Thousands of Indian Americans came out on the streets of the United States on 26th January, India’s Republic day calling for an end to Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) calling it Unsecular & Unconstitutional. National Register Of Citizens (NRC) & The National Population Register (NPR)
If your “Freedom” relies on my oppression, then neither of us are free.
Rep. Ilhan Omar
By our Bureau Chief Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO USA: As the country readies itself for the first election of the year in Delhi, the Narendra Modi government in India, in keeping up with its election strategy of polarizing Hindu Muslim votes, has been making provoking statements in election rallies in Delhi, about protestors against their communally provoking policies. Totally disregarding the swelling protests, against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), imposed by them and its twin supports the National Register of Citizen’s (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR), in India and abroad. The act is viewed as undemocratic and unconstitutional in letter and spirit by the protestors in India and abroad.
In one such protest, thousands of Indo-Americans marched and protested in 30 cities across the USA, to make a statement on Republic Day, against the Modi government’s constant assault on the Indian constitution and violation of human rights in the country. The venues chosen were the five Indian consulates including Houston and the Indian Embassy at Washington DC. The protests were an extension of their solidarity with fellow Indian citizens, agitating against the recently enacted CAA, to be followed soon by the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC).
“We cannot be physically present with the protestors, and so can do the next best thing by voicing our concerns from here on various occasions”, said Lubabah Abdullah, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). #CAIR, along with Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) are part of the Coalition to Stop Genocide (CSG), formed to address the falling human rights standards in India, the atrocities committed on Muslim minority and Dalits, to highlight rising crimes against women, resulting in 19 rapes every day, among other equally pressing issues of concern. CSG also has representatives from Black Lives Matter (BLM), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Equality Labs, and Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) and has been protesting, against #CAA/NRC for over six weeks now. They have also been making several representations to the United States Congress, to get them to pressurize the Modi government to repeal the act, on which the government refuses to even have a discussion.
During the protests held around the world, in countries where there is a significant Indian diaspora, an implicit support was offered to the women and children of Shaheen Baag in Delhi, who have been agitating for almost 50 days now, and the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia and other universities, all of whom have been brutalized by the local police, directed by the central government. The government has been hell-bent on imposing the law on the unsuspecting citizens, in total disregard and disdain for the protestors.
A handful of Modi supporters too decided to make their presence felt in the consulate premises, during the protests in Houston, Washington DC, Bay Area among others. These counter-protestors seem to have been planted there to drown the voices of the protestors, who were allotted spaces to agitate around the consulates. Their presence, encouraged by the consulate, established the fact that there is no line dividing the ruling political party, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian government. The government now seems to have simply abdicated its responsibility to be concerned about those agitating against it.
The extreme polarization that now ails the country, could not have been more obvious here. While the genuine protestors were peaceful, expressing concern for the subversion of the constitution, the attack on secularism and pluralism of the country, highlighting crimes against the minority, the supporters, had nothing really to contribute to the protests. They held standard printed signboards, with misleading information, repeated across cities, probably with instructions to blindly support CAA, without even understanding or being able to explain the ramifications of it.
The Modi supporters, easily identifiable because of the Howdy Modi event t-shirts that they were wearing, resorted to high decibel accusations, that the ones protesting across them were Pakistan supported terrorists, were ISIS supporters and more such wild allegations, dressed in their Indian finery, assuming the stance that they were the only “true” Indians.
At the Houston consulate, they thought nothing of sticking their middle fingers out to making wild allegations of the protestor’s association with Pakistan, ISIS, terrorists, while the consul staff watched, making one wonder if that is indeed the official line of the government.
Emphasizing the polarization that the Modi government has wrought amongst Indians, in India and abroad, a handful of these supporters have tried to hijack these protests, with little or no impact.
Few factors highlight both their protests. While the essential nature of the ‘protest’ is to express their angst against the policies of the present-day government, supporters of the Modi government are jumping in its defense, most often than not, with very little information and with zero need to empathize with the genuine protestors.
It was confusing the locals and the police, seeing Indian flags being waved on both sides and azaadi slogans being belted on both sides. Modi supporters were, however, chanting azaadi (freedom) from Pakistan, ISIS, in accordance with their bigotry.
One of the protestors, Dr. Syed Jafri, a medical doctor, who also has a local radio channel, had this to say, “We need to ask ourselves, how did we get here? Whatever happened to the vision of Gandhi, dream of Nehru or the constitution of Ambedkar? Was this just an accident or long-term strategy of a racist, ideological fundamental religious movement, inspired by Hitler’s Germany?”, referring to the fascist agenda of the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak, (RSS), who’s international wing the Hindu Swayam Sewak (HSS), operates from Houston.
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“CAA, NPR, and NCR are like three daggers trying to rip the tricolor of India, with the blood of innocent citizens of India, predominantly Muslim”, he said at a press conference to announce the details of the protests organized by the CSG.
