Colonialism 2.0: the “New” India Project

 In december 2019 stonden de kranten vol na de gewelddadige neerslag van protesten in India tegen een discriminerende burgerschapswet. Een wet die Indiase moslims het leven onmogelijk maakt. Kritvi Rana, een UvA-student van Indiase afkomst, vertelt welke geschiedenis aan deze gruwelen ten grondslag ligt.

Tekst: Kritvi Rana // Beeld: Bob Foulidis

In July 1947, my great-grandfather, my great-grandmother and their four children were compelled to vacate their aalishaan (lavish) three-story bungalow in Lahore, now Pakistan, to live as refugees in ‘New’ India; the brainchild of the British. All they had ever known and owned was suddenly being burned to the ground by their very own people. The atrocities that were taking place against the Hindus in Pakistan, the rapes, abductions, violence and killings, were being replicated against the Muslims in India. 

My grandmother re-narrates the tragic event to me, as my grandfather had narrated to her multiple times in their 43 years of marriage, ‘They evidently couldn’t bring all their belongings to India, with all the havoc around them. They even had to leave all their money in Lahore. But Biji (common term for mother, grandmother and great grandmother in Punjabi) stuffed her wedding jewelry under her saree to not attract any sort of unwanted attention.’ Describing another incident, she continues, ‘Your grandfather was ten years old, and his sister just a little under a year old. The six of them were on a train to Dabwali, and your grandfather’s sister suddenly got very dehydrated. The windows in the trains had to be kept shut because of the rioters outside, so the train had gotten hot and stuffy. Your great-grandfather took off his shirt and squeezed it over the baby’s mouth, releasing little drops of sweat to hydrate her.’

 

Mahatma Gandhi’s India

The British concluded their almost 200-year-old colonial rule in India in August 1947, and as much as it was a celebration of freedom, they left our country with a final blow; dividing the country along religious lines. The aftermath was the emergence of two separate nations, India and Pakistan. India, the home of the Hindus, and Pakistan, the home of the Muslims. While Pakistan stuck to this religion-specific ideology, India decided to build a secular constitution. This identity of secularism, however, has recently been under threat with the reelection of the Hindu-nationalist Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in May 2019, sweeping a majority, two years in a row. On the 12th of December 2019, the Parliament of India passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, now an Act (CAA), to provide citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from neighbouring countries; safeguarding Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis and Buddhists, but completely overlooking India’s largest religious minority: Muslims. Even after the untraceable atrocities that my ancestors faced because of their religion, why am I against Hindus being given a special status in India? The answer to this is fairly simple. I believe in the India that was. The secular India. The India before the British colonized us: Mahatma Gandhi’s India. 

The Home Minister of India, Amit Shah, also the President of the BJP, has stated on multiple occasions that the CAA cannot be viewed separately from the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a tool meant to test citizenship and single out “illegal immigrants”.  I put the term in quotes here as these so-called infiltrators are majorly poor, working-class Muslim citizens, out of which most of them have been ancestrally living in India but have no papers to prove so. In a partition-torn, recently freed and poverty-ridden nation-state, it is highly improbable that majority of the nation has paperwork over generations to prove their citizenship. The World Equity Database claims that ninety percent of Indians earn less than twelve thousand rupees in a month (approximately a hundred and fifty euros); how is it possible for poor, dispossessed citizens to be in possession of their grandparents’ birth certificates to prove that they are not illegal immigrants? 

This exercise has already been implemented and failed in the Indian state of Assam wherein over 1,9 million people have been excluded from the NRC list, compelling them to prove their citizenship even further. Ansar Tanwir, a Supreme Court lawyer says, ‘I have a case of one Janaluddin, not per se a homeless person but he is an orphan and doesn’t have documents to show his parentage. His father died when he was young, and his mother left him after getting remarried. Now as an old man with no documents, he failed to prove his ancestry and has been in a detention center for the past three years.’

