A Barricade Diary: the Protests Against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act

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With Narendra Modi’s government, India has seen a surge of Hindu nationalism that has further marginalized the 200 million Indian Muslims. Sarover Zaidi provides us with a personal account of the ongoing protests (in Delhi and elsewhere) against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Article published in The Funambulist 28 (March-April 2020) Our Battles. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

And the riot squad they’re restless, they need somewhere to go

As Lady and I look out tonight, from Desolation Row

Bob Dylan, Desolation Row (1965).

In order to understand what the CCA is about, I asked social anthropologist Maya Ratman (Ahmedabad University) if she could summarize the situation. Here is what she wrote: “The anti-CAA protests in India have been ongoing since the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act on December 12, 2019. The Amendment to India’s existing Citizenship Act of 1955 essentially permits persons adhering to six religious faiths (Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi, Jain, and Christian) who have citizenship of either Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan, but are residing in India without appropriate documentation, to apply for Indian citizenship through a speeded-up process. In effect, the Act offers a fast track to citizenship for all persons residing in India ‘illegally,’ except those who are Muslim. The implicit rationale for this discriminatory provision in earlier iterations of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, was that non-Muslim citizens of Muslim majority neighboring countries suffer from religious persecution. In a progressively bizarre set of exclusions, this law posits India as the natural refuge of Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, but not Muslims — or for that matter, non-Muslims from other countries, such as Tamils from Sri Lanka. The enactment of the CAA sparked immediate protests, as many correctly read it as explicitly targeting Muslims in India- and requiring them to ‘prove’ their citizenship.

The CAA must be read in conjunction with a proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is a register meant to weed out those who are non-citizens by means of isolating those who cannot show the required documents as proof of belonging, residence, territory, etc. Those deemed non-citizens, through an as-yet unspecified bureaucratic process, are likely to be lodged in ‘detention centers’ although, following the protests, the government has denied this. Thus, vast numbers of citizens have interpreted the CAA as a filtering exercise for the NRC, safeguarding some while throwing many others, predominantly Muslims, and poor Muslims at that, into a condition of potential statelessness. Two other pertinent factors are to be borne in mind when trying to understand the CAA-NRC imbroglio: one, the updated requirements for the National Population Register (NPR), a register of the usual residents of a country, that the government asserts is part of its routine Census exercise. The data sought by the NPR now includes categories such as the birthplace of parents, and also contains clauses that allow the officiating bureaucrats to mark people as ‘doubtful citizens.’ The second fact is that the NRC exercise has already been implemented in the northeastern state of Assam, resulting in an ongoing humanitarian crisis, with millions of residents now declared stateless (Hindus as well as Muslims).