Alarming spread of the other C-virus in India - GulfToday

Alarming spread of the other C-virus in India

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

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Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

As the coronavirus lockdown is being lifted gradually to allow resumption of economic activity, the pandemic has started spreading at an increasing rate.  This was not unexpected.

Evidence which has now surfaced shows that, while the nation was preoccupied with the coronavirus, the no-less-deadly virus of communalism was also spreading.

The Central and state governments have been bending their energies towards ridding the country of the coronavirus.  Few among them have shown concern over the spread of the other C-virus. Some of them are, in fact, abetting in its spread.

India has been living with the communal virus for a long time. Occasionally it breaks out in a virulent form, as, for instance, during the Gujarat riots 0f 2002.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, which the Narendra Modi government pushed through Parliament last December, met with much opposition in the country because of its communal construct.

By providing for grant of citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from some neighbouring countries, the CAA introduced religion as a criterion for citizenship for the first time.

Home Minister Amit Shah, who piloted the measure, sought to dispel fears about the government’s intentions by pointing out that it would not deprive any Indian of citizenship. But he aggravated fears by declaring the government would prepare a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in every state, as was done in Assam. 

The proclaimed objective of the Assam NRC was to identify and expel illegal migrants in that state. Religion was not a factor in the exercise as Hindus and Muslims from erstwhile East Pakistan had entered the state. The issue was one of Assamese versus non-Assamese.

After coming to power at the Centre and in Assam, the Bharatiya Janata Party tried to turn it into a Hindu-Muslim issue. When the exercise was completed last August, about 1.9 million residents were declared illegal immigrants. They included many Hindus.

The BJP said ineligible Muslims were included in the NRC and eligible Hindus excluded. Those left out of the NRC are now in detention centres, where they are probably doomed to spend the rest of their lives.

The Hindu-Muslim divide is so deeply etched in the BJP’s Hindutva ideology that, despite the unhappy Assam experience, the party decided to go ahead with the plan to draw up NRC in every state.

Several State Assemblies passed resolutions asking the Centre to withdraw the CAA.

Many state governments told the Centre they would not cooperate in the NRC exercise. They also voiced reservations over the National Population Register as they suspected NPR data would be used to further the NRC project.

CAA protests that erupted in university campuses soon spread across the country.  A sit-in organised by residents of Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi inspired women in other parts of the country to organise similar protests in their neighbourhoods.

Police unleashed repression to quash the protests. In particular, they targeted students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Milia Islamia in Delhi and the Aligarh Muslim University.

Thousands were arrested, many under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. But the protest movement continued to grow. To counter the popular movement, the BJP launched a pro-CAA campaign. The party’s leaders, including one Central minister and several state ministers made open exhortations to shoot the protesters.

The attempt by a local BJP leader to foil the emergence of a Shaheen Bagh-like protest led to violence in northeast Delhi. More than 50 people were killed.

Then came the coronavirus. The lockdown put an end to public protests. Modi could have used the opportunity to stop divisive measures and foster unity but he didn’t. Under the lockdown, the police in Delhi and elsewhere made more arrests in connection with the CAA protests.

More than 700 cases were initiated in connection with the Delhi riots. A civil society group which examined the documents found that an equal number of Hindus and Muslims have been named as accused to make the one-sided attack look like a clash between two groups.

A report from Madhya Pradesh throws light on the extent to which the communal virus has infected the police. When a lawyer complained of assault, the police explained they thought he was a Muslim.

The public, too, has been infected.  Tina Dabi, an Indian Administrative Service officer, who married a colleague, Athar Aamir Khan, revealed last week that she got 600,000 followers on Instagram after dropping from her profile the Khan surname and description of herself as a daughter-in-law of Kashmir. 

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