ON the 11th of December last year, the government of India issued an amendment to its Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The idea behind it was to fast-track citizenship for oppressed minorities in its neighbouring countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. The groups included are Hindus, Jains, Parsis, Sikhs, and Christians, deliberately excluding Muslims.
India also intends on implementing a nation-wide National Registration of Citizens (NRC), which has already been done in the state of Assam.
The NRC requires each citizen to provide certain documents on the basis of which a registry is created. It required people to prove that they had an ancestor in India who was born before 1971. Just like that, the status 1.9 million people became questionable.
Out of those, the Muslims will not get citizenship through the CAA. The ruling government has never made any qualms about its pro-Hindu agenda and its affiliations with the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS) group. The RSS is built on the notion that Hinduism is not just a religion, but a way of life.
It regards all 1.3 billion Indians as innately Hindu, categorises all Muslims as infiltrators and believes that they should live as subordinate citizens in India. Since 2014, which was when Narendra Modi first became Prime Minister, these fringe elements of society have become the mainstream. Public lynchings of Muslims have taken place, with impunity.
I assume the government felt that once again, Indians would take bigotry in their stride. Much to their chagrin, this was not the case.
India is witnessing a mass movement in the form of protests against the CAA and NRC. We have watched, scarcely acknowledged, and subsequently forgotten so many injustices by the Modi government. India has finally reached her tipping point.
This mobilisation has been catapulted by the students of India. Jamia Milia Islamia in Delhi, the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh have been instrumental in the cultivation of the protests. These are also the areas where the police unleashed maximum violence. They have detained, beaten, blinded and killed.
The police sauntered into Jamia, attacked its students and over two weeks later admitted that they had fired three bullets. In Uttar Pradesh, over 20 people have been killed. Among them, Suleman, a civil services aspirant. Anas, the father of an 8 month-old. An eight year old boy.
It is crucial to understand that those attacked were not necessarily protesting. A Jamia student studying in the library, not participating in any protest, was blinded.
As a young woman living in Delhi, the sight of a policeman now infuses fear. The callousness with which they can detain you, the apathy with which they have watched violence being meted out, the mania with which they could beat you.
In these times of fear, resistance takes strength personified by the women of Shaheen Bagh, a largely Muslim populated neighbourhood in Delhi.
The 10th of January marks their 26th day of protest. They have withstood Delhi’s unbearably cold winter and have been sitting in protest, day in and day out. Their children accompany them and their husbands join after work. It is difficult to articulate the feeling one gets after going to Shaheen Bagh.
As privileged citizens, resistance is a choice. They have been forced to make it their way of life. It is easy to romanticise the women’s easy smiles and hospitable natures.
The protest has taken on an almost homely nature, you feel taken care of, with food being distributed and children running around. But everyday, these women are risking their lives, something they are well aware of. Police barricades have been put up and their entire operation could be shut down at any given point.
Our ideas of protest have always been masculine. We visualise strong men, shouting slogans, leading groups of angry citizens.
This is not to say that the women of Shaheen Bagh are not angry, but the softness and love with which they are channelizing is so rare. To carry fo
rward a resistance like this, funds are required. At Shaheen Bagh, donations are welcome, but money is not accepted.
Miniature “Shaheen Baghs” have sprouted up all over the country, in cities big and small. These sit-ins too have been heralded solely by women and once again, show no signs of slowing down. Since the bill was converted into an act on the 15th of December, the protests have not stopped. Earlier, it was easy to dismiss their import by deeming them as “student-centric,” but they have transcended. What started in a few universities and amongst a group of women is today a Pan-India movement.
Amidst all the uproar, the CAA was notified on the 10th of January. Malaysia’s Prima Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammed issued a statement the questioning the “necessity” of the act, saying that Hindus and Muslims have coexisted in India for the past 70 years.
He then reiterated his position despite India, the world’s biggest buyer of palm oil, effectively banning Malaysian palm oil imports. Mahathir has also earlier criticised India’s “invasion and occupation” of Kashmir.
The noise surrounding the CAA has not been as deafening as the silence. Art and cinema always have and should be a reflection of the existing political climate. Apart from a few, Bollywood, whose actors carry unbelievable influence, has remained silent. This includes Datuk Shahrukh Khan, an alumnus of Jamia Milia Islamia.
Followers of Modi and the RSS are still trying to turn the narrative around, alleging that protesters do not believe in the idea of India and want to break it up. What the fight is about, however, is the opposite. It is about reclamation. Reclaiming the India we believe in, reclaiming our spaces and protecting what is ours.
The Prime Minister and his cronies are a hideous contrast of what India was supposed to be, something for which generations fought. The difference lies in the fact that this time the oppressor is not the coloniser, but one of our own. This makes it murkier, more sinister but a large chunk of India’s 1.3 billion have proved that it still worth fighting.
The writer is former intern with NST
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times