Since the last two weeks, I have been struggling to wrap my head around the violence and the brutality back home in Assam. As an Assamese person who happens to be Rajbongshi (a rather contentious category these days) and has a mother who isn’t Rajbongshi, I decided to do the thing that makes me more or less comfortable with life: read. I have been adding things to a Twitter thread which one can access below to make sense of life.
However, in order to create a more ordered list, I have decided to use this format. Here, with longer quotes and ways to curate the list, I am hoping someone who is interested in this will be able to read about the problem at hand.
Let’s begin the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that Assam published this year. 1.9 million people were left out of that list and some of them have been put in camps in Goalpara which is a district of Lower Assam. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed on 10.12.2019 and has been contested on many levels. I have my own opinions about it which I hope to elaborate on in a different post. Here, I am going to divide the reading list into four [edited on 21.12.2019] parts:
- The Context
- The Protests and its Fallout (in the Northeast)
- The University Protests
- Continuing Police Brutality
“Sanjib Baruah details that after independence, elected officials, state bureaucracy, and even activists continued to rely on colonial forms of classification and knowledge to make claims of indigeneity and over territory.
[T]he politics of territoriality and indigeneity often becomes an exercise in defending the fences and walls that colonial rulers had erected. The continuing hold of colonial knowledge is reflected in both official policy discourse, and the political imagination of local activists … Activists in North East India often allude to memories of ancient kingdoms in support of their contemporary territorial claims. In appealing to the past, however, they show little awareness that colonial rule involved a profound break in spatial and cultural dynamics.”Sanjib Baruah, EPW
I have remarked before that India is not only following a global swing to the authoritarian right, it is an innovator. The innovation which is now being tried out in India is the successful closing of the gap between procedural fascism and substantive fascism.
What is the source of the new compact between procedural (formal) fascism and substantive fascism, or to put it more simply, between the highest authorities in the land and the killers and lynch mobs that produce everyday brutality in India’ cities, villages and neighbourhoods? One answer is impunity. If anyone in India today says or does anything which follows the BJP line on citizenship, security, patriotism, patriarchalism, or journalism or the BJP line on cows, statues, space travel, or women’s place in society, they can rape, maim or lynch selected others anywhere at anytime. Impunity means the right to brutalise others with the near guarantee of no legal consequence.Arjun Appadurai, The Wire
Ania Loomba and Partha Chakrabartty replying to Arjun Appadurai
Everyday violence and state violence has become synchronised, partly through the law, and partly in extra-legal ways. When mobs lynch and kill Muslims, when Dalits are punished for transgressing the norms of caste society; when couples marrying across caste or religious lines are hounded, and often killed, we see not just a mindless enactment of the ruling ideology, but the enactment of strongly held beliefs. The participants could easily say that these killings bring them some “sukoon” as well.
This vigilantism is precisely indicative of a culture of fascism, one that sutures everyday participants to the regime. Most chillingly, we have reached a point when the regime is entrenched enough for its flouting of democratic norms to not just be tolerated, but even lauded. Its version of justice from the top now appears to be what the public wants. Arguably, fascism does not lie in the translation of institutional fascism into the everyday; it emerges precisely when everyday violence, vigilante justice and state repression become twinned.
The idea of fascism-as-imitation is actually of a piece with what Appadurai identifies in the international view that ‘India is regarded as too democratic to fail’. Just as international civil society is in denial, even sections of Indian society itself are in denial about the extent of the challenge.Ania Loomba and Partha Chakrabartty, The Wire
Consider the implications of this. First, any government, state or Central, will be able to legally single out Muslims for investigation because after the CAB becomes law, the only category of immigrants likely to be declared illegal will be Muslims. The CAB would, in effect, create a statutory basis for profiling Muslims. Notice the lengths to which the CAB goes to make sure that the religious minorities that come under its purview do not include Muslims. Afghanistan, which doesn’t have a border with India, is included in this short list of neighbouring countries, while Myanmar, which does border India, is not. The reason for this omission is obvious: Myanmar is a majority Buddhist state with a propensity for ethnically cleansing its Muslim minority. Including Myanmar in the CAB would be ideologically inconvenient for the BJP because that would mean extending CAB’s amnesty and path to citizenship to persecuted Muslim migrants from that country. This would nullify the larger political motive of the CAB: namely framing Muslims as the only category of people likely to harbour false citizens in India.Mukul Kesavan, The Telegraph
The differential legal mechanisms in the law, which was signed by President Ramnath Kovind on Thursday, for obtaining Indian citizenship discriminate on the basis of religious identity and express the different moral worth of Hindus and non-Hindus. The methods of enactment are different from the German state in the 1930s, but the ideological work performed by the rhetoric and policies of the German and Indian states share disturbing continuities.
