The Constitution of India should be seen as a work-in-progress – not because it has been amended ever so often by different governments but because it has been taken over by ‘we, the people’, repeatedly, especially since the 1990s. The ‘authorized’ interpreters of the Constitution and Law are no longer its sole interpreters. The continuous battles over its interpretation in the courts of law are only one way in which meaning is contested. But from the dalits reclaiming it as “Babasaheb’s Constitution” to the pathalgadi movement of the Jharkhand adivasis and finally as the banner of citizenship movement today, its meaning has been contested time and again in the streets and in villages.
It is customary, in most secular-nationalist and left-wing circles, to invoke the “great values of the national movement”, which is seen as synonymous with the “freedom struggle”, which in turn is reduced to the “anticolonial struggle”. On 15 August 1947, India attained Independence from colonial rule and on 26 January 1950, “we, the people of India” gave to ourselves the Constitution of India. The anticolonial struggle came to an end in August 1947 but that did not mean that all the currents that comprised the larger “freedom struggle” – the jang-e-azadi – got their freedom. We perhaps need to make a distinction today between the “freedom struggle” (that is still ongoing) and the “anticolonial nationalist” movement.
We need to state emphatically that the “freedom struggle” of different social groups is not – and never was – reducible to the “anticolonial struggle”. There were many different strands and currents that either functioned at a distance from mainstream nationalism , or even worked in opposition to it.
The question that is uppermost on most people’s minds today is what will happen to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and how long will the protests continue? The home minister Amit Shah declaring that the Act will not be withdrawn and the government will not move an inch, regardless of the protests, is a direct challenge to the people of India. With the Supreme Court looking the other way, taking up challenge thrown by Shah can only mean one thing now: if the Act does not go, the regime must. Mass movements have been known to bring down oppressive regimes, and even in the recent past, we have seen that happen in different parts of the world.
Subsequent developments, however, also indicate that often forces emerge that basically take advantage of the mass movements to hijack them and install equally unpopular regimes – a matter we need to discuss very seriously. I will briefly return to this ‘political question’ later as it is of utmost importance that we grasp the possibilities and dangers inherent in the present moment.
Amidst the bustle of talk and announcements on stage, there is a surprise at Shaheen Bagh. A young, slim girl student in ankle length boots, dark pants and shirt is invited to take the podium. She begins her speech by saying that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has put her in a dilemma. She studies in Jharkhand where many of her close friends are Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members. Their opinions matter to her personally. At the same time, when she comes to Shaheen Bagh she is gripped by the dangers and stakes involved in the CAA.
(A series of protests have been held in Netherlands against CAA by the Indian diaspora since last few days. There was a protest at International Court of Justice ( ICJ) based in Hague on 30 th December. It was the fifth protest in last ten days. Pasted below a statement issued on the occasion.)
Statement for Press Release: ICJ Protest
In light of the recent events in India, a group of Indian diaspora residing in the Netherlands, deeply disturbed by the turn of events have decided to protest against the Government of India before the Peace Palace. The protest is directed against the enactment of Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (“Act”) followed by gross perpetration of human rights violation against its citizens by the Government of India. Continue reading Statement Issued by ‘Netherlands against CAA’ (Citizenship Amendment Act)→
Uttar Pradesh is dealing with CAA as it dealt with crime : encounters
Image Courtesy: PTI
Seventy-six year old advocate Mohammad Shoaib fought to have innocents branded as terrorists under repressive laws released, and risked multiple assaults by right-wing lawyers as he took these cases through various courts in Uttar Pradesh. His contemporary, former police officer SR Darapuri became a human rights activist and writer after he retired. Neither would have imagined one day they would be lodged in jail, charged with rioting and creating disaffection, under similarly draconian laws.
But as everybody knows, in Uttar Pradesh today Shoaib and Darapuri are not exceptions. They are just two notable figures among the hundreds of socio-political activists, writers and cultural workers—not to forget ordinary folks—who have been packed into various state prisons for opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). These protests are going on across the country, and started peaking after 19 December, when students spontaneously poured out in the streets against the new law and the proposed policy.
Uttar Pradesh’s administration has come down on those protesting with a heavy hand. The Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, tried to project the opposition to the bill as a purely ‘law and order issue: therefore, he sought to justify seeking “revenge” against those who damaged public or private property.
We, the undersigned, condemn in the strongest possible terms the police brutality in Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, and the ongoing illegal siege and curfew imposed on Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. On 15th December 2019 Delhi police in riot-gear illegally entered the Jamia Millia campus and attacked students who are peacefully protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act. The Act bars Muslims from India’s neighboring countries from the acquisition of Indian citizenship. It contravenes the right to equality and secular citizenship enshrined in the Indian constitution.
On the 15th at JMIU, police fired tear gas shells, entered hostels and attacked students studying in the library and praying in the mosque. Over 200 students have been severely injured, many who are in critical condition. Because of the blanket curfew and internet blockage imposed at AMU, we fear a similar situation of violence is unfolding, without any recourse to the press or public. The peaceful demonstration and gathering of citizens does not constitute criminal conduct. The police action in the Jamia Millia Islamia and AMU campuses is blatantly illegal under the constitution of India.
We stand in unconditional solidarity with the students, faculty and staff of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, and express our horror at this violent police and state action. With them, we affirm the right of citizens to peaceful protest and the autonomy of the university as a non-militarized space for freedom of thought and expression. The brutalization of students and the attack on universities is against the fundamental norms of a democratic society.
As teachers, students, scholars and members of civil society across the world, we are watching with extreme concern the situation unfolding at Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. We refuse to remain silent at the violence unleashed on our colleagues (students, staff, and faculty) peacefully protesting the imposition of a discriminatory and unjust law.
Is the Indian state turning into a religious dystopia, like some of its neighbours?
Image Courtesy: Free Press Journal
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government has pushed the Citizenship Amendment Act through, but it is struggling to manage its fallout and the national outrage that a related proposal to create a National Register of Indian Citizens or NRIC has generated. At first, BJP leaders desperately assured those who were excluded in the NRC, or national register of citizens, that was finalised in October this year for the people of Assam. Its pleas were meant to reassure the Hindus who were excluded in the state’s citizen-count that it would hold a fresh all-India count of citizens, in which they will be included. The reason for the BJP’s desperation was the outcome of the Assam NRC, which turned out to be contrary to its expectations: out of 19 lakh found “illegal” in the state, only about 5 lakh are Muslim, almost all the rest are Hindu.
Yet, the fears of the citizenship law, combined with the resistance to an all-India NRC, have now given rise to tremendous mass resistance across India. There have been massivemarches and rallies in many places, some of them culminating in aggressive confrontations with police and security forces. There is an ongoing massive crackdown on several universities, including in Lucknow, Aligarh, and Delhi where students were agitating against the new citizenship law and the all-India listing of citizens or NRIC.