Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol a street vandalised in last Tuesday's violence in New Delhi. Picture: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri
Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol a street vandalised in last Tuesday's violence in New Delhi. Picture: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri

Violence could spread until India backs off from divisive citizenship register.

By Sanjay Kapoor Time of article published Mar 1, 2020

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On February 25, a few kilometres away from where US President Donald Trump in his first visit to India was holding his bilateral meeting at New Delhi’s stately Hyderabad House, a dark plume of smoke was rising from communal riots that racked the north-eastern part of the capital.

Why did the violence take place at the time when President Trump was in Delhi? There are many theories, but nothing really explains the scale and brutality of the violence. Goons were brought from outside the city and were seen accompanied by Delhi Police cops. Many of these rioters were using apps to find out the vehicles and properties of their enemies. 

There are so many videos - disseminated through social media - that prove that the police were complicit in the riots, and at certain places are shown pelting stones. Sworn testimonies of the riot victims suggest that the happenings in Delhi were not really different from the communal riots that have taken place in the past in  Delhi and elsewhere. 

In 1984 there were the anti-Sikh riots, and in 2002 the Gujarat riots, where the police encouraged the majority community to show the minorities their place. Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat and was accused of encouraging this anti-Muslim pogrom that saw a few thousand die.

To date 35 have died and more than 200 are injured. This number is expected to soar. Angry passions were brewing in the capital for a while. Jamia University and Jawahar Lal Nehru University have seen violence encouraged by indifferent policing. 

This riot was triggered by the bellicosity of some ruling party politicians against those protesting against the new citizenship amendment act.

Women are at the vanguard of this nationwide sit in protest, which they claim is exclusionary and undermines the secular character of the country. For the first time since it was created, India will not entertain Muslim refugees from neighboring countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. 

This thought process is the legacy of a bloody partition of 1947 that created India and Pakistan. What riles and causes serious existential worries for India’s 200 million Muslims who are not immigrants, is the national register of citizenship (NRC), which would decide - on the basis of the submitted documents - who is a citizen and who is stateless. 

In the absence of any concrete assurance by the BJP government, Muslims fear that they would be thrown into detention camps that are being constructed in different parts of the country. 

In the north-east state of Assam, which attempted to identify infiltrators from neighboring Bangladesh, the Citizenship register created extreme disquiet and uncertainty. The survey was disastrous and people in the rest of the country shudder at the thought of the process getting replicated in a society where few have documents. 

In Assam, 1.2 million people were declared as stateless. A majority of them are Hindus and could find themselves in detention centers if the government does not rescue them.

The citizenship amendment act has attracted trenchant reaction in the country’s neighborhood. Bangladesh has displayed its anxieties towards the citizen act more strongly. It does not want to be seen- by implication of CAA - as the reason for infiltration in India’s northeast and the rest of the country. 

A Bangladeshi diplomat had angrily said that his countrymen would rather swim to Italy than come to India. With their growth rate higher than that of India, officials in Dhaka claim that there is little reason for their people to cross over to India in search of jobs.

During a presser in Delhi, US President Trump was asked about his views on the CAA and the protests that were sweeping the country. He claimed that he had a long discussion with Indian PM Narendra Modi. He further said that ‘as far as the individual attacks, I heard about it, but I didn’t discuss that with him (Modi). That’s up to India.”

Although Trump’s response on the CAA was music to Modi, it did not go down well with US Democratic party presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders. In a tweet Sanders said that Trump had failed on the issue of human rights and it was a “failure of his leadership.” 

Sanders said: “Over 200 million Muslims call India home. Widespread anti-Muslim mob violence has killed at least 27 and injured many more and Trump says that it's up to India."

Other US Congressmen also jumped on the issue and criticized Modi and the government for failing to perform their constitutional duty to look after the minorities.  

BJP foreign cells jumped into the controversy and threatened Sanders by claiming that they would be compelled to intervene in the US elections. Until one of their office-bearers withdrew his threatening tweet, it seemed that the BJP would openly side and campaign for the reelection of Donald Trump against Sanders if he becomes the Democratic Party’s Presidential candidate. 

During his US visit in September last year, Modi had given ample suggestion that he would want him to get re-elected by swinging US Indian votes. Trump’s visit to India was to woo them further, but it is unlikely that American Indians would just change their electoral preferences due to political divisions that have surfaced in the country of their origin.

In India, though, the violence is unlikely to end anytime soon, but could spread further until the government backs off from its divisive citizenship register.

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