What Does CAA Signify For India As A Nation?

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India has suddenly been overtaken by a storm of protests by students, citizens and intense social debates over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) since the fag-end of 2019. The mass protests have also attracted the attention of international media and communities across the world.

Started by independently-thinking students from different universities like Jamia Milia Islamia in Delhi, these protests were simultaneously taken up by common citizens in many big towns and cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Lucknow and Patna, marking a turbulent end to 2019 for the whole nation.

People’s views on CAA display an unprecedented range of unique attitudes to secularism and the character of nationalism in India — from awareness about communal divide facing most parts of the nation to a deep fear of violence that is both state-sanctioned and based on religious frenzy. All over the country, citizens are seen participating in powerful debates over CAA, whether or not it is good for the democratic spirit of India.

Many see CAA as just a stand-alone Act passed by the BJP-led majoritarian government, which will allow refugees, except Muslims, from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to seek shelter and livelihood in India. And yet, thousands of citizens see it as part of a package of other legislations like NRC that will allow the government to not only keep tabs on citizens living in the country, but also aid the authorities in targeting citizens like Muslims, Adivasis (tribals) or transgenders who do not have the required documents to make it on the citizenship rolls. Since India does not have a proper legislation for immigrants and refugees, many of these communities face a bleak future in state-run detention camps.

Students, who are free-thinkers to some extent and not bound by conventional political thoughts and social values, started the ongoing protests across the nation against the communally divisive nature or possibly the violent impact of CAA.

On its part, the government has denied the implementation of NRC in the near future. However, the letters and documents passed by the government, also available in the media as early as 2014, and Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s stray remarks point towards the contrary.

CAA is also being seen as a potential tool for building and maintaining a certain type of conservative vote-bank for the government to keep its majority in leading the politics in the country.

Many Hindu voters are being seen as vindicated both after the Ayodhya verdict and CAA, which has been touted as purging the country of unwanted violent elements. While the government categorically denies that CAA will adversely affect any citizen, including Muslims, in the country, the complete and exclusionary effects of CAA and NRC remain to be seen.

What is most relevant today to all groups is that CAA has led to the creation of an environment of deep-seated fear of exclusion, certain kind of excommunication and silencing of voices of some minority groups.

The country is torn with violence-perpetuated both by state-sanction police forces and also in many places by agitated citizens. The question is when the country is facing a six-year economic low of 4.5% (2019-20), stumped manufacturing sector, high unemployment rates and worst climactic problems, do the citizens of India at this time really need this atmosphere of communal fear and violence? Or is the Modi-led government trying to divert attention from slumped growth and development in the country? The full impact of CAA is yet to be seen but it has certainly brought out the citizens to become more politically aware of the nature of governance and citizenship in India.

(The author stays in New York)

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