CAA and NRC: Against one, against all

J Devika | Updated on February 21, 2020 Published on February 20, 2020

We see you: It is time to broaden the resistance against the security state, irrespective of whether it is clad in saffron or red - Thulasi Kakkat   -  The Hindu

Why anti-CAA protesters in Kerala should join forces with the marginalised whose hold on citizenship has always been precarious

An unprecedented number of people are on the streets of Kerala, like elsewhere in India, to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), after Home Minister Amit Shah forced the CAA down the throats of Indians. Suddenly, middle-class complacency about belonging seems shaken not just for Muslims but also many Hindus. The prospect of being suppliant to bureaucrats and sundry lawyers in tribunals has brought home the feeling that this is going to be the beginning of a process that makes everyone’s citizenship — even that of the well-cushioned middle-class — utterly precarious. No wonder, then, that many consider the ongoing struggles a matter of life and death. Thus, nearly 70 lakh people joined in a massive 620-km human chain against the CAA and NRC, organised by the ruling Left Democratic Front on Republic Day this year, which stretched along the length of Kerala from the north to the south.

Yet there is something profoundly lacking in this picture. Part of this unease arises from the fact that the Left government here — along with all the major opposition parties — is trying to play power games even at this moment of grave danger to Indian democracy. The shocking arrest of two young students and Communist Party of India (Marxist) activists, Allan Shuaib and Twaha Fasal, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for alleged Maoist leanings, reminds us that the Left leadership is not averse to using the instruments of the security state to warn its own cadre against less-than-docile behaviour.

But, for me, the unease also stems from the fact that we seem to be happy with protest-as-spectacle, with managed events, which are always single-day affairs organised by the CPM. Compared with the rest of the country, the anti-CAA protests here seem devoid of imagination and liveliness; and the surge of female initiative and leadership that kindles hope everywhere else is decidedly lacking here. If Malayali women have been in the forefront of struggles in North India, it is difficult to find such young women here, for sure. One cannot also help being worried at the way in which the assertion of ‘We the People’ seems to be feeding the hyper-masculine protector-figure of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, rather than broadening and deepening civil society’s watchfulness against the manoeuvres of the security state, irrespective of whether it is clad in saffron or red.

In other words, more than ever before, we need a strong, independent, critical civil society not beholden to the state or the current government. The sheer pusillanimity of the so-called ‘Left fellow-travellers’ among Kerala’s Left intellectuals is only too evident today, as is the political passivity of the state-centred civil society fostered in and through women’s self-help groups, leaving them completely inadequate to contemporary challenges. The Left leadership knows that despite all their protestations against the government’s use of the UAPA against the young people based on flimsy evidence, the Left fellow-travellers among the intellectuals will ultimately return to the CPM’s stables. It is clear then that we need a civil society that does not kneel before power; we need resistance to the arbitrary powers unleashed by the rampant destruction of democratic institutions in the country, irrespective of whether they are exercised by the Right or the Left; we must take up the task of building a morally robust civil society.

In Kerala, the first step in that direction would be for anti-CAA protesters to acknowledge that not only should they bring into their struggles the question of the CPM’s confounding use of the UAPA, they should also see the connections between the future of disenfranchisement that they fear, and the past and present of the marginalised, whose hold on citizenship has always been tenuous and precarious. I am reminded of the continuing injustice towards the two Dalit girl children sexually violated and murdered at Walayar, Kerala, which had led to an outcry last year. This was however drowned in the terrible worries unleashed by CAA-NRC.

However, if we are to build a resistant civil society, it is time we saw that even though there is a significant difference between the two, it is actually a short step from extreme marginalisation and disenfranchisement-in-effect to formal disenfranchisement and permanent marginalisation. It is time that the anti-CAA protesters thronged the protest pandal in Thiruvananthapuram for the Walayar girls, offering support — instead of waiting for feminists to resolve a ‘women’s issue’.

(This is the concluding piece of Mind The Gap)



J Devika is a historian and critic based in Thiruvananthapuram

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Published on February 20, 2020
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