Sympathisers of the law may point to the six religious identities listed in the law (as Shah did ad nauseam in Parliament). However, “Hindu” is not a mere religious category for the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. VD Savarkar, the intellectual founder of the Hindu Right, argued that a “Hindu means a person who regards this land of Bharatvarsha, from the Indus to the seas, as his Fatherland as well as his Holyland”. For Savarkar, Hinduism included “all religious beliefsthat the different communities of the Hindu people hold”. Therefore, Savarkar categorised Sikhs and Jains as “racially and nationally and culturally” part of the same “polity and a people” – Hindu people.Risabh Bajoria, Scroll.in
I n the past five years, various public universities across the country have seen protests against the government’s policies. “The public university system has been one where students do raise their voices,” Sethi said. But the protests in recent years have often encountered high-handedness by the authorities. Sethi noted that an “India-wide suspicion” is being spread about universities. “Young students are being called anti-national, being hounded as enemies of the nation, being hounded for sedition.” Ania Loomba, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, explained, “As we know from history, authoritarian regimes need to curb academic freedom and that has really terrible effects long term on the health of education in any country.”Amrita Singh, The Caravan
Protests in the Northeast and Fallout
Assam-based anti-corruption and Right to Information activist Akhil Gogoi has been charged with sedition, intention to cause riot against national integration, punishment for criminal conspiracy and unlawful association under the amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, junior lawyer Kishore Kalita told Scroll.in on Tuesday. Scroll.in has seen a copy of the first information report against Gogoi.
He has been booked under Section 120 B (punishment of criminal conspiracy), 124 A (sedition), 153 A (unlawful association) and 153 B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration), and Section 18/39 (punishment for conspiracy) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.Arunabh Saikia, Scroll.in
The University Protests
While day one of the protest was defined by the police action, day two saw the student community grappling with the ideological moorings of the protest. The protestors appeared to be divided on where to anchor the protests—religion or the Constitution. Some students believed they were being targeted by the government, through the act, because of their religion and so it was essential to talk about and rally people around the religious identity. They wanted the student leaders to let the local residents join the protest and fight against the act in the name of religion. One of the students, Sibahathullah Sakib, told me that the locals should not be “misunderstood” because the Muslim community has been “feeling targeted for long.” He said that the community stayed silent on the “Babri judgment” but “CAB became a trigger.” He added that the “social media space is such that we can’t even freely speak our mind. The protest was a culmination of anger caused by the system’s anti-Muslim behaviour.” This group of students had given up hope of support from the majority community and hence wanted to focus the movement around religionSagar, The Caravan
Many student eyewitnesses described how, earlier that evening, the police had entered the Jamia campus, where students have been observing sit-ins against the Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA, for the previous two days. The act, which came into effect on 12 December, effectively excludes Muslim refugees from receiving Indian citizenship under the law. Eyewitnesses told me that on Sunday, the police entered Jamia without any provocation. The police personnel entered the university from all directions at around 5 pm, the eyewitnesses said, and beat up every student they found on the campus, even in the library, bathrooms and the canteen.Sagar, The Caravan
The protest, which kicked off at 9 am, went on smoothly for close to two hours, although Mudita told me that three or four ABVP members at the spot attempted to provoke the students gathered there. “All their comments were intended to elicit a reaction out of us, as part of a larger agenda to abet violence and later label the whole protest as a violent demonstration and effectively delegitimise our stand,” she said. In the meantime, according to Abhigyan, a student of political science at Ramjas College, university officials called in the police to shut down the protest, since the examination hall had been closed.
According to numerous accounts, somewhere between 11 and 11.30 am, the strength of ABVP members present at the protest site grew to around a dozen. Around 11.30, the protest took a violent turn, as ABVP members began abusing and pelting stones at the protesting students. Some ABVP members attacked students with police lathis, while the police attempted to move the protest away from the Satyakama building.
Following this, students reassembled at gate number 4 of the arts faculty, where rounds of sloganeering ensued. This quickly escalated into another bout of aggression, as ABVP members selectively targeted student leaders. Abhigyan told me that a few of the ABVP women members approached Shreya, another student. “When the women were about to hit Shreya, I stepped in and close to ten–twelve ABVP goons attacked me while the police took their own time,” he said. “I was beaten and Shreya was attacked and two–three comrades were also beaten up. This sort of behaviour from the Delhi Police is not new. Even when we wanted to protest the abrogation of Article 370, Delhi Police refused to give us permission to protest and had us caged in barricades while ABVP goons were roaming freely raising slogans.”Kaushal Shroff, The Caravan
By 8.30pm, reportedly after securing permission from the registrar, Abdul Hamid, the police entered deeper into the campus. This time they used tear gas and rubber pellets to intimidate the students.
