Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to soon demand that Indians prove they are Indians as part of his planned National Register of Citizens.
The register is the latest example of the hatred felt for Muslims in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. It has been implemented in Assam state but a new Citizenship Amendment Act which allows illegal immigrants to obtain Indian citizenship, but excludes Muslims, ignited fears it will be extended nationally. The act passed last week and has sparked nation-wide protests. Last month Modi’s home minister, Amit Shah, told Parliament the register would be extended to the whole country.
This mammoth and colossally expensive register exercise will require all Indians to furnish documents showing their Indian ancestry.
Apart from anything else, for all poor Indians regardless of faith, this will be a calamity. Many will not have the documents. Older Indians don’t have birth certificates as so many were born at home.Advertisement
Even if they do, their names and addresses are bound to be misspelt. In India no one bothers about getting the spelling of names right. The name Chatterjee can be spelt Chatterjee, Chatterjea, Chatarji, Chatterji, Chaterjee. The name Mohammed can be spelt umpteen ways. It’s just a national idiosyncrasy. No one minds if their name is misspelt or if their official age is off by a few years.
There may be millions who fail to furnish the required proof, both Hindu and Muslim. But Hindus without the right papers will automatically be deemed citizens through the act. The only reason for passing this law was the government’s desire to make sure that Hindus who end up being let off the register remain citizens.
Muslims without the right papers who don’t make it to the register will be left high and dry. They have been excluded from the act. When they can’t prove they are Indian, they – only they – will cease to be citizens.
If Modi goes ahead with the register, he will complete the circle to make Muslims second-class citizens, a circle that shares many features with the anti-Semitism of Europe and Russia.
Jewish men used to be depicted as swarthy and concupiscent, lusting after blonde Christian women. Muslims for Modi’s followers are bearded, sex-crazed, and violent beasts bent on raping gentle broccoli-eating Hindu women. Their sex drive – look at how many children they have – stems from all the “heat” generated in their bodies from eating meat.
Jews were regarded as traitors who, instead of patriotism, put their international allegiances first. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was the fictional “proof” of their loyalty to other forces. Another international affiliation was communism. Jews were prominent in the communist movement and this alone proved their extra-national affiliations.
Likewise, the thinking goes, Indian Muslims cannot be loyal to India as their sympathies lie with Muslim nations where their sacred sites are located and with international jihadi movements. As such, they are a fifth column.
Jews were confined to ghettos. In Ukraine and Russia, they were banished to the Pale of Settlement. The city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, ruled by Modi for over a decade and where the infamous 2002 pogrom of Muslims happened, is where you will find Juhapura, the biggest Muslim ghetto in the country. Half the city’s Muslims live there to feel safe. Gujarat is as segregated as the Pale of Settlement in imperial Russia.
Where the similarity ends is that some Jews were, at various points of history, wealthy. Indian Muslims are overwhelmingly poor. Once the register has been weaponised and unsheathed, many of them will be both poor and stateless.
Modi has been seeking disingenuously to portray the register as a simple tool to identify illegal immigrants that applies equally to all Indians. Neither he nor any of his ministers has had the courage to admit outright that their intention is to target Muslims.
This mendacity is a feature of their Hindu nationalism. Whether out of cowardice or whether out of some primordial homage paid by vice to virtue, they generally, apart from a few loonies, prefer to keep their malevolence behind closed doors, which is why dog-whistle politics is their preferred choice.
It’s only in private that they might speak of how they would love to rid the country of its 200 million Muslims. But they have realised they cannot wish away 200 million souls, much as they would like to. Instead, they have settled for the next best thing: let them live in India but only, like the Jews, on sufferance. The register is the weapon.