There comes a time in a nation’s history when silence is no longer an option.
When neutrality, equivocation, discretion are acts of cravenness. Where standing up, and even protesting, becomes a moral duty, because much more than the personal, or even the principle, is involved — this is an inflection point where the very soul and existence of India are at stake.
All attempts are being made to portray the protests by students in Jamia Millia Islamia as a ‘Muslim’ reaction — this is a narrative that suits the government and Hindutva forces.
AMU students are chanting ‘हिंदुओ की कब्र खुदेगी, AMU की धरती पर…’
Chaps at Jamia want ‘हिंदुओं से आज़ादी…’
If this is the mindset that pervades in these ‘minority’ institutions, imagine the plight of Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan… pic.twitter.com/VRNeOyhaHY
— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) December 15, 2019
Even a casual look at the social media messaging will show that the Bharatiya Janata Party and its storm troopers have quickly latched on to the Muslim angle — it is no coincidence that the police went in fully armed into the Jamia (and then the Aligarh Muslim University) campus.
The “Muslim angle” is completely untrue, and easily proven.
But the objective is clear — demonise not just the students but the entire community to portray the state as fighting for ‘Hindu’ values.
Violence suits the BJP-RSS. Invoking riots that polarise has always paid electoral dividends for the BJP.
The agitation in Assam against the Citizenship Amendment Act have been seen in that light, as a way to scare the Hindu voter in West Bengal, where elections will be held in 2021.
That may well be one of the intentions, but the plan behind the CAA, coupled with the National Register of Citizens is far more dangerous. The perverse mind that have come up with it want to turn Indians who happen to be Muslims, into not just second class citizens but non-Indians.
That is the ‘unfinished business’ of Partition, not the fig leaf of welcoming ‘persecuted’ Hindus and others from neighbouring countries. Even those Hindus who will not be able to submit documents and will automatically be accepted under the CAA will be turned into citizens by state fiat, of bureaucratic generosity of offering them what is rightfully theirs.
Citizenship by birthright is the highest form of identity. There are exceptions, and the citizenship status of the parents is important, but religion has never played a role.
It equalises everyone who has it, whatever the religion, caste, community, gender or social status. A poor Indian has the same rights as a super wealthy one, even though if this is often distorted in practice. Both can vote candidates of their choice freely, hold a passport proudly, whatever their religion.
This will be completely overturned by the entire NRC and CAA process. India has always welcomed refugees from around the world as it should — but discriminating on grounds of religion goes against the Constitution and the very grain of what this land has stood for.
Indians have seen through this venal grand scheme of our rulers and are coming out against it. State governments have refused to implement the NRC-CAA, citizens are taking out protest marches in different parts of the country, civil society is speaking out, legal challenges are being planned and ordinary citizens, who may not be out there on social media platforms, are expressing their disgust and anger.
Students, always in the forefront of taking up causes, have come out on the streets. The media may try and distort what is happening, but cannot suppress it; besides the credibility of a lot of the mainstream media is compromised, so people are turning to news outlets they trust.
But while all of this is heartening, it is not enough.
Many public figures have chosen to remain quiet. In Assam, celebrities have loudly expressed their anger at the CAA, standing with the rest of the population, but their counterparts elsewhere have gone into a shell. Celebrities are low hanging fruit, and it is easy to point fingers at them.
Moreover, the manner in which well organised campaigns are run against them when they do speak up can intimidate anyone — what happened to Aamir Khan in 2015 is fresh in everyone’s memory.
There are messages going around that Shah Rukh Khan, an alumnus of Jamia Millia, should come out in support of the students. He may or may not, but if he does, it should be to lend his considerable heft to the cause they are fighting for. The CAA and NRC are not a sectarian affair — the Jamia students are standing up for something fundamental, something that will affect every Indian. Khan has been browbeaten in the past, so it is unfair to push him into a corner.
But imagine if Khan – or any of his counterparts – followed the example of Michael Douglas, Robert de Niro or any of the countless Hollywood actors who have publicly expressed their strong anti-establishment political views.
Yet, many of the younger actors and directors, such as Anuraag Kashyap, Neeraj Ghaywan, Richa Chaddha and Manoj Bajpayee, among others, have been very vocal in supporting the students for their democratic protests.
But this is not about celebrities, or sportspersons, or business tycoons, though their high profile attracts the most attention. It is about every citizen of India who wants this country to stay true to its fundamental, secular character, where everyone can live legitimately and not at the mercy of a sinister regime that is driven by its mission of hate and bigotry.
For the past five years and more, Indians have been watching, with alarm and shock, the rise in communal polarisation, blessed and encouraged by members of the ruling party. The vocal support to lynchers, the openly anti-minority statements of the Hindutva brigade, including by MPs and MLAs, the dog whistling by even the prime minister, who comes into his own during election campaign—all this and more have become the norm since 2014.
Loud voices were raised against intolerance in the initial years — the Award Wapsi by prominent writers was one such act of protest. Since then, threats and intimidation, both open and behind the scenes, has succeeded in suppressing dissent, at least from well known names.
Remarks like ‘Anti-national’ and ‘Go to Pakistan’ have been thrown at those who criticise the government and Narendra Modi and some have been bludgeoned into silence by bullying tactics, including setting the investigative machinery against them. These methods have been effective, encouraging the government even more
Frighteningly, many may have been supportive of some of the government’s initiatives, such as the lockdown in Kashmir, where elected representatives of the people are still under house arrest for over four months.
All of what has taken place in the last few years was in preparation for this moment. The horrific has become the norm, and a numbed people have been fully inured into accepting whatever next evil plan is rolled out.
Or so the rulers think.
But this country’s conscience is not that weak, and the founding principles of India still hold true. No doubt this fightback will grow as more and more people rise to show that they will not accept this mutilation of India. Dissent can be of many types – public or private, and not everybody will be marching or tweeting; some will do it quietly among trusted friends.
Yet, some will remain silent and one can only assume that they are with the government on this. There is no room for nuanced arguments here — not speaking up is a sign of complicity.