The Real Horror of CAB & NRC

Indian Liberals must understand that the CAB and the NRC are truly pernicious and evil, not simply because they are against Indian Muslims. By and large (outside Assam) they are not. So let’s stop pretending that this is the case. If you happen to be a non-Muslim Indian liberal, then you need to understand that stating that you will now ‘register’ yourself as a ‘Muslim’ because of the CAB and the NRC, is not something that will affect your citizenship status by even one jot. This is not and cannot be ‘civil disobedience’ because an Indian citizen registering as a Muslim ‘disobeys’ nothing and nobody insofar as citizenship is concerned. That is a matter under the ambit of the law pertaining to conversion, not citizenship. We need more than token gestures of this kind.

What is disgusting and horrifying about the CAB and the NRC is that they legitimise and normalise the idea of rejecting some immigrants, that is, Muslim immigrants, and of accepting some (mainly Hindu, and also Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Zoroastrian and Christian) immigrants. This is unjust because it is founded on inequality. A refugee is a refugee. And none amongst them ought to be discriminated against on the grounds of their religious identity. Furthermore, if a Bangladeshi, Pakistani or Afghan person who is nominally Muslim but wants to seek refuge in India because they are queer (and Indian law now protects LGBT rights, while Bangladesh, Afghanistan or Pakistan currently do not), or are political dissidents, or are Shia, or Ahmediya, or
atheist, victims of religious persecution, or even simply because they want to earn their livelihood in India, or are fleeing the consequences of climate change in Bangladesh, or because they are Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus, Christians, Muslims, or because they are Rohingya Muslims fleeing religious persecution in Myanmar, then in my opinion, they are all as deserving of being as capable of the acquisition of Indian citizenship as a Bangladeshi, Afghanistan or Pakistani Hindu fleeing religious persecution in Bangladesh, Afghanistan or Pakistan. That is the crux of the matter, not what will happen to Indian Muslims with the extant bona fides of intact Indian citizenship.

It is true that when coupled with the NRC, the CAB will disenfranchise some people who currently claim that they have the status of Indian citizens. This is a situation specific to Assam and parts of the North East. And while we must resist this aspect in Assam and the North East, we must also recognise, that outside Assam, this is not necessarily a relevant narrative.

Our opposition to the CAB elsewhere cannot be built solely on the fear that Muslims who happen to currently be Indian citizens will lose their citizenship. By and large, they won’t. It will be very difficult to demonstrate, even in this regime, that someone, say a Muslim, who is an Indian citizen with roots, say in Western UP, and who currently lives in Delhi or Western UP, is now in danger of losing their citizenship. That won’t happen. However, the Bengali speaking migrant Agricultural labourer in Western UP (who may well technically be an ‘illegal immigrant’, or, who can be misidentified as one) is definitely in danger. And we must recognise that the real vicious evil of the CAB and the NRC is that it creates the possibility of setting one kind of Muslim against another. This is how the BJP plans to divide and rule Muslims. Key to this is the BJP’s strategy of patronising the category of the ‘patriotic Indian Muslim’ and setting him up in opposition to anyone who is, or resembles, the ‘Bangladeshi Muslim infiltrator’.

The key to building an effective and consistent opposition to the CAB and the NRC consists in insisting that we completely reject the idea that ANY immigrant can be rendered illegal. We must insist that NO ONE IS ILLEGAL.

Unfortunately, as in Assam, in the rest of India, a section of the local Muslim population will now be seduced into taking a stand against ‘Bangladeshi Muslims’ who, according to them, must now be identified and deported as ‘infiltrators’. This has happened in Assam. And it may happen elsewhere. Tomorrow, the BJP can pose as the great patron and protector of ‘legitimately Indian’ Muslims, who must be separated from the Bangladeshi infiltrator Muslim. Unfortunately, there are many who will fall for this bait.

My point is simply this – we must stand by and in solidarity with every single immigrant, no matter who they are, no matter where they have come from and no matter when they have arrived. We must not accept the construct of illegality
In relation to immigrants because to do so would be to reject basic human rights and fundamental humanitarian values. We must insist that India will continue to be a space of refuge for every immigrant, regardless of their identity, regardless of their reasons for moving to India. That, and nothing else, should be the firm bedrock of our opposition to the CAB and the NRC.

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Shuddhabrata Sengupta is an artist with Raqs Media Collective

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