India’s new citizenship law has resulted in mass demonstrations and riots in most major cities across the country, but the unrest in the Capital city of New Delhi was particularly severe. At least 32 have died in riots between Muslims and Hindus.
Police have been heavily criticized for being slow to react to the violence, although security forces are now blanketing the city. An uneasy calm is being maintained for now.
But the violence is likely to erupt again. The new citizenship law grants fast-track citizenship to undocumented migrants from the “Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December 2014.” Naturally, Muslims feel slighted by not being included. But the chief minister of Gujarat summarized the Hindu position, saying, “Muslims have 150 countries where they can live, but for Hindus, there is only one country, and that is (India).”
But the real root cause of the protests is that the law fundamentally changes the secular character of India by singling out certain religions for special treatment. It goes against tradition and what is seen as “Indian values” of tolerance and inclusiveness.
And opposition politicians are ginning up rage and hysteria in the Muslim community.
It is growing increasingly apparent that the BJP government is trying to build a Hindu nation. And the cost is clear. But why now, when the Indian economy is on the brink of a growth recession?
Today, the BJP comes after the tribal peoples of Assam, the Dalits and the Muslims, and says the CAA welcomes the Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Christians — but have we any guarantee that it will stop there?
It’s this sort of rhetoric that has driven Muslims into the streets in fear of their rights — and even lives.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said inflammatory speeches at the protests over the new citizenship law in the last few months and the tacit support of some opposition leaders was behind the violence.
“The investigation is on,” he said.
Modi is Hindu and there are some in his party who think that India should be a Hindu nation. But there are more than 200 million Muslims in India, and trying to make India into a sectarian Hindu state would result in a bloodbath.
Hindus and Muslims have been battling one another for centuries. But surprisingly, India has been relatively stable since its independence in 1947. It’s commitment to secularism has largely worked, although there have been spasms of violence over the years.
Modi is not wrong to want to welcome persecuted religious minorities as citizens. But the way he’s gone about it has been catastrophic and the sooner the citizenship law is repealed, the more peaceful India will become.