Letter to the editor
Letter to the Editor: India, A tryst with Fascism
Imagine a single country that speaks hundreds of languages, has hundreds of different cultures and tribes, tens of different religions, thousands of cuisines, thousands of traditions, millions of tightly-knit friends and families and where every state and sometimes every city in that state feels like a whole different country. This dream is India. India is in many respects a colorful world in itself. It is contradiction and consistency. It is chaos and order.
Romanticism aside, India is currently in a deep constitutional crisis. Fascist and fundamentalist elements are on the rise. The internet is being shut down repeatedly throughout distinct parts of the country to quell protests. Universities are being stormed, students beaten and thousands arrested. At the center of all this controversy is an act that recently passed in both houses of the India Parliament. The government claims the intentions of the act are to grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants to protect “persecuted religious minorities” from the countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The law, however, does not grant citizenship to all the undocumented immigrants who have crossed over from these three countries. It specifically mentions six religions; members of whom will get citizenship. And in doing so the government leaves a huge chunk of people behind: Muslims.
India’s Hindu-Muslim divisions became exceedingly worse after the British left in 1947. India was divided into two countries: one with a Hindu majority and another with a Muslim majority (Pakistan). Millions of residents from both areas fled their homes to other countries in light of fear of persecution and riots that ended up leaving two million dead. In 1971, East Pakistan (Bangladesh) fought for its own freedom and in doing so, millions fled to India.
The government now claims that it has not included Muslims in this new act because the Home Minister is of the opinion that Muslims cannot be persecuted in an Islamic State. So what happens to Muslim undocumented immigrants you ask? According to an article published in Scroll.in, the federal government of India ordered state governments to build detention camps in all major cities last July. One does not need to be a whiz kid to put two and two together.
Protests erupted in the streets across India as this bill was passed into law. One of the concerns is that this law is blatantly unconstitutional. It implicitly discriminates against people on the basis of religion which is illegal unless doing so constitutes an “intelligible differentia” and this differentia has a rational nexus with the object of the act. For the sake of brevity of this letter, I would request you to translate the previous sentence into English on your own. But in a nutshell, because this act does not include persecuted Muslim minorities in the aforementioned countries (e.g. Shias and Ahmadis in Pakistan), an intelligible differentia will not exist thus violating Article 14 of the Indian constitution and its basic structure of secularism as well. Simplifying this even further, the government needs to treat all undocumented immigrants the same way and it cannot discriminate on the basis of religion.
Another discussion the government conveniently ignored while passing the law is that persecution isn’t just religious. Hindus of lower castes are persecuted in India, a Hindu-dominant country. In the past, Protestants have been persecuted in Christian-majority countries and even today Muslims are persecuted in Islamic countries. Belonging to a certain community in a country does not automatically mean you are not persecuted. Persecution isn’t just religious, it’s economic, ethnic, sectarian and generational in nature. Hence, granting selective citizenship to undocumented immigrants based on religion without considering that the excluded community can also be persecuted is the core pathos behind the outrage against this act.
The most dangerous concern with this law isn’t even its unconstitutionality. It’s what happens when this law is used in combination with NPR -- a nation-wide “National Population Register” that the government is planning on implementing along with the census next year. The register is going to be used to determine who is an Indian and who isn’t based on a certain list of documents that hasn’t been revealed yet. What’s worse is that government officials are claiming that to have your name included proving your own citizenship might not be enough, because of the changing rules of Indian citizenship over the years, some people will need to prove their ancestors’ citizenship, too.
What’s so bad about this you ask? Intellectuals believe this register is nothing but a brazen attempt to strip people of their citizenships en masse. India is a country that has been rife with riots, natural disasters, poverty and migration. Expecting such a population, especially the poor in such a population, to be able to procure such documents is impossible. And the government knows this.
Here’s where the CAA comes in for everyone but Muslims. The modalities of CAA have not been spelled out as of yet so this part is speculation, but many constitutionalists and activists believe that after a nationwide NPR has been implemented and millions of citizenships have been lost, the CAA will act like a parachute for people of all faiths except Islam. This is because non-Muslim people can just claim ancestry from these three countries and get citizenship while on the other hand, Muslims with no documents will crash into statelessness. And this can potentially happen in epic proportions. Even if hypothetically only 1% of the 200 million Muslims in India don’t have their documents, almost 2 million (Indian citizens) will be rendered stateless and will be second-class citizens. The state can then ship them off to detention camps if it so wishes. Even if it doesn’t, these people will have no voting rights and no access to a lot of state privileges and fundamental rights that are only accessible to citizens. And keep in mind that 1% is just an estimate for the sake of example -- the actual figure will be much, much higher.
