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How would my mother know her father's date of birth?

By MOHAMMAD SAJJAD
December 31, 2019 11:30 IST

'How many Indian parents, still alive, really have documents of, their parents's date and place of birth? Not more than 27% of still alive Indians have got birth certificates,' points out Mohammad Sajjad.

IMAGE: A protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Register of Citizenship and National Population Register in Bengaluru. Photograph: Shailendra Bhojak/PTI Photo

India is passing through an extremely critical phase.

The prime minister, at a rally at the Ramlila Maidan, Delhi, on December 22, made an emphatic statement that there has not ever been any talk by the government about the NRC, whereas the Union home minister was emphatic and categorical about having an NRC on an all-India scale.

While debating the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 in the Lok Sabha in December, the home minister reiterated what he has been saying since April 11, 2019 in a speech in Raiganj, West Bengal.

On December 1, while addressing an election rally in Bokaro, Jharkhand, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also emphasised having an all India NRC.

Thus, this stark contradiction between the prime minister's statement and the statements of the home and defence ministers should Constitutionally threaten the council of ministers; it should fall under this contradiction.

 

The CAA 2019 is already said to be blatantly un-constitutional. The matter is sub judice. Yet, the apex judiciary is in no hurry to talk about this despite massive anxieties and protests.

This is an era of disregarding the Constitution as much as possible and getting away with it. Over a period of time, some sort of 'Hindu common sense' has been manufactured that the Constitution is there only to guarantee undue privileges to the minorities.

The Opposition and the independent intelligentsia as well as large sections of the media have been failing on the count that they have not been explaining to the common illiterate and semi-literate masses as to what implications will it have even on non-Muslims.

The Opposition is not asking pertinent questions: a. Aadhar should help the government to automatically update the NPR (125 crore Indians have an Aadhar card); b. Why is the government creating confusion about the Census, NPR, NRC, CAA?

This is one of the biggest tragedies of our time that even a desperate Opposition is not trying to communicate with its social base to prepare them to resist the incumbent government's move, which is going to spell havoc for them.

With these failures at several levels, the atrocities carried out against Muslim agitators, most brutally in many cities of Uttar Pradesh, continues largely as a 'Muslim exclusive' issue in the public consciousness. The north east continues to witness protests, with no or negligible Muslim protestors.

IMAGE: A protest against the new citizenship law after Friday prayers in the old quarter of Delhi, December 27, 2019. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

Rahul Gandhi has castigated the prime minister on his remark against Muslims, insinuating that the protestors are sartorially identifiable.

Rahul Gandhi has, however, not articulated the agony of documentation that common Indians, irrespective of religious identities, will undergo, because of the NRC/NPR exercise.

Many regional satraps like Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati, Tejashwi Yadav, etc, have not gone among their social base explaining how painful it is going to be for them to obtain and produce documents.

They refuse to see the Campus Spring in India today. This is a massive youth upsurge against the regime's miserable failure on the economy and employment.

The youth is hugely disappointed with the regime, which is trying to cover up its failures with talk of an NRC, CAA, NPR, a decennial census.

The Opposition forces have not felt the pinch, it seems. Their support base therefore remains largely ignorant about the tribulations that they will have to undergo.

How many kinds of troubles lakhs of native Hindus in Assam had to undergo! Despite all efforts, many Hindus found themselves out of the NRC.

The BJP and its apologists are trying to hide behind a weak argument that NPR 2010 was a UPA idea. The Opposition has failed to clarify that NPR 2020 is very different from NPR 2010 in terms of asking for information, which will eventually require documents, to verify citizenship.

This NPR is a step towards the NRC. The Opposition fails to expose the ruling dispensation on this. It also fails to explain lucidly and candidly to the masses that government officials with discretionary powers conducting the NPR may mark 'doubtful citizen' about the documents pertaining to place and date of birth of the parents.

Lack of documents pertaining to education and property are not the only problems. Establishing ancestry would be another problem. Inconsistencies in spellings as well as stark variations in surnames would further confound the problem.

