‘Ready to Go to Jail’: Protesters Burn Citizenship Bill at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar

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Khalid Saifi, a founding member of United Against Hate, leading the protest by burning the Citizenship Amendment Bill. — Photo by Nasir Kachroo

Even if the economy was doing well, the BJP would still have gone forward and implemented its anti-Muslim agenda because their aim is to make India a Hindu Rashtra, said Nabiya Khan, a protester.

Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI — “Please repeat the words with me,” appealed Khalid Saifi to the crowd of several hundred protesters at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, on Tuesday evening. The crowd had gathered on the call of the United Against Hate to protest against the Citizenship bill introduced in Parliament by home minister Amit Shah, who is also the president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

The protest was marked by the burning of copies of the Citizenship Amendment Bill. United Against Hate is a group of young volunteers running campaigns for the rights of minorities in India.

Thirty-two-year-old Saifi, a founding member of the outfit, read out the pledge, reinforcing their sense of responsibility to challenge the government move to discriminate between and against people. As Saifi chanted slogans of Inquilab Zindabad, the crowd roared back in a passionate expression of their solidarity with the cause.

“We condemn this bill,” said a 24-year-old university student who identified himself by his first name Sultan.  “This bill is discriminatory and targets Muslims,” he said.

As per the provisions of the bill, non-Muslim migrants from neighbouring countries fearing persecution will get Indian citizenship. The bill excludes Muslims despite the fact that the Indian citizenship law does not discriminate on the basis of religion.

Muslims in the country are worried that many among them will be sent to detention centers that are currently under construction if they failed to produce documents to prove their  right to citizenship. If Hindus fail to pass the citizenship test, they will still be included in the citizen’s register (NRC), the bill says.

“This is an oppressive legislation,” said 18-year-old Faraz Rizvi, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree at Delhi University and originally hailing from Bihar. “Why should documentary proof be a criteria for citizenship in a country riddled with poverty and illiteracy,” he asked.

Rizvi said he joined the protests to lend his voice to the ongoing campaign against the “anti-Muslim policies of the present government.” He thinks Muslims should use all legal and peaceful ways to oppose the bill as also the citizenship test.

Rizvi was accompanied by his cousin, a high school student. He said that he knew little until a day ago about NRC and CAB, but now he knew the harm these carried. “This is about us, about our future,” Rizvi said.

Twenty-seven-year-old Manoj Kumar, a Dalit, pitched for unity of Muslims and other marginalised communities to fight against the ‘discriminatory’ policies of the government. “The ruling parties build up the anti-Muslim narrative and use us as a vote bank, but in return they deny us even the basic civic and human rights,” he said.

Many critics said that the recent decisions of the Modi government were aimed at distracting people’s attention from the basic issues of governance, as the economy has taken a hit and job opportunities and sales in markets were going down.

Nabiya Khan disagrees with this view: “The citizenship bill is the basic issue,” she says, adding, “Even if the economy was doing well, the BJP would still have gone forward and implemented its anti-Muslim agenda because their aim is to make India a Hindu Rashtra.”

“I feel unsafe and angry, and have started questioning my identity and my sense of belonging to the nation,” Said Khan.

She is also disappointed with the way liberal and secular commentators are building the narrative against the NRC and the Citizenship bill. “BJP is turning India into an Israel,” she said, adding, “Pakistan does not claim to be a secular republic, India does, and hence we should look inwards.”

She said that the protests should happen on a larger scale. “Shuttling between the barricades at Jantar Mantar is a good beginning but people should come out in streets in large numbers.”

The protest concluded with a rousing speech by Nadeem Khan, the founder of the voluntary group, who announced the next date of the protest. On the 19th December, he said, people from across the length and breadth of the country would come out of their homes and hit the streets in a large show of protest.

Speaking with caravan Daily, Saifi, the co-founder of the voluntary group, said they would launch a countrywide protest against the bill. “We will go any extent to oppose this bill,” he said, adding, “We are ready to go to jail or even bear a bullet.”

The group is coordinating its future protest actions with over 40 organisations. “We will hold meetings with everyone to make the December, 19 protests a success,” he said.

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