Harsh Mander: This is the make or break moment for India and its people
The well-known human rights activist explains his brand of civil disobedience as a tool to protest against the CAB and NRC
The contentious Citizen (Amendment) Bill of 2019—a possible precursor to a nationwide implementation of the National Registrar of Citizens (NRC)—has seen widespread pushback from almost all strata of society. On December 10, after Lok Sabha passed the bill, renowned Human Rights activist Harsh Mander made an announcement on Twitter. "If CAB is passed, this is my civil disobedience: I will officially register Muslim," he wrote.
"I will then refuse to submit any documents to NRC. I will finally demand the same punishment as any undocumented Muslim—detention centre & withdrawn citizenship. Join this civil disobedience."
In an interview with Sunday mid-day, Mander describes his brand of civil disobedience, and focuses on why the middle-class, specially Hindus, must not procure documents to prove their citizenship as per NRC.
Does civil disobedience hold the same importance in the 21st century as it did during the freedom struggle?
I think it is even more relevant today. What Gandhi taught us is that if there is an unjust law and you want to peacefully fight against it, then you must publicly break the law. However, doing just this much is not enough. You also have to demand that the State punishes you...so that the State has no option but to punish you or do away with the law. Civil disobedience is a very powerful tool because it is non-violent, and more importantly, it causes suffering only to the person who is resisting rather
than impose violence on anyone else.
How declaring yourself Muslim count as civil disobedience?
The obvious civil disobedience is to boycott the NRC that is built around CAB. The problem with doing so is that if you are not a Muslim, then there are no adverse consequences to you because the act is designed to protect you i.e. a non-Muslim. So, if as a non-Muslim, I disobey the law in public, then there is no value because I am not going to be punished...but if a Muslim invokes civil disobedience, then they will be punished, and someone like me will go scot-free. Therefore, for official purposes, once NRC is implemented, I will declare myself as a Muslim. Let's be clear: I will not convert to Islam or any other religion but for the purpose of information of the State, I will be a registered Muslim. If Muslims are being sent to detention centers, then even I must go. Another important aspect is that Muslims who are able to produce documents should not procure such documents and those of us who are non-Muslims and wish to participate in the civil disobedience must first register as Muslim—and then not produce documents.
How do you see India's future over the next few years?
I think things are going to get worse. I think that during Modi's first tenure, a lot of us saw where he was coming from, based on the what he had done in Gujarat. A lot of people were willing to give him a chance because he spoke a lot about jobs and corruption...and so, Modi in 2014 was elected by some people because of his Hindutva belief, but other people who were affected by the economy and deepening farm crisis, too voted for him. Modi 2.0 is different. In 2019, he had nothing else to offer (except the Hindutva brand of politics) because the economy was in terrible shape, the farm crisis didn't yet have a solution, and corruption had finally grown. All that they had to offer this time around was Hindu nationalism...and when they got an even larger mandate in 2019, they are interpreting it as a mandate to implement their core agenda of Hindutva, which dates back around 100 years when the Hindu Mahasabha was formed. They (Hindu Mahasabha) believed that India should be a Hindu nation and Muslims should form another country. At the core of the Indian Constitution is that one's religious identity has nothing to do with the rights of the citizens...but the RSS never really accepted this. From there, we've come to a point today when the PM and President are all members of the RSS. They have an expansive mandate and see this time as an opportunity to rebuild India according to their imagination...they have gone very far to implement their own ideology. If their agenda is fully implemented, it will polarise groups further. This is an opportunity for us—and the young people of this nation—to decide whether we want to be a secular country or a Hindu nation. Muslims are living in fear across the country and if you are an Indian, this is the make-or-break moment.
Is there anything that you would like to say to the upper-middle class urban dweller who think he/she will remain unaffected by the implementation of CAB and NRC?
I would particularly appeal to those people who are capable of producing their documents, to not procure them. If you do produce them, what you are doing is throwing the impoverished and poorly educated Muslims under the bus. Therefore, even those who have the capacity to produce documents, should not do it. The motto should be: Reject CAB, Boycott the NRC.
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