We should examine why such strong protests have broken out across India and are being covered across the world. The government says that there is confusion in the minds of the protestors and a lack of knowledge about its legislation and proposed actions on citizenship. But the fact is that we are seeing wider and more passionate resistance to the government in public than at any time since 2014. The question is why.
To my mind, it is incorrect for the government to believe that the protestors do not know what they are protesting about. And it is also incorrect to believe that the protestors should not fear what the government is currently doing and what it has announced for the future. A little background may be useful here. In 2017, the Assam government submitted an affidavit at Guwahati high court. It concerned the extension of the two-year contracts of those advocates who were in charge of the foreigners’ tribunals in that state. The document submitted by the government showed that it was refusing to extend the contract of those members who were not declaring too many people as foreigners. The contract of Kartik C. Ray, who declared 1.32 per cent of the 380 people whose documents he examined as foreigners, “may be terminated”, the government of Assam said. In the appraisal, under the heading “general views of the government upon the member”, Mr Ray’s performance was marked “not satisfactory” and under the heading “whether may be considered for further retention or may be terminated” the government said “may be terminated”. Similarly the contracts of Dilip Kumar Barman (4.33 per cent of 485 people, not satisfactory, may be terminated), Bhaba Hazarika (2.43 per cent of 494 people, not satisfactory, may be terminated), Dwijen Dutta (1.46 per cent out of 548 people, not satisfactory, may be terminated) Kamaluddin Ahmed Choudhary (1.06 per cent out of 472, not satisfactory, may be terminated), Nilay Kanti Ghose (0.82 per cent out of 485, not satisfactory, may be terminated), Navanita Mitra (2.23 per cent out of 263, not satisfactory, may be terminated) and Kulendra Talukdar (7.67 per cent out of 326, not satisfactory, may be terminated).
So what is the pattern? To see that, we must examine which individual’s contracts were extended. These included Narayan Kumar Nath (34.57 per cent out of 460 people declared foreigners), about whom the general view of the government was “good” and the recommendation was that he “may be retained”. Then there are Abhijit Das (39.05 per cent out of 443, good, may be retained), Hemanta Mahanta (41.67 per cent out of 574, “need to improve”, and “may be retained with warning”), Naba Kr Barua (74.77 per cent out of 321, good, may be retained), Dhiraj Kr Saikia (41.16 per cent out of 345, good, may be retained), Junmoni Borah (15.33 per cent out of 300, good, may be retained), Kalpana Baruah (26.91 per cent out of 249, need to improve, may be retained with warning), Ramakanta Khaklary (15.65 per cent out of 626, good, may be retained), Ajay Phukan (19.38 per cent out of 239, good, may be retained) and Nibedita Tamulinath (58.47 per cent out of 691, good, may be retained).
I do not have to explain the pattern here because it is obvious. What has happened is that in Assam, contract workers are being encouraged and rewarded to declare people foreigners. Those contract workers who are not doing what the government wants are being sacked. The people then declared foreigner are jailed. When the National Human Rights Commission sent a team to examine the conditions of these people, they found that families were separated permanently, with women and children living in a different jail from the men. Many had gone mad and they were being housed in the same jails as convicts.
India is doing this to its own people and doing so under a reversal of burden of proof. In the civilised world, the government has to prove that an individual has committed a crime. In India, the individual must prove that she must not be jailed. So this is what the National Register of Citizens, which Amit Shah will implement across the country, is about and this is how it is being executed.
Now let us turn to the Citizenship Amendment Act. What does it do? It will jail Muslims who are accused of being foreigners and cannot prove that they are Indians to the satisfaction of the BJP government. The people of all other religions are exempt from proving this because the CAA says that even if they entered India illegally before December 2014, they will be given fast-track citizenship. Only Muslims will have to prove their credentials.
And so, the NRC is aimed at rounding up and permanently jailing Indian Muslims who cannot produce the documents to satisfy a government which punishes those officials who do not declare maximum number of Muslims foreigners. It is for this reason that we see so many Indian Muslims protesting these laws and it is for this reason that so many non-Muslims cannot stand by and watch what is happening in their country.
Lastly, it is for this reason that the foreign minister of India shamefully ran away this week, cancelling his appointment with a US Congressional delegation which was aware of what India is doing to its own people. He knew that he would not be able to defend his actions, and that of our government, because they cannot be defended.