How is Asaduddin Owaisi doing as a person

India in the identity trap

by Pierre Daum

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The largest protest movement to date against India's Hindu nationalist government was sparked by the implicitly anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was passed in early December 2019.

The CAA facilitates the acquisition of Indian citizenship for refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. However only for Hindus as well as for Sikhs, Buddhists, Jainas, Parsees and Christians - that means for all religious groups except the Muslims.1

Mass protests have raged across India since December, killing 30. The population in the northeastern state of Assam reacted particularly vigorously, although this is a special case. In August 2019, many Assamese reacted with satisfaction when the promised registration of all residents who have lived in the state since 1971 was finally implemented (see text opposite). However, the hope that all Hindus who immigrated after 1971 could be expelled with it was dashed with the passing of the new naturalization law.

“The CAA will attract all Hindus from Bangladesh. We are being flooded! ”Fears the 19-year-old Hindu Kustabh Gogoï, a student at Cotton University in the capital Guwahati. Since December he has been attending the daily demos, dressed in the traditional red and white patterned cotton cloth, the Gamusa. “Our tribes! Our country! Our rights! The foreigners should not get any of this! ”Shouted the demonstrators in Assamese. Practically the entire population stands behind such slogans.

In contrast to Assam, the protest in the other states is against the anti-secular tendency of the CAA. Although the Indian state maintains denominational schools and universities, and civil servants, pupils and students are allowed to wear religious symbols, the preamble to the 1950 constitution guarantees all citizens “freedom of opinion and belief, equality and equal opportunities”.

According to official reports, the controversial CAA only wants to “grant asylum” to the Hindus who are “persecuted” in neighboring countries. But after the government had already lifted Kashmir’s autonomous status2 and the Uttar Pradesh Supreme Court has approved the construction of a Hindu temple on the site of the Ayodhya Mosque, which was destroyed by Hindu fanatics3 , this law is clearly another anti-Muslim act by the BJP regime.

A center of the protest movement was the Muslim university Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. But liberal Hindu activists also took part in the Muslim-dominated demonstrators. The student Shehbaz Ali Ahmed describes how the anti-Muslim atmosphere has intensified since Modi came to power: “Every day you see videos of Muslims being lynched just for transporting cows4 . So far we have not reacted, but with the CAA you are attacking the constitution! "

Modi's new strike against Muslims

Next to him is the 26-year-old PhD student Hemanta Karshek Mahanta, a Hindu; "Not In My Name" is written on his poster. "I am against the CAA and also against the NRC," says Mahanta, "with this the BJP wants to turn the people against the Muslims in order to divert attention from the economic misery it has brought us for five years."

However, it is unlikely that the government will buckle in the face of the protests in Assam and the rest of the country. Narendra Modi continues to enjoy the support of broad sections of the population who are impressed by his propaganda.

The English teacher Sunitha lives in Noida, a suburb in the south of Delhi, where the Hindu middle class lives. “The Muslims became too many,” she claims, “they began to feel stronger than us. Modi put them in their place; now we can be proud of being Indians again! ”Sunitha's husband, a former infantry colonel, thinks the CAA is good because India must be“ a refuge ”for Hindus:“ If the Muslims feel persecuted in India, they can flee to Pakistan or Bangladesh. But where should the Hindus go who are persecuted in these countries? "

However, the majority of the Muslim population does not go to the demonstrations. Most of them prefer to duck down and convince themselves that they are protected by the constitution - despite the daily documented attacks by the police and the judiciary. On more and more new videos distributed via WhatsApp you can see how brutal the police are against anti-CAA protests in the Muslim quarters. “I'd rather stay at home, then I won't get into trouble,” says Mohammed Muntzim, a young doctor from Lucknow.

Lucknow is the capital of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, where about 20 percent of the over 200 million inhabitants are Muslim. During the numerous protests, which were often accompanied by damage to property, the police in the predominantly Muslim villages and city districts acted particularly brutally.

The BJP head of government of Uttar Pradesh, the extremist Hindu Ajay Singh Bisht, praised the “courage” of the law enforcement forces and promised: “The chaos will have to pay for the damage they have caused.” Thereupon high-ranking Muslims in the city of Bulandshahr called for a fundraising campaign which raised the estimated repair costs in a very short time.

"Unfortunately, Muslims are not used to organizing themselves politically in order to defend their rights," explains Asaduddin Owaisi, a member of parliament from Hyderabad, a major South Indian city with an established Muslim community; Owaisi heads one of the few Muslim parties in India. “For decades they voted for the Congress Party, which was always secular. But in truth this party has long since stopped defending Muslims against the attacks of the BJP! "

With 303 (of 543) seats, the BJP has an absolute majority in the national parliament and strong popular support. Backing off when it comes to CAA is out of the question for them. Nor will it forego expanding the Assam NRC to all of India, possibly in conjunction with the 2021 nationwide census due to begin in April 2020.

The 200 million Muslims in India, who have since lost all trust in the police and the judiciary, are largely defenseless against this new attack: there is no political organization that can defend them; In addition, the huge community is weakened by regional and box-like divergences.

“I don't want to risk anything,” says Jamil X., a 45-year-old entrepreneur from Delhi's Muslim district Jamia Naga, “I already have all the documents together to prove that my family lived in India before 1950.” That is is a common attitude, confirms Raj Kamal Jha. The novelist6 and editor-in-chief of the liberal Indian Express tells what his correspondents from different parts of the country tell him: “Countless families are just putting together the evidence of their legal residence in India. Uncertainty and fear can be felt everywhere. ”⇥Pierre Daum

1 In India there are 80 percent Hindus, 14 percent Muslim, 2.3 percent Christians, 1.7 percent Sikhs, 0.7 percent Buddhists, 0.4 percent Jainas and 0.005 percent Parsees.

2 See Vaiju Naravane, “Dangerous Game in Kashmir,” LMd, October 2019.

3 In November 2019, the court condemned the destruction of the mosque, which was built in 1528, and the rioting in which 2,000 people were killed, but still granted permission to build a temple on this site.

4 See Naïké Desquesnes, “The sacred cow is a political animal,” LMd, February 2016.

5 In some regions of India the Muslim community is strictly hierarchically organized in three layers, each of which has subgroups. However, the system differs from the Hindu caste system.

6 The following titles by Raj Kamal Jha have been published in German: “Die geht durch Feuer”, Munich (Goldmann) 2006; “If you are afraid of the fall”, Munich (Goldmann) 2005, and “Das Blaue Tuch”, Munich (Goldmann) 2000.

Translated from the French by Sabine Jainski

Le Monde diplomatique, March 12th, 2020, by Pierre Daum