A Second Black Act, a Second Non-Cooperation: Will a Second Repeal Follow?

Events that followed the parliament's approval to the CAA mirror those of a century ago, when the Rowlatt Act was passed.

In March 1919, the Imperial Legislative Council passed the infamous Rowlatt Act.

It was as “legal” as could be.

The passing of that “Black Bill” unleashed mass protest and Gandhi’s second Satyagraha (after Champaran)—the Non-Cooperation movement.

In the Punjab, Dr Satyapal and Saifuddin Kithlew were arrested under provisions of the Black Act and externed from Amritsar to Dharamshala on April 10. The massacre at Jallinawala Bagh followed on April 13.

The Rowlatt Act came to be repealed in 1922.

Bullet holes in the wall at Jallianwala Bagh. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Exactly a century after, the free Indian Parliament, in December 2019, passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

It is as “legal” as can be.

Although it does not contain draconian provisions directed at citizens (those that are thus far citizens), Indians across the length and breadth of the country have come to recognise that this seemingly compassionate legislation conceals an intent far more insidious in seeking to make of the republic a sort of Zionist “natural home” for non-Muslims, thus subverting the foundational constitutional principle of secular citizenship.

A pretty widespread second Non-Cooperation movement seems underway, led by students of all regions and hues, many boycotting classes and examinations, as they did in the first Non-Cooperation.

Women as old as ninety continue to sit out in the unprecedented December Delhi chill, fully cognizant of what is involved in the passing of the CAA and its likely supplementary, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and determined not to call off the Satyagraha.

The burgeoning mass movement finds everyday innovative ways to register their revulsion at the exclusionary provisions of the second “Black Act”.

Some have been reminded of Jallianwala  Bagh by the brute police violence that took place at Jamia Millia Islamia university, Aligarh Muslim University and JNU and in many cities across Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.

Students of JNU were attacked by ‘masked goons’. Photos: Twitter and The Wire

Somnolent political parties have come to shake off their quiescence, and many state governments have made it known that they will not implement the diktat to formulate an NRC.

The Kerala legislative assembly has passed a resolution – supported by 140 members from a total of 141 – to say that the state will not implement the CAA.

What if another eight or ten assemblies do the same, in defiance of the injunction of Article 256 of the Constitution of India, which requires that states shall carry out laws passed by parliament? Will Article 356 (imposition of Presidential Rule) take over?

What if a spreading citizen-resolve to refuse compliance with a proposed National Population Register (NPR) – a first step, admittedly, to the formulation of an NRC – query list, designed not even cleverly to secure details of citizens’ identity and background in order to facilitate a targeted compendium of “doubtful citizens” were to take country-wide hold, in defiance of the “legal”?

Would an independent Indian government, put in place by the sovereign “we the people”, as opposed to the British Crown, yield to the Satyagraha and repeal the second Black Act, the CAA, or would it still seek to muscle its sectarian will to achieve a consequence of creating classes of citizens on religious principle: some who “naturally” belong and “others” not?

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Will the republican Constitution of India continue to define Citizenship and nationhood, or will its provisions be supplanted by the alternate provisions recorded in a book by Golwalker, titled We, Our Nationhood Defined published in the highly instructive year of 1939, when German “race pride” (Golwalker’s phrase) was at its “peak” and held up by him as an exemplar for the India-to-be?

For all we know, the answer may be blowing in the chill wind of a noxious December in which the women of India armed with Durga-Shakti and the brave innocence of little children who suffer the chill next to them, bat for the republic on a nasty wicket.

Millions wish them success of their resolve, while Bapu looks askance at a repeat of the history he once confronted and made.