Ironically, the CAA and NRC, that threatened to divide the country on grounds of religion, seemed to have united the people instead
The homemade placard said it all: Hindu Hoon, Chu**** Nahin (I'm a Hindu but not a *fool). It was exhilarating to be at the August Kranti Maidan rally on Thursday. The mood was a mixture of anger and hope, at the Mumbai rally to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), that threatens to destroy the secular values guaranteed in the Constitution. Ironically, the CAA and NRC, that threatened to divide the country on grounds of religion, seemed to have united the people instead.
There were an estimated 20,000 citizens at the rally, including people of all classes, religions and generations. It was heartening to see a massive number of youth and students, including a number of vocal young women in saris, salwars, hijab and burqas.
The protests were nationwide. The video of the unarmed, but fearless young girl in hijab, warning the police in riot gear—armed with a helmet and danda—not to attack her, has gone viral. Very briefly, the CAA offers citizenship to illegal immigrants in India under certain conditions, provided they are not Muslim. And, the NRC states that non-Muslim minorities failing the NRC test "may be able to gain citizenship through the CAA," implying that if they are Muslim, they will be deemed stateless and could be detained.
The Mumbai protests went of peacefully—thanks to the Mumbai Police who were extremely restrained. The protests in other cities were more daring, including in parts of Delhi and Bengaluru, where they defied the imposition of Section 144 of the CrPC, prohibiting the assembly of four or more. In Chennai, protests were held despite police refusing permission. In Mangaluru, two people died following police firing. This followed previous police brutalities against peacefully protesting students in universities, including in Jamia Milia Islamia and JNU.
It is widely believed that the citizenship issue is intended to distract citizens from genuine economic distress. India's GDP had declined to a mere 4.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2019. The country's unemployment rate rose to 8.5 per cent in October 2019. At least 10 banks disclosed they had under-reported NPAs of R24,000 crore in the year ended 31 March 2019. And there were 12,602 suicides in 2015, mainly because of indebtedness.
Public faith in the judiciary is rapidly eroding, especially since sitting Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, openly backed the NRC as an instrument of "mutual peaceful co-existence." This, after the Supreme Court's ruling to hand over the land where the Babri Masjid stood, to a government trust to build a Ram temple. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has promised us a sky-high temple in Ayodhya in four months. Ah, finally, all Indians can sleep well at night.
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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