CAA, NRC threat to soul of India: 300 personalities echo dissent

They say the actions of the government are antithetical to the principle of a secular, inclusive nation

Open Letter
The personalities included actor Naseeruddin Shah, historian Romila Thapar and vocalist TM Krishna | File Photo

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register for Citizens (NRC) are threats to the soul of India, said over 300 eminent personalities, including actor Naseeruddin Shah, filmmaker Mira Nair, and vocalist TM Krishna, in a statement published on Indian Cultural Forum on January 13.

Noted personalities including authors Amitav Ghosh, Anita Desai and Kiran Desai, historian Romila Thapar, actors Ratna Pathak Shah, Jaaved Jafferi, Nandita Das and Lillete Dubey, sociologist Ashis Nandy, and activists Sohail Hashmi and Shabnam Hashmi were also among the signatories who expressed solidarity with the students and others protesting against CAA and NRC.

“We stand in solidarity with the students and others who are protesting and speaking out against the CAA and against the NRC. We salute their collective cry for upholding the principles of the Constitution of India, with its promise of a plural and diverse society.

“We are aware that we have not always lived up to that promise, and many of us have too often remained silent in the face of injustice. The gravity of this moment demands that each of us stand for our principles,” the statement read.

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“The policies and actions of the present government, passed quickly through parliament and without opportunity for public dissent or open discussion, are antithetical to the principle of a secular, inclusive nation.

“The soul of the nation is threatened. The livelihoods and statehoods of millions of our fellow Indians are at stake. Under the NRC, anyone unable to produce documentation (which, in many cases, does not exist) to prove their ancestry may be rendered stateless. Those deemed “illegal” through the NRC may be eligible for citizenship under the CAA, unless they are Muslim,” the statement further read.

The personalities said that contrary to the stated objective of the government, the CAA doesn’t appear to be a “benign legislation only meant to shelter persecuted minorities”. They questioned why the minorities from neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, China and Myanmar have been excluded from the CAA.

“Is it because the ruling powers in these latter countries are not Muslim? It appears that the legislation believes that only Muslim governments can be perpetrators of religious persecution. Why exclude the most persecuted minorities in the region, the Rohingya of Myanmar or the Uighurs of China? This legislation only acknowledges Muslim perpetrators, never Muslim victims. The aim is transparent: Muslims are the unwelcome other,” they added.

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The new legislation is not only “state-sanctioned religious persecution” but also a threat to the “indigenous identity and livelihood” of Assam and the Northeast, and in Kashmir, and the signatories said they will not condone it. The note also criticised the police crackdown on students of universities across the country such as Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University.

“The response of the government and law-enforcement agencies to the distress of its citizens has been callous and high-handed. India has seen the most Internet shutdowns of any democracy in the world.

“Police brutality has left hundreds injured, including many students from Jamia Milia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University. Several citizens have been killed while protesting. Many more have been placed in preventive detention. Section 144 has been imposed in numerous states to curb protests.”

They said “enough is enough” and they stand for a secular and inclusive vision of India. “We stand with those who bravely oppose anti-Muslim and divisive policies. We stand with those who stand up for democracy. We will be with you on our streets and across all our platforms. We are in solidarity,” the statement read.

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Protests broke out across the country in December last year, after the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was cleared by Parliament and signed by President Ram Nath Kovind into an Act. The Act provides Indian citizenship to people from Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come to India till December 31, 2014, from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan due to religious persecution.

The protesters claim the legislation was “unconstitutional and divisive” as it excludes Muslims. They have expressed apprehensions that the CAA along with NRC will impact the community in the country. However, the government maintains that the Act is not intended to take away anyone’s citizenship.

(With inputs from agencies)