The police started to vandalise the parked vehicles, broke the rear lights and headlamps of bikes and one or two cars. The students retaliated by throwing stones. The police even entered the guesthouses near the main gate where many of the students had taken refuge.
It didn’t stop there. The police went hunting into the boys’ hostels — Morison Court, Aftab Hostel, Macdonald’s Hostel — and one of the rooms of Morison Court even caught fire.
Students huddled together in the common rooms and terraces of the hostels. The overall atmosphere was one of fear, grievance and anguish. It was about 10pm.
Around 10.30, a notice was circulated announcing the termination of the academic session and the postponement of exams. The students spent the rest of the night in fear of more raids as they planned their impending return to the various parts of the country they called home.
At midnight, Internet services were suspended. The night was spent awake. On Monday morning, we stepped outside the campus in search of breakfast only to find police vans and downed shutters.Tauhid Khan, The Telegraph
After this, the armed forces forcefully entered the AMU gate and it was here that tear gas was reportedly fired towards the boys hostel, according to the report. The report says that the police used “deceptive shelling”, to mean that the shells would blow up when students picked them up. One student blew up his hand in process and had to have his hand amputated, the report noted, as has been reported since.
After the events of the night of 15-16 December 2019, the report claims that AMU students were urged to vacate the campus by university officials. The report conclusively declared that the actions of the police in the AMU campus “violate all norms and standards of conduct in dealing with students democratic right to freedom of expression and association, and with the basic right to demand for rights.”Maanvi, The Quint
Two people died in the city of Mangaluru in Karnataka as protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act snowballed. The two protestors who died in Mangaluru were identified as 49 year old Jaleel Kudroli, and 23 year old Nausheen, PTI reported.
In the evening, the police fired shots in the air and a curfew was imposed in areas under the jurisdiction of five police stations. Large gatherings were also banned. The curfew will be in place until midnight on December 20, The New Indian Express reported.Staff, Scroll.in
More than 1,200 protestors were detained on Thursday morning for defying prohibitory orders near the Red Fort in Delhi during demonstrations against the amendments to the Citizenship Act, PTI reported. Police had imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure – which bans a gathering of more than four people – in the area.
Voice, internet and SMS services were blocked for four hours in some parts of the city, and entry and exit gates were shut at 20 metro stations through the day. The stations were gradually opened in the evening.Staff, Scroll.in
Continuing Police Brutality
Eyewitnesses recount the lathi charge at Delhi Gate
Saiduzzaman’s son Salman Sayeed blamed the police as well as people he associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for the violence. “These goons functioned with the patronage of the police,” Sayeed alleged.
Sayeed alleged that they opened fire on Muslim protesters, following which, with the help of the police, he claimed that they looted shops and broke into houses in the Khalapar area. “People were taken away, things were smashed and looted,” he alleged.
Sayeed claimed this was an attempt to undermine the secular nature the CAA-NRC protests have had till now. “They want to cause communal riots,” he told Scroll.in over the phone. “They want to break the common Hindu-Muslim support for this movement.”Staff, Scroll.in
As per Rashid, the policemen badly beat up Robin Verma. “The cops repeatedly asked me about the whereabouts of some “Kashmiris” and where I was hiding them. I replied to all their questions in the negative as I had no clue why I was brought there in the first place. A few minutes later, two policemen, of the rank of CO, came in. I was told to stand up. The police officer, whose name I don’t know, told me he would set me right. He was wearing protective gear. I was then taken to another room in the quarters of a constable, where I was also photographed like a suspect,” he wrote in his first account.
It can be noted that ahead of scheduled protests against CAA and NRC, several activists were put under house arrest on Thursday. This included Ahmad, Darapuri and Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey apart from several others. The Wire tried calling the police superintendent of Lucknow but could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, on Saturday afternoon, civil rights group United Against Hate (UAH) alleged police violence in several cities of western UP such as Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Bulandshahr, Rampur, Bijnor and Firozabad. “Many people still detained. We urgently need journalists, lawyers and activists to go to some of these places and get the ground report, provide immediate relief,” read the message sent by Nadeem Khan, convenor of UAH.
On Thursday, the state government had suspended mobile internet services and SMS of all mobile service providers in Lucknow till Saturday noon.Mahtab Alam, The Wire
Updated 07:58 pm CET, 21.12.2019