India's Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by Narendra Modi last December, has sparked protests around the nation. At one of the world's largest book fairs, politics takes centre stageby Ravi Ghosh / February 13, 2020 / Leave a comment
At the annual Kolkata Book Fair, people flock from all over the city to browse millions of titles in Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Sanskrit, and English. Islamic pop-up stalls sit alongside Hindu and Sikh neighbours. In an open clearing, a downsized Mount Rushmore-like statue towers over the crowds, made of ten faces clumsily fashioned from plastic and cloth. They include India’s most celebrated figures: Mother Theresa alongside revered author Rabindranath Tagore; in the centre, the independence activist Subhas Chandra Bose perches above the Hindu intellectual Swami Vivekananda. At the very top of the structure, Mahatma Gandhi is flanked by two printed slogans which have come to define India over the last two months: “No CAA.” “No NRC.”
For almost a year, these acronyms have been at the centre of a political storm around Indian citizenship and identity. In April 2019, Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unveiled its manifesto for the year’s general election. Under the heading “Combatting Infiltration” was a pledge to expand the National Register of Citizens (NRC) with the aim of cracking down on “illegal immigration.”
Furthermore, since the BJP’s re-election last May, Modi has also been planning to finalise a new National Population Register (NPR) to document all “usual residents.” Crucially, this latter roll will have access to Aadhaar — the world’s largest biometric database — which contains the details of 1.17 billion Indians (around 89 per cent of the total population.) Under Modi’s plans, “doubtful citizens” on the list may then be asked to prove their citizenship.
There have been mild justifications for the NPR and NRC—defenders say the registers will help support state modernisation, census-development, and national security. But as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December 2019, the BJP’s conservative rationale has been rejected by many. The CAA grants amnesty to peoples of six religions who had entered India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan before 2015, and who may not have the necessary documentation. Hindus, Sikhs, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, and Parsi settlers are effectively protected from the impending citizenship authentication process which the NRC and NPR enable. Muslims are not.In Kolkata,…