The discussion that included panelists like historian Ramachandra Guha discussed CAA, the politics of inclusion and exclusion, and navigating the intersections of our various identities.

What of NRCs effect on Adivadis other marginalized Bluru panel discusses citizenship
news CAA Saturday, February 08, 2020 - 16:45

On Friday evening in Bengaluru, when many would be making their way to their favourite watering holes in the city, around 150 people made their way to the Indian Institute of Agricultural Technologists on Queens Road. They quickly filled up the hall designated for a panel discussion on a very topical issue – Citizenship, Identity, and Migration -- organised by the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) during their 15th national conference. 

The panelists included historian Ramchandra Guha; feminist activist and filmmaker formerly with women’s rights organisation Vimochana, Madhu Bhushan; a scholarship student of communications at Mount Carmel, Teresa Braggs; and St Joseph’s professor who also writes on caste, Vijeta Kumar, among others. The panel also had Malini Bhattacherjee, a professor at Azim Premji University, who was the sole person on the dais supporting CAA.

The following conversation – moderated by journalist Rohini Mohan of NWMI – saw a vibrant discussion on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the politics of inclusion and exclusion, and navigating the intersections of our various identities.


Unsurprisingly, the CAA -- which seeks to provide citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis who fled Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan to India due to religious persecution — was at the heart of the discussion. Calling it discriminatory, Ramchandra Guha alleged the Act was premised on the fact that only Islamic countries persecute and everyone except Muslims are persecuted.

Ravi Kumar, a professor at National Law School University of India, Bengaluru and a lawyer, was also one of the panelists. He argued that the BJP-led Centre had chosen only these three neighbouring states as they are the most ‘polarising’. Both he and Guha questioned why Sri Lanka was left out of the ambit of the Act, even though Lankan Tamils made up the biggest refugee group in India.

He also spoke about the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and called them “illegitimate”.

“Section 18 of the Citizenship Act allows the government to make rules to carry out the purposes of the Act. The government has proposed to club the Census exercise with the NPR this year. However, the Census Act does not allow for the clubbing of any other activity with it. Further, Census is an enumeration, and not identification – unlike NPR. And given that the Constitution says that religion must not be a basis for conferring or taking away any rights (including citizenship), the CAA is not permissible under the Constitution. By extension, the NPR and NRC do not qualify as legitimate rules to carry out the purposes of the Citizenship Act. They are illegitimate,” Ravi said.

However, Malini, who is in favour of CAA, argued that a country is not obligated to hand out citizenship to everyone; and there are concerns regarding displomacy and national security that should be taken into account.

The impact on marginalized communities

A strong criticism against NRC has been that it will impact the marginalized the most. Madhu, who works with a nomadic community in Karnataka called the Hakki Pikkis, explained that the community claimed citizenship by naming themselves after the space they were born in – like ‘Depot’ (for he was born near a rice depot). “Think of the impact an NRC would have on communities like these. What happens to people who don’t have access to documents or no concept of documents? Over 50% of denotified tribes have no documents, and even more have no addresses and own no land. Where do they go?” Madhu questioned.

Ravi further questioned what happens to tribes that worship nature and do not recognise the religions on the basis of which CAA will grant Indian citizenship. Teresa also pointed out that transgender persons are also likely to be affected by the NRC due to lack of or hurdles in getting proper documentation.

Panelists said that the timing of the Act is no coincidence. Ramchandra Guha alleged that the BJP is driven by a sense of vindication and hatred towards Muslims. “Look at the trajectory. There was the abrogation of Article 370, which downgraded India’s only Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir to a union territory. Then there was the Ayodhya verdict. And then, the CAA.”

The personal and political

Looking at citizenship from a personal and philosophical angle, Madhu said that citizenship was also about a sense of belonging, which is the idea at the centre of ‘swaraj’ (self-rule). Quoting Hannah Arendt, a German-American political theorist, Madhu said, “In that context, a stateless person is not just expelled from a state, but expelled from humanity.”

Vijeta Kumar drew from her own experience as a Dalit. “My father, who is quite right wing as well, loves the country so much that every day, he strives to remove the marks of his Dalit identity from his body. Even then, the country rejects him. The question of citizenship is ironic for us in this context.”

Teresa Braggs, meanwhile, addressed the rhetoric against students being involved in the protests – that they should be studying instead. She said that for many youngsters like her, the sense of identity and Indian-ness has been in the process of forming. “We are protesting because we are emotionally and intellectually invested in the future of this country.”

Teresa added that this was also to challenge the ideas and narratives that the government has encouraged – that of the tukde tukde gang, urban naxals, and anti-nationals – to alienate and identify those who dissent. “Who we are is students who do their homework in the candlelight at a protest… or the queer Muslim student who came on stage asking everyone to be quiet because her mother on the phone thought she was back in her accommodation,” Teresa said.

The achievement of this movement

Many of the panelists said that the biggest achievement of the anti-CAA, NRC movement was that it had united Indians, and brought them out to the streets on a scale that has been the biggest since the Indian freedom struggle.

22-year-old Teresa, who has been at the forefront of many Bengaluru protests, said that while they were still trying to figure out their identities, “The Hindutva-vaadis have made sure that we know what we don’t identify with.”

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