Friday Links + One year after CAA: A series on the impact of the remarkable nation-wide protest movement

Plus links on the BJP's spread in West Bengal and the South.

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On December 11, 2019, the Indian Parliament passed amendments to the Citizenship Act that introduced a religious test for those hoping to become Indian citizens for the very first time. The ostensible aim of the law was to make it easier for undocumented migrants – who are minorities in neighbouring countries – to get Indian citizenship, on the assumption that they have been persecuted in their countries.

But by only including Muslim nations, and leaving out Sri Lanka (where both Hindu and Muslim Tamils could claim to be persecuted), as well as Myanmar and China (where Muslim minorities have been oppressed by their respective states), the actual intent of the law became clear.

While defending the Citizenship Act amendments, Shah sought to claim that they were meant to correct the mistake of Partition, which he attributed to the Congress. In reality, the logic of the CAA actually upholds the idea of Partition, because it sees India as a natural home of Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists versus the Islamic Pakistan.

This ignores what actually actually happened after 1947, when Pakistan became an Islamic Republic, while India resolved to be secular, treating all religions equally.

Indeed, the government’s true intentions became even more apparent in the rhetoric being spouted by the Bharatiya Janata Party, with Home Minister Amit Shah repeatedly linking the Citizenship Act amendments to a proposed National Register of Citizens. Shah’s comments made it evident that the BJP would use an NRC to harass Indian Muslims around the country and pursue his party’s majoritarian Hindu nationalist agenda.

The laws initially sparked off agitation in the North East, where several communities believed they would lead to significant demographic changes.

This would be followed by lakhs of protesters taking to the streets all over India between December 2019 and March 2020, to defend the rights of Indian Muslims to retain their citizenship, before the Covid-19 lockdown sent everyone indoors.

The protests were remarkable in their articulation of Constitutional principles and by the fact that many were led by Muslim women, including the iconic Delhi sit-in at Shaheen Bagh.

For more on this read our issues from last year:

The protesters faced demonisation and vilification from the mainstream media, and outright violence from the state and pro-government mobs in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere, with tensions culminating in religious violence in North East Delhi in February, leaving more than 50 dead and leading to a crackdown on dissent by the police.

In many ways, the issue still remains unresolved. The CAA rules have yet to be notified by the government. And the protests, most prominently in Shaheen Bagh, only wound up because of the national Covid-19 lockdown.

A year later, a new series from looks back at this remarkable moment – and what it tells us about India and the future:

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Friday Links

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