To top it off, Hindu nationalists have managed to capture India like virtually no one else in the past. Certain organizations like the RSS have infiltrated all forms of government. This organization has allegedly been involved in riots against Muslims in 2002 that left millions dead. The current ruling party is a mere instrument of the RSS. The Prime Minister and Home Minister are both proud members. The organization discards India’s secular nature and wants a Hindu nation. Some of the most prominent members at its inception deeply admired Nazism and fascism. One of its former members assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. The RSS has since grown to epic proportions today and it has become a quasi-state.
To make all this even more “Black Mirror-esque,” the ruling party has a concerning “I.T. cell” that manufactures fake news and videos in favor of the government. Members of the cell also make changes to Wikipedia articles, harass dissenters on social media and inundate WhatsApp -- a communication app used by 400 million Indians (some of whom rely on this app for news) -- with fake news and government propaganda. On top of that, most of the mainstream media in India is owned by kleptocrats sympathetic to the ruling party and they make sure their news toes the party line. The result of this is thought control (Orwell just rolled over in his grave). This thought control has led a majority of the population to become blind followers of the party or as dissenters like to call them -- “bhakts” (worshippers).
Since the ruling party’s sweeping reelection in 2019, India has been steadily sailing toward fascism and Hindu fundamentalism. India is currently experiencing the largest protests in its independent history. Millions of students, activists, ethical journalists, celebrities, professors and concerned citizens have poured out on the streets demanding the revocation of this act. In response, the government has clamped down on protests with an iron fist. Police stormed a Muslim university in Delhi under orders from the Home Ministry suspecting that students were destroying property. The police had no warrant. They shot tear gas shells at students inside the campus. They destroyed the library, hit the students with batons and molested students in their dorms. One student lost his eye. In AMU, another such university, a student had to have his hand amputated after he was hit by a smoke shell on his right arm. Many more were injured. This was during finals week. The police later accepted that the students did not in fact damage any property.
Twenty-five people are confirmed dead already, thousands have been arrested and thousands more detained or booked under false charges. Huge parts of the country are under internet shutdown so we don’t have the complete statistics yet -- the current figures are paltry in comparison to what we’ll find out once the internet is restored. Indefinite curfews have been imposed in parts of the country and curfews are constantly being introduced in major cities to discourage protestors. The government is deploying more and more personnel on the ground and in several reports and videos, the police can be seen destroying public property and blaming it on the protestors afterwards. The government’s I.T. cell has worked overtime and tried desperately to alter public opinion.
Thus, in a nutshell, India’s democracy and constitution are under dire threat. A U.S. panel discussed imposing sanctions on India but given the strategic importance of India in today’s geopolitics this looks unlikely. The UN has called this act as “fundamentally discriminatory.” Human Rights Watch has stated that the Indian state is using lethal force to clamp down on protestors. Protests rage on even today but they are ebbing which makes the situation darker. But there’s hope.
According to The Guardian, many believe the government has gone too far this time. The protests have united a fractured and disintegrated opposition. CNBCTV18 states that nine Indian state governments have refused to implement the NRC and CAA in their state. Whether they will actually be able to resist a process that is the federal government’s prerogative remains to be seen, but nevertheless India’s secular progressives have risen together in a show of solidarity like never before. The implementation of the NPR, thus, will be fought tooth and nail by the people of India and that means something. Even so, just like in the election of Nixon in the ‘70s, India has a silent majority that sides with the ruling party. However, the tide is turning. If compassion overpowers fear-mongering and lies, India will rise as a stronger democracy; otherwise it might sink into a fascist theocracy.
I am going to end this letter with a stance from a revolutionary Urdu poem that students are singing across the country:
“Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garan
Rooi ki tarah ur jaenge
Hum mehkoomon ke paaon tale
Ye dharti dhar dhar dharkegi
Aur ahl-e-hakam ke sar oopar
Jab bijli kar kar karkegi,
Hum dekhenge, hum dekhenge”
“When these high mountains
Of tyranny and oppression
turn to fluff and blow away like cotton
And we oppressed
Beneath our feet will have
this earth shiver, shake and beat
And heads of rulers will be struck
With crackling lightning
and thunder roars.
We will bear witness; we will bear witness”.