Resisting a Saffron Spatiality: India’s Ethnocratic Spatial Politics

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Drawing from the mobilizing protests initiated in the neighborhood of Shaheen Bagh in Delhi against the recent BJP anti-Muslim policies, Arinjoy Sen proposes a spatial filter to read the protest and their violent suppression, but also the last 30 years of Hindu nationalism that brought BJP in power. 

Article published in The Funambulist 32 (November-December 2020) Pan-Africanism. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

Sen Funambulist
Female protestors gathered under a self-built canopee in Shahen Bagh. / Photo by DTM (January 15, 2020).

Right-wing propaganda, having infiltrated the Parliament at a legislative and judicial level with majoritarian support within the Parliament, has forced dissent to manifest in the streets.” (Anonymous Shaheen Bagh protester) 

On December 14, 2019, a small group of local women moved to block Kalindi Kunj Road, a six-lane highway bordering the Muslim-majority neighborhood of Shaheen Bagh in southeast Delhi, using their bodies as a physical barricade/barrier. They came together to voice their dissent against the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). From this first action of a group of women, Shaheen Bagh quickly emerged as the epicentre of anti-CAA protests in India, as well as a symbol of dissent, with almost 100,000 people participating to them over 101 days. As one participant of the protests noted, “The essential difference is that Shaheen Bagh was led and joined by women. And especially women of a minority community. This is what rattled the ethnocratic Hindutva activists and government. To see women reclaim their freedom and fight for their rights, shook the Hindu-nationalists to the core.” 

The CAA, passed by the Parliament of India on December 12, 2019 as an amendment to the Citizenship Act of 1995, essentially reinforces the arsenal of anti-Muslim legislation constructed by the ruling BJP political party, reminiscing tendencies of ethnic cleansing towards a Hindu nation. It does so plainly, by excluding Islam from the religious faiths (Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist, Jain, and Christian) eligible to avail a fast-track process of application for Indian citizenship. Ostensibly, the primary targets are people who may (or may not) hold citizenship of the neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but who are residing in India without appropriate documentation. As such, the CAA must be read in conjunction with the NRC, which allows the rendering of persons as non-citizens if they fail to provide proof in the form of “satisfactory legacy papers.”