By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
26 December 2019
The protests which we are witnessing across the country were some years in the making. Since the last few years, our society has seen intense polarization, some of which has been enabled by the present government. This government came to power with the slogan of making India great again: and that meant all Indians irrespective of religious identity. However, some of the actions of this government leave much to be desired. One after another, there were policy measures which threatened the Muslim minority and made them insecure in their own country. Starting with triple Talaq, which criminalised Muslim men instead of making fundamental changes in the lives of Muslim women; the giving away of Babri mosque land to ‘Hindus’ through a skilful management of judiciary to the Citizenship Amendment Act, Muslims have been under relentless attack. On its own, the CAA is not too much of a concern for Muslims; however, seen in relation to the upcoming National Registry of Citizens (NRC), Muslims are right in getting aggrieved and hitting the streets. Although the poor of all communities will suffer from a nationwide NRC, it will be catastrophic for the Muslims because they will not have the safety net of CAA. Asking Muslims, who have been living in India for a thousand years, to prove their citizenship is not just absurd but patently discriminatory.
Muslims have been quick to see the link between CAA and NRC. They were silent when the land of Babri mosque was given away by the courts to Hindus because it did not affect their very existence. The proposed NRC does exactly that: it is tantamount to the government getting into Muslim houses and uprooting them. The fact that they are not believing this government’s assurance is because the government has not done enough to earn the trust of India’s Muslims. It is extremely intriguing therefore that the government today is surprised as to why Muslims are protesting when they are not being affected by this particular legislation. All that this government needs to do is go through their own agenda to see how they have targeted a particular community. There has been a BJP government before, but this kind of a relentless pursuit of Muslim identity is certainly new.
Muslims today have come to a situation where they are saying enough is enough. It is as if they are not going to accept any more humiliation from this government. There is some seriousness with which I am using the word humiliation because this government has seen to it that Muslims as a group feel humiliated and subjugated as lesser citizens. The unabated lynching of Muslims and the ways in which it was justified by the spokespersons of the government and its media handlers have made many Muslims insecure. In a certain sense, Muslims had almost become resigned and had stopped reacting to such issues. But then, with the passage of CAA, they have now realised that if they do not protest now, then perhaps all will be lost. For the vast majority of Muslims, this Act affects their very existence in this country and that’s why so many of them are on the streets. Moreover, they have already seen how lives have been wrecked apart when the NRC was implemented in Assam. Certainly, poor Hindus will also get affected by this mindless exercise, but Muslims are the only ones who would be losing their citizenships and all other entitlements that come along with it.
The protestors can no longer be identified by their clothes because they are increasingly coming from young people of other communities as well. The police has definitely been partisan in dealing with protests. Especially in BJP ruled states, the police has resorted to indiscriminate and unprovoked use of force against protestors. It is an open secret that since long, the police have been anti-Muslim. Disproportionately large number of Muslims has been felled by police in various riots, some of which has been etched in the collective psyche of the community. This is certainly not a problem which is specific to BJP government. Such prejudices in the police force have been witnessed even during various Congress governments. It is true that there has been some violence on part of protestors, especially relating to burning of public property. Violence can never be condoned. However, whenever students have hit the streets anywhere in the world, there has been some amount of violence. The state response should not be one of revenge but rather that of engagement. We have seen that in Hong Kong and Paris, the police have acted with considerable restraint when faced with such situations. It appears that our police still thinks in terms of colonial categories and hits back with double force on its own citizens.
One interesting feature of these protests is the marginalization of established Muslim leaders who have historically acted as brokers to various governments. It was extremely satisfying to see young Muslim boys and girls hooting out sold out leaders like Mahmood Madani for his attempted gate crashing at protest sites. Also, it was remarkable that young Muslims vociferously condemned the statement of the so called Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid when he tried to confuse the ongoing protests through his inane statements. Even leaders like Salman Khurshid were not spared for his inaction over police violence in Jamia. One is certainly hopeful that out of this critique of the existing Muslim political leadership, new voices from within Muslims will emerge which would chart a different political course for the Muslim community.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com