The National Register of Citizens is the latest example of growing humanitarian concerns in India brought on by official Hindu nationalist policies.
In 2014 I recorded and released the podcast series on the history of India. In the concluding episodes of that series, I noted how extremism in India is becoming normalized. The strongest evidence of this was the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. Modi was a well-known nationalist and served as governor of a region in India that saw extensive violence and atrocities against Indian Muslims by Hindu nationalists in the early part of the years of this century.
The years that followed seemed to counter the assertion I made in the podcast. Modi had some strange policies and ideas for leading the largest democracy in the world, but we did not see a lot of extremism in the first five years of his rule.
A Surge Toward Extremism
That is changing today. The recent crackdown in Kashmir is the strongest evidence of this. While stripping Kashmir of its special status last month, a massive movement of Indian military troops was dispatched to the region to maintain the peace. Thousands of Kashmiris were arrested. This included business leaders, activists, professors, and humanitarians. A communication blackout was imposed to limit information coming out of Kashmir.
But this surprise move is not the only indicator of the newest surge toward nationalist extremism in India. Recent reports coming out of the world’s second-largest country regularly confirm a shift to harder lines of the Hindu nationalism Modi was infamous for before being elected as Prime Minister. Many experts believe these emboldened moves are a result of his windfall reelection wins this summer.
National Register of Citizens
A national citizenship check in India, according to critics, was designed to attack and harass Muslims in the country. In northeastern India, nearly 2 million people learned they were not included on the list of citizens in India. This sets the stage for potential deportation. New prisons are already being built in Assam, reportedly to house those who will be deported from India.
The list of those excluded from the citizenship tally is full of inconsistencies. The son of a former President of India is not on the list. In some families, one sibling is listed as a citizen while another sibling is not. Individuals who have lived in India for generations are now listed as not being a legal citizen.
Amidst all of these discrepancies however there remained one prevailing consistency. Most of the 2 million people not included on the citizenship list were Muslims.
Individuals who were left off the citizenship list have a right to appeal but this appeal can be costly. An inherent discrimination element exists in the process which appears to target not only Muslims but also the poor.
Modi’s home minister Amit Shah referred to those who appear to be targeted in this citizenship list as “termites” in a speech earlier this year.
From the crackdown in Kashmir to the National Register of Citizens, we are not witnessing random policies. This is a deliberate Hindu nationalist agenda. We can expect more in the coming months and a cause for humanitarian concerns should keep us alert to what is unfolding in India today.