Dr. Jafri, who comes from a family, of those Indian Muslims, who chose to live in India, “not by chance but by choice” and who’s extended family has served in various capacities as doctors, engineers, lawyers, and constitutional experts reminded that “despite 200 million Muslims, amounting to 15% of the population, they only have 5% representation in Parliament. Despite choosing India as their homeland, after several decades, they still remain the poorest, most illiterate due to the systematic challenges faced by the community”.
And yet none other than the home minister, Amit Shah in April last year, stated that “illegal immigrants are like termites they are eating the grains which should go to the poor, they are taking our jobs”, threatening to throw them in the Bay of Bengal. “Such brazen hatred cannot be expected from a country like India, which is also the largest democracy in the world, established based on Gandhi’s non-violent movement. Destroying the legacy of Gandhi within seven decades of his assassination and trying to resurrect his assassin Nathuram Godse is shocking”, he said.
Most of the protestors present were expressing their angst against the Islamophobic, misogynistic, homophobic, authoritative regime that the present Modi government has become, while the ‘other’ side was clearly working on an agenda to prove that this government is doing what it is doing to save the country from the ‘enemy’.
Through these protests and dialogues, Indian Americans and people of conscience in the US are seeking accountability from what they call a Hindu nationalist regime, that wants to turn Indian Muslims into foreigners and render them stateless.
The way the agitations are shaping not only in India but in the rest of the world too, where there is a significant Indian population, leaderless and without a twisted agenda in mind, it may well become one of the longest civil disobedience movement, since Independence. The only difference being that in the fight against the British, the whole country was united, whilst in the present fight, a substantial part of the population is on the other side of the political divide.
The situation is getting critical, with the home minister Amit Shah, refusing to have a dialogue with the agitators and refusing to budge an inch on the repealing of CAA too. Not much is expected from the Supreme Court either, which has not only refused to give a stay on the implementation of CAA, despite some misleading facts provided by the center, it’s decision and lack of it, on pressing matters like the Ayodhya temple and abrogation of Article 350, on the Kashmir issue, left a lot to be desired. Rajeshek Tarafder, a Ph.D. student from Los Angeles, and a vocal protestor is quite sure the judgment would be in favor of CAA and then “we need to decide, what next?”
There is no fooling the public that CAA is anything but a weapon to target millions of Muslims, leading to their disenfranchisement. The “chronology” is not lost on anyone, despite the prime minister himself trying to quell fears by saying that they have no plans for NRC, as yet. The condition of the minorities, especially the Muslims, have deteriorated rapidly with targeted attacks on them especially lynchings and with policies like Triple talaq, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the abrogation of Article 350. Efforts are on to change the demographics of the country, to make the Muslim community irrelevant, which is not lost on the protestors, despite the government claims to the contrary.
Expressing shock at India’s swift descent into fascism, Shakeib Mashood, of the IAMC stated that CAA, a draconian and discriminatory law was largely perceived as a precursor to an actual genocide, or ethnic cleansing. He reminded how CAA violates articles 14 and 15 of the constitution, which prohibits any kind of discrimination, based on religion, caste, gender.
“NRC will be launching in April. Millions will turn up short for lack of documents, which will affect all poor, not just Muslims. Protests spread to 50 cities, causing 30 deaths and 100’s injured, especially students, including women. Dog whistles to the enforcers need to stop”, said Shakeib.
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NRI’s are not only demanding the repeal of CAA, withdrawal of NPR and stopping NRC, the pressure is also being built on Trump administration to condemn the act and the actions of the Indian government.
They are also demanding that sanctions be imposed on home minister Amit Shah and take steps to include India in the top 10 list of countries, where there are severe violations in religious freedom. Efforts are on to petition US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to take necessary actions against the Modi government too.
Questioning this government’s priorities and the need to push the act so hard, when economy is down, transparency index is down and India now enjoying the dubious distinction of top five dangerous countries to live in, thanks to one man’s ego and inability to ‘listen’ and ‘empathize’ with the protestors, thrusting them on the other side of the divide instead, are reflective of a fascist regime. Protestors are realizing that religion and government have become intangibly entwined, in an inane display of superficial nationalism, a lust to divide and rule, causing untold fear and misery to the minority, not just the Muslims, but the Dalits as well, by the Modi government.
Attempts by the government to deliberately lie and mislead, using religion to polarize, when CAA does not include the clause of refugees facing religious prosecution (the clause which is, however, being used by the Modi government to push the act through) and the need to disturb the Citizenship Act and thereby the country, to accommodate a few thousand refugees, is further fueling the agitations.
The law is blatantly undemocratic according to the CSG, which coordinated protests at Indian missions in New York, Washington DC, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco, in addition to dozens of other cities with a sizeable presence of the Indian diaspora. Protesters in Washington, D.C., converged outside the Indian Embassy and marched to the White House. Other cities where protests are happening include Indianapolis, Wichita, St. Paul, Seattle, and Detroit.