 

Peaceful protest, violent retribution

On the 15th of December 2019, the students of Jamia Millia Islamia (one of the most prestigious universities for higher education in the country; named a progressive University for Muslims in 1920) began their third day of peaceful protests against the CAA in New Delhi. A little after five o’clock in the evening, the police forcefully entered the University using tear gas to disperse the protesters. Entering the library, the police beat students (mostly female students) with lathis (thick bamboo sticks), broke wooden chairs over their heads and even fired tear gas shells inside the room, injuring at least 125 students. When the police defended their actions by stating that the students were the ones who started the violent procession, a thorough investigation concluded that no students were involved in any sort of violent activities. 

A day after this police crackdown, Universities and scholars from all around India came out to the streets to protest against the brutalities of the force, and many were – again – illegally detained by the police. Reports say that at least thirty-one people have lost their lives until now and the arrested activists have been beaten up brutally and been denied healthcare. Sadaf Jafar, an Indian activist was in police custody for sixteen days. She was finally granted bail on the 4th of January 2020: ‘I was called a Pakistani because of my name and I was beaten up. The bike of one of the female cops was burnt during the protests. She said she would avenge it… then she clawed my face… Later in the night, I was told ‘a senior police officer wants to meet you’… When I went to his room, I was abused badly. Then he asked a female cop to hit me. But he was not satisfied… he pulled my hair and then kicked me in stomach. None of the cops were wearing badges.’

 

Three-day purge

The BJP has been involved in a long lineage of violence’s against religious minorities and is closely affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is where its fascist ideology of the Hindu Rasthra (Hindu-Nation) stems from. In fact, a member of the RSS, Nathuram Godse, was responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The RSS and BJP are both driven by a sense of Islamophobia which cannot be separated from the BJP’s political actions. In 1992, the Babri Masjid (Mosque) in Ayodhya was demolished by a rally co-organised by the BJP which included 150 thousand volunteers. The Masjid was torn down, as the city is allegedly the birthplace of the Hindu mythological God Ram. After nearly 27 years of “dispute”, or as I would like to call it, Gunda-gardi (bullying), the 2019 Supreme Court Verdict handed over the piece of land to a trust to build the Ram-Janmabhoomi Temple (Ram’s Birthplace) while allotting an alternate piece of land to build a Mosque. 

A decade after the terror-driven act led by BJP workers and leaders, the state of Gujarat went up in flames. 59 Hindu pilgrims, returning to Gujarat from Ayodhya were set ablaze and killed. Blaming a Muslim group for starting the fire, radical Hindus led anti-Muslim riots for the next three days; and in the city of Ahmedabad, for the following three months. 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims were killed in this three-day purge, and numerous women raped. Chief Minister of Gujarat at that time, now Prime Minister, Narendra Modi was accused of initiating violence, but was cleared of all charges, again, a decade later in 2012. 

 

Freedom and Long Live the Revolution

In the last six years, the ideologies of the ruling party have clearly been driven by religious extremism, and the party has governed the nation-state with the same fundamental thought. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has been under lock-down for almost six months now, internet is still suspended, and phone connectivity was recently restored, only on the 1st of January 2020. Lynching people over the consumption or transportation of beef is the government’s idea of normalcy, and the economy is at the lowest it has been in the last 42 years. 

While I am writing this, goons affiliated with the RSS have entered another prestigious University in India, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) with iron rods, lathis and acid. In spite of the fascist actions of the government, people from all walks of life, join protests every day with colourful posters, musical instruments and Indian flags in their hands; empathetic utterances of Azaadi and Inquilab Zindabad (Freedom and Long Live the Revolution) everywhere. With the objective of Gandhigiri (Ideas of Gandhi: Non-Violence and Truth) in their minds, millions of citizens continue to resist, the tragedy that is, Colonialism 2.0.


Kritvi Rana, gast-auteur voor Babel, is een 21-jarige masterstudent in Film Studies aan de UvA. Ruim zeventig jaar geleden ontvluchtte haar grootvader Lahore, het huidige Pakistan. Haar familie heeft zich uiteindelijk gesetteld in Delhi, waar ook Kritvi is opgegroeid.

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