IMAGE: An anti-CAA protest at Mumbai's Azad Maidan, December 27, 2019. Photograph: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Union Home Minister Amit Anilchandra Shah has already declared that the usual documents -- passport, ration card, driving license, PAN card, Aadhar -- won't be admissible proof of citizenship.

Shah further insisted on the irrelevance of the Aadhar aard, saying 'Aadhar se to zara bhi nahin'.

How many Indian parents, still alive, really have documents of, their parents's date and place of birth? Not more than 27% of still alive Indians have got birth certificates.

Not more than 5% of still alive Indians have got passports. Very few still alive women have a driving license.

My maternal grandfather was a government veterinary doctor. He quit his services prematurely in the 1950s and died, possibly in the late 1950s or in the early 1960s.

My semi-literate mother does not have any document of her father's government service nor of his educational qualifications. How would she know her father's date of birth?

My paternal grandfather was a government employee who retired in the early 1970s and died in 1985. We don't have any document or proof of his date of birth.

Land documents won't give us his date of birth. Barring a few, all the Hindus in the neighbourhood of my village have similar problems of lack of documents.

This is true of landed, educated, middle class families. Now, just imagine the documentation woes of the poor, landless, illiterate masses of India? Add to this, the loss of documents due to national calamities like floods and fires (each summer, large number of houses of the poor turn into ashes).

True, cornered and hapless Muslims are possibly fighting their last battle.

Once they are crushed by a hostile State and a repressive police, they may have to reconcile themselves that the safest alternative for them would be to produce documentation and remain unequal citizens while the rest languish as stateless in detention centres.

Already, sections of the media and the police machinery are trying to de-legitimise the entire agitation by digging for footage of stone-pelting, and justifying unjustifiable police atrocities.

Economic apartheid against Muslim traders across Uttar Pradesh has been unleashed by sealing shops without any credible evidence. The burden of proof has been imposed on the victims.

In so many hitherto mass agitations, not identified with Muslims, never did the police act in this much of vindictive manner.

Muslim students and youth under police detention have been subjected to torture. Some of them have been rendered permanently limbless; knee-caps of some have been broken.

IMAGE: A protestor at the anti-CAA rally at Mumbai's Azad Maidan on December 27, 2019. Photograph: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Suppression of this agitation will therefore formalise India as a Hindu Rashtra with either a single party dictatorship or with an ineffective, (un)real multi-party ethnicised regime of pseudo-democracy.

In that situation, equally true would be the death of existing Oppositional political formations. Are they really prepared for their extinction? Don't they foresee this obvious situation?

If they do foresee it, why then are they not desperate? Why don't they educate their support base about the tribulations of obtaining and producing documents?

The challenge before the Opposition is to reclaim Hindu votes of theirs who have gone over to the saffron forces. They can no longer play the convenient politics of having slavish, un-demanding Muslims plus some specific Hindus castes.

That game has expired now. The BJP's neo-Hindutva politics has made Muslims electorally irrelevant and politically untouchable.

Likewise, the Hindutva regime too is fighting an existential battle. Having been exposed on their contradictions and prevarications (whereby they have dropped the NRC and brought in the NPR), if the Opposition succeeds in mobilising enough Hindus against the NRC-NPR and compels the ruling BJP to withdraw this menace, then the prospect of the BJP's decline begins.

The Sangh Parivar with State power and having become the hegemon since 2014 knows pretty well that the forces who want to unseat it from power would have to commence a crackdown to destroy the organisational, structural, ideological ammunition and cadre-base of the Sangh and its affiliates.

Only then would the Opposition be able to survive and endure. The Sangh Parivar therefore cannot give up so easily.

If the Modi-Shah-Yogi combine is not too obsessed with repressing Muslims and if they are really willing to borrow longevity in power, they should be smart, pragmatic and visionary enough to shun this pathological bloodlust and turn accommodative.

That would be a way of delaying, or even preventing, the rise of the Opposition, as a promising alternative.

Else, NPR 2020 is bound to spell the BJP's doom after its horrific implications become known to vast segments of Hindus who would be victims of lack of documents, bureaucratic errors and wilful chicanery.


Professor Mohammad Sajjad teaches history at the Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University. He can be contacted at news@rediff.co.in

MOHAMMAD SAJJAD
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