CNBC TV18 Column: How CAA and NRC have divided opinion

This appeared on the 26th of December

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has pretty much pushed out every other news from the news cycle.  Our screens are dominated with the scenes of students being beaten up, students resisting, and slogans across the country, raised against the government. At the core of the protests is the belief that this government is out to disenfranchise Muslims and other minorities and strip them of their nationality using a combination of the CAA, and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). While the government has been making noises about the fact that no Indian citizen will be deprived of their constitutional right to citizenship, it isn’t cutting too much ice with those who are protesting.   They believe the Government is out to destroy the secular fabric of the nation, trample on the Constitution, and steamroll a Hindutva Rashtra instead. At the core of this belief is the CAA provision that Muslims from three countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh – will not be eligible for automatic citizenship in India, while people of other faiths would be.

It isn’t the CAA by itself that causes this panic, but the combination of the CAA with the NRC. The NRC requires you to produce documentation to prove that your ancestors were citizens of the country. Most people in India do not have historical documentation. So, it is believed that the CAA will naturalise Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and others without documents as citizens, and exclude Muslims without documents.

Those who support the government and the CAA, can see nothing wrong with the Act. They see it as a way of letting Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and other eligious faiths return home from countries where they are persecuted for their faith, and face kidnapping, rape, forcible conversion, and even death. This group refuses to acknowledge the fact that this act may have unintended consequences for other minorities. And, it believes that no minorities will be harmed in the pursuit of the CAA and the NRC.

The bitterness of each side against the other, and perceived historical wrongs, is dominating the discourse. And, in this all the protests seem to have merged into one gigantic protest against a government that is perceived as discriminatory.

However, there have been two distinct streams of protests, each with its own goals and objectives. But, mass media thunder, and trending hashtags have merged them into one. At one level there are protests because CAA will allow ‘outsiders’ to get citizenship and at the other there are protests on why more ‘outsiders’ cannot get citizenship.

The protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act began in the North East, with Assam taking the brunt of the protests.  These were the first wave of protests that believed that the CAA reneged on promises and treaties made with made to these states – individually – that protected their unique ethnic composition and culture. Assam, in particular, has been railing against illegal migrants for quite sometime. While the NRC activity that took place in the state earlier this year, had looked at over 3.29 crore applications from people who had come to the state post 1971, it excluded close to 2 million. Most of these were Bengali speaking Hindus and Muslims – many of whom fled during the 1971 war and have been trickling in ever since.  Assam, and other NE states, are protesting CAA not because they believe that it excludes anyone (Muslims particularly), but because they are terrified that those non-Assamese who are living in Assam, and who were believed to be immigrants, would get citizenship

The second set of protests – that you are seeing across the country – are those who believe that the CAA will be used with NRC to exclude Indians from citizenship in their own country. Students across the country on various campuses are out to read from the constitution, sing the national anthem, and protest the Government actions as being against both. 

 At the time of writing Section 144 is being imposed in various cities to ensure that students and others don’t turn gather to protest. This is primarily taking place in BJP ruled states. In a way, this borrows from the model adopted in Kashmir, if the place is under lockdown or if section 144 is imposed, you can’t really see the protests. But, just because you can’t see them – doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  

News Reporter

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