The unholy trinity of the National Register of Citizens-Citizenship (Amendment) Act
Ironically, the unholy trinity of the National Register of Citizens-Citizenship (Amendment) Act-National Population Register, designed to put a question mark on the citizenship of Muslims in India, has had the unintended effect of reaffirming their identity. Despite having chosen to remain in India after independence, weathering the rising tide of communalism that Partition brought, Muslims in India have always had their patriotism questioned. Most Muslim leaders the freedom struggle had produced left for Pakistan, and it is safe to say that since independence, Muslims have had no leader with a pan-India appeal.
With the rise of the political right, increasingly, the public discourse of’nationalism’ was coopted by jingoism, toxic masculinity and communalism. At each step, Muslims told to go to Pakistan and were accused of being pro-Pakistan or anti-national.
Lynchings in the name of cow slaughter, extra-judicial killings, absurd laws criminalising forms of divorce rendered ineffective by the Supreme Court, five acres of land given to compensate the irreparable harm to the secular fabric of the country caused by the illegal demolition of a 464-year-old mosque, revocation of Article 370 and the consequent clampdown in Kashmir – none of these was able to wake the Indian Muslim and induce them to leave the safety of their houses to venture onto roads that felt increasingly hostile and alien. And after that, the government went a little too much and passed a set of laws, the net effect of which is to require Muslims to establish their citizenship or face prosecution, providing all other communities a safe passing. The knife had cut too near the bone.
The protests began in Jamia Millia Islamia and spread to Aligarh Muslim University and then to the rest of the country. How the protests began in Jamia is apt and in keeping with its historic tradition. Jamia Millia Islamia was founded by Muslim leaders who felt that AMU was too colonial in its outlook and Muslims should come forward and be equal participants in the freedom movement. These leaders broke away from AMU and Jamia was set as a centre of the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat movements, with Mahatma Gandhi as its patron.
Gandhiji pledged that if need be, he would go around to fund the fledgling university. Gandhi, a Lifelong Friend of Jamia Millia Islamia The words of the’Aligarh ka tarana’ or the anthem of the Aligarh Muslim University written by Majaz Lukhnawi have proved strangely prophetic in describing the role of Jamia and AMU from the anti-NRC-CAA-NPR protests:’Jo abr yahaṅ se utthega, wo sarey jahaṅ par barsega (The cloud (of revolution) rising up from here will rain down on the entire world).’ The intention here is not to communalise and color what is quintessentially a people’s movement as a movement that is Muslim. It’s only to emphasise that for the first time since independence, Muslims have emerged on to the streets to raise their voice and claim an equal share in the political discourse of the country.
It is true that elections are not won by protests. Let us even assume for a moment that the vast majority of the people are still behind Modi and back the discriminatory law. But for the first time since the Modi-Shah combine came to power, there is nationwide opposition to their discriminatory and divisive rhetoric and policies. And this opposition isn’t by any party or person.
It’s by the people themselves. The protests are notable because of their spontaneity and lack of leadership. Student leaders, celebrities of popular culture, regional and local icons are seen floating from one protest to another, trying to find their own part in what is in the truest sense a people’s movement. The common Muslim man and woman have decided to wait no longer for this political party or that, this leader or that, to voice their concerns.