“As India violence gets worse, police are accused of abusing Muslims” (New York Times, January 3). “As repression in India gets worse, notable figures remain silent” (Washington Post, January 4). "‘We are not safe': India’s Muslims tell of wave of police brutality” (Guardian, January 3). Conservative papers that this government wants to think well of it actually think that India is in trouble. The Financial Times asks if “India risks sliding into a second Emergency”. Whether we agree with the world is not the point: many Indians and particularly Hindus will disagree that things are bad in India or that this government is deliberately bullying its citizens.
The point is that this is how the world is viewing us. The question is why are they looking at us in unambiguous and disapproving terms. The truth is that the facts are against us. There is a reason that the protests in India against the citizenship laws are being led by India’s Muslims. They are the target of the law and they know this. Let us have a look at what the undisputed facts are.
First, in Assam, the NRC process began with Local Verification Officers striking off people from the voters’ list, calling them D-Voters (doubtful voters). Such D-Voters had no right to vote in elections once they had been put on this list. The process for putting them on this list was not transparent and Gauhati High Court and India’s Supreme Court colluded in this, using reckless language such as “external aggression”.
Second, on August 3, 2019, PTI reported: “Govt to prepare National Population Register to lay foundation for pan-India NRC.” The report says that "in pursuance of sub-rule(4) of rule 3 of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, the central government hereby decides to prepare and update the Population Register… and the field work for house-to-house enumeration throughout the country except Assam for collection of information relating to all persons who are usually residing within the jurisdiction of local registrar shall be undertaken between the 1st day of April, 2020 to 30th September, 2020," said a notification issued by Vivek Joshi, Registrar General of Citizen Registration and Census Commissioner.” The report said that president Ram Nath Kovind, in his address to the Lok Sabha, on June 20 that the government had decided to implement the National Register of Citizens on priority basis. India's prime minister is either ignorant or lying when he says that there has been no discussion of NRC.
Third, on March 26, 2018, Reserve Bank of India issued notification No. FEMA 21(R)/2018-RB which said that "A person being a citizen of Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan belonging to minority communities in those countries, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who is residing in India and has been granted a Long Term Visa by the Central Government may purchase only one residential immovable property in India as dwelling unit for self-occupation and only one immovable property for carrying out self-employment…”
How would RBI know which religion individuals belonged to? Would we start now having to declare our religion to open a bank account? This was not thought through by the government and not noticed at the time. When this came to light, last week, the Union Home Secretary sent out a tweet saying “Indian citizens” would not have to declare their religion. The problem, of course, is who decides who is a citizen and who is an immigrant?
The facts in the minds of Muslims are clear, and they are as follows: this government has been planning for some time to introduce a process which will weed out India’s Muslims. First, there will be a bureaucratic purge of Muslim names from the voter list. Then, these people who are “doubtful” will have to present themselves before other bureaucrats and prove their innocence. What would happen in the interim? Along with their D-voter status, would come a loss of their passport and license, their right over their property (because only non-Muslims are allowed, according to the RBI circular), their right to have a bank account and a job.
The government does not even need to build all the concentration camps, called “detention centres”, around the country. Merely doing what has been mentioned above would pretty much take care of the Muslims of India permanently. Those Muslims who ultimately escape would still have to live with the trauma of not knowing whether they will be facing this trial. Can we understand now why they are leading the protests? They have zero confidence in the words and assurances of the prime minister and home minister, and I do not blame them. In fact, I am on their side.
Fourteen of the 16 people killed in UP’s violence were killed by bullets fired by police but our prime minister’s narrative is the violence by the protestors. This is why the world is looking at India with distaste and dismay, and who can say that they are wrong in thinking about us in that way?
(Aakar Patel is a columnist and a writer. Views expressed are personal).