among Muslims, who have India’s worst literacy rates, with 47% unable to read or write according to a 2011 census.
“People in Assam were prepared for the NRC and still 1.9mn were left out,” Azad said. “I can only imagine the fate of Indian Muslims in other parts of the country.”
Outside of Assam, Muslims – as well as defenders of India’s secular tradition – are starting to panic, as seen in the current protests across the country of 1.3bn people.
“The writing is on the wall. They want to build a Hindu nation along the lines of Israel... I feel as though this country is about to erupt,” Zubair Azmi, 46, a Muslim lawyer based in Mumbai told AFP.
“I know secular Hindus who are fighting at our side... but their numbers are falling because other Hindus are believing the BJP’s propaganda against Islam,” he said.
Ambreen Agha, a professor at the OP Jindal Global University in Sonipat, said the citizenship law follows other worrying events under Modi since he was re-elected in May.
In August New Delhi revoked the partial autonomy of Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state.
In November the Supreme Court allowed a Hindu temple to be built in the flashpoint town of Ayodhya where Hindu zealots demolished a mosque in 1992.
Modi’s first term also saw a rise in lynchings of Muslims over cows – sacred to many Hindus – and other hate crimes, activists say. Many Muslim-sounding towns and cities were re-named.
But the citizenship law, which Modi insists is not anti-Muslim, has acted as the final straw.
“It happened first with the Kashmir issue. At that time we kept quiet... Then came the (Ayodhya) verdict,” said Ayesha Renna, a Muslim woman who made headlines this week for protecting a fellow student from baton-wielding police in Delhi.
“Next they will be targeting the whole of India,” she told a TV channel.
Professor Agha suggested opposition to the law would only grow.
“There were resistances in the past, but what is happening today on the streets is unprecedented in the history of modern India,” she told AFP.
“They have nothing to lose now.”

‘Citizenship law contradicts India’s secular constitution’
By Sunrita Sen/New Delhi

“This is our home — do they want to snatch our country away from us?” Shabnam Abdul Mannan asks as she pulls her hijab in place.
Mannan’s voice is difficult to hear over the chants of “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isai — apas me sab bhai bhai” (Hindus, Muslims Sikhs and Christians — we are all brothers) and “Inquilab zindabad” (long live the revolution) from the hundreds of young people gathered at Jantar Mantar, a designated protest zone in the heart of the Indian capital.
Demonstrations similar to this one in New Delhi are taking place across India as people take to the streets to protest a new citizenship law that they say discriminates against Muslims and contradicts India’s secular constitution.
“For the first time citizenship of India has been linked in some way to religion. Even if it does not affect a single person it ought to be opposed because it goes against the foundations and principles of our constitution,” said Yogendra Yadav, leader of the centrist Swaraj Party.
“When India was partitioned in 1947, Pakistan was founded on the basis of religion, while India very consciously rejected that idea. The new citizenship amendment act shows we are succumbing to the temptation of creating a Hindu majoritarian state.”
Hindus are an almost 80% majority of India’s 1.3bn population, while Muslims form the largest minority at 14%.
Editor-in-chief of the National Herald newspaper Zafar Agha sees the protests as directed at moves by Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi’s government to advance a Hindu-first agenda in a country.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government says that the law will not impact any Indian citizen, Hindu or Muslim.
“The opposition is spreading lies, trying to incite people,” said Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
The new citizenship law by itself is unlikely to affect many people, but in combination with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) it could leave many Muslims stateless, while providing a path for Hindus and others to citizenship, said both Yadav and Agha.
“Modi and the BJP have consistently attempted to polarise Hindu votes by projecting Muslims as the enemy within,” Agha said. “It helps them win elections but reduces Muslims to second-class citizens.”
Political observers say it is not clear where these protests are headed.
Yadav fears they could lose their more universal character and get subsumed in protests by Muslim community members which would suit the BJP’s agenda.
“This is how citizens’ movements start,” Agha said. “I am confident that this will lead to a platform for forces opposed to Modi’s policies to come together.” – DPA

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