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Turning protests into riots

  • Published at 08:00 pm March 3rd, 2020
india dont divide us caa nrc protests
Persecution is universal REUTERS

Who is fanning the flames of hatred?

Protests are an essential part of modern democratic and human rights norms. Generally, protests are outcomes of grievances due to social or state policy and/or action. 

Protests in modern societies have become quite common and often protests are prolonged and, more or less, disruptive. However, protests also allow people to vent out real or perceived grievances and often set the stage for negotiations. 

Delhi Shaheen Bagh’s sit-in is one such peaceful protest which received the endorsement from national and international liberals and enlightened. 

In various key places global metropolises -- there have been anti-capitalist “occupy” movements of several prolonged sit-ins. Responsible authorities in the developed and developing world, over the decades, have learned many techniques to deal with protests in civilized ways. 

Even authoritarian China dealt with prolonged and often aggressive Hong Kong protests with high patience and maturity. Only when protests threatened to harm key national installations or create a riot, forces were applied to contain them.

In India, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) coupled with the prospect of nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) has created a lot of confusion, especially among the vast minority Muslims. 

Recently in Assam, 1.9 million people -- 1.3 million Hindus and 600,000 Muslims -- have suddenly become stateless. These poor people could not produce the draconian legacy documents although they have other proof of residency. 

While through CAA -- Hindus will be awarded citizenship, the Muslims will be put to detention camps for several years and later go through another process of residence permit or citizenship or face deportation -- to where nobody knows.

This phenomenon followed by a declaration by Amit Shah and other BJP leaders for nationwide NRC and the complexity of CAA and National Population Register (NPR -- a toned down version of NRC) have sent chilling messages to Indian Muslims which stand at almost 180 million now. 

Muslims are the largest religious minority in the world -- more in number than the combined population of Germany, France, and Netherlands. BJP and Sangh family already have the reputation of Hindutva agendas and creating and cashing in the Hindu-Muslim divide.

Although, to be fair, to the BJP government, the CAA has nothing much against Indian Muslims per se. It says more about favouring Hindus from other countries to migrate to India and become citizens as persecuted minorities of those countries. 

But, the CAA is often pronounced alongside nationwide NRC and that’s the troubling part -- despite the fact that theoretically, these two are supposed to be separate things. 

In the face of nationwide mass protests, Amit Shah has said recently that no Indian Muslim will be affected or expelled and Prime Minister Modi has declared to replace the idea of national NRC with an easier NPR. 

However, it takes time for frightened common Muslims to grasp the distinction. Statelessness or becoming a refugee -- for a settled population -- is a dreadful nightmare for citizens in the modern world of national boundaries.

Other liberal forces joined hands with the protesting Indian Muslims and in-line with the Dalit outfit Bhim Army, the anti-CAA-NRC protesters attempted to make another peaceful sit-in protest in another spot of Delhi. It coincided with President Trump’s visit to India. 

Protests during the visit of a powerful foreign dignitary in democracies to draw attention aren’t that uncommon.

But, hell broke loose in that area as Hindu mob consisting BJP and RSS cadres led by local BJP leaders attacked the protesters and started rioting. Protesters also tried to fight back. The attack was preceded by open hate speech against Muslims and protesters by local BJP leaders and the Indian government did nothing about it, as always. 

Rather, the BJP government has been more interested in persecution and prosecution -- for no worthwhile reason -- of liberals, minority activists, and intellectuals; even the judge who ordered to register the First information report against the prime instigator of riots -- a local BJP leader -- was then transferred overnight.

It’s difficult to believe that pro-government party cadres would take this degree of action in such a delicate time without the tacit nod from the government. Inaction or biased action of the Delhi Police -- controlled by the central government -- confirmed the stratagem. 

The riot continued for the next one week and 46 people died and hundreds of houses, businesses, vehicles, properties, belonging mostly to Muslims, were burned down. 

Another sit-in in a vast city like Delhi would mean nothing, but -- the raw, biased, and inapt handling -- would only represent the communal mindset of the Indian government. 

In India, in the Muslim pockets of the society -- they have some capacity of resistance and so does many other ethnic, linguistic, and caste groups. 

Saffron forces wish to crush that completely and bring down Muslims on their knees. It’s part of their perpetual Hindu-Muslim game in line with their tactic of divide for vote. 

And all these have happened right in the heart of India’s capital, under the watch of the government and top BJP leadership and in full glare of national and international media. It seems that the Saffron dispensation has become more careless and shameless with regards to their fascist intents.

The BJP doses almost anything and everything for power. Nehruvian political propriety seems to be long gone. The important state election in the state of Bihar is forthcoming and will be followed by a few more.

The continuing Hindu-Muslim game appears quite handy for the Hindutva ruling dispensation. It is to be seen how bad would be the mid and long term ramifications of the Saffron machination and imposition of their ideology in the vast, diverse yet delicate nation like India.

Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is an opinion contributor for Dhaka Tribune.