Workers' Voice mailing list
August 27, 2019
RE: The lockdown in Kashmir and the stripping of citizenship from Muslims in the Indian state of Assam
By Joseph Green, Detroit Workers’ Voice
Ever since the Hindu fundamentalist Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India in 2014, there have been increasing attacks on Muslims. Modi’s right-wing and chauvinist BJP party won an even greater victory in this year’s general elections than in 2014, and Modi has now moved to eliminate the political rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in India. This takes place while the Modi government is also planning to build more detention camps in the Indian state of Assam to hold Muslims who are being stripped of Indian citizenship. And it is expected that Modi will seek to change the demographic balance in Kashmir, and end the Muslim majority there.
The brutal treatment of Kashmir will be a model that will help undermine the situation of Muslims throughout India. It has created outrage around the world, and some people are talking about boycotting Indian goods. It also brings the threat of another war over Kashmir between India and Pakistan, both of whom are now nuclear-armed states; there have been several such wars already in the past.
On Monday August 5, Indian Prime Minister Narendra ended the autonomy of the state of Jammu and Kashmir by revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Indeed, the very state of Jammu and Kashmir has been eliminated, replaced by two separate “union territories”, both of which will be ruled directly from India’s capital New Delhi.
Modi imposed a lock-down on Kashmir, showing his fear of the entire population. He sent tens of thousands of Indian troops into Kashmir, reinforcing the huge number already there. Telephone and internet communications for the entire population were blocked, and people were prevented from coming out on the street. Over two thousand Kashmiris were arrested, including political leaders, activists, teachers, even students. Even politicians associated with pro-India parties were arrested. Three weeks later, the repression continues. There is still a lockdown, albeit some telephone calls are now permitted, and it is somewhat easier to get to hospitals or mosques.
This is what the Indian government believes is necessary to prevent large-scale protest. Despite everything, though, modest-sized protests have already taken place.
The lockdown in Kashmir is a continuation of the Indian government’s longstanding oppression of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, an area which embraces the Kashmir Valley (or Vale of Kashmir), Jammu, and Ladakh. The Indian government has always refused to let the status of Kashmir be settled by plebiscite. Eventually extensive vote-rigging by pro-India parties in the 1987 legislative elections for Jammu and Kashmir led to the start of armed movements, some for independence and some for joining Pakistan. To suppress this, the Indian government has maintained over a half million troops in Kashmir. There are as many as one soldier for every 10 people in the Kashmir Valley. Over the years, thousands of Kashmiris, mostly civilians, have been killed by Indian troops. The Pakistani government has financed and trained fundamentalist fighters to be sent into the Indian sector of Kashmir, but the main role of the Indian troops is to keep the local population down. But Kashmir did retain at least some rights until August 5 this year.
Kashmir is located on the northern edge of the Indian subcontinent. When India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, the “princely state” of Kashmir and Jammu ended up divided between China, India, and Pakistan. China controls the sparsely-populated northeastern section (Aksai Chin and the Trans-Karakoran Tract). Pakistan controls the northwest section, which is almost entirely Muslim (Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan). India controls the largest section with the largest population, the central and southern portion.
The Kashmir Valley is the most populous part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and it is almost entirely Muslim. Jammu is about one-third Muslim, and the political balance there differs from that of the Kashmir Valley. Ladakh is part half Muslim, half Buddhist, and is sparsely-populated.
Meanwhile the citizenship of Muslims in the Indian state of Assam has been put in jeopardy. The Indian Supreme Court started this prior to Modi becoming prime minister, by calling in 2013 for the registration of citizens in Assam, but Modi has intensified the process.
About one-third of Assam’s 33 million people are Muslim, and about 30% of the population speaks Bengali. Assam borders Bangladesh, and the pretext for checking citizenship is to purge the state of Bengali immigrants who entered Assam after Bangladesh declared its independence in March 1971 (the resulting war for independence lasted until December). Amit Shah, the president of the Hindu nationalist BJP party, called undocumented Bengalis “termites”. And now every resident of Assam has to prove Indian citizenship by showing that their status in India goes back prior to March 1971.
This requires people to dig up old papers, and is especially hard on people who are poor or illiterate. And, for that matter, how does someone who hadn’t yet been born in 1971 prove that their status in India dates prior to that year? It isn’t sufficient to be born in India to be a citizen. Such a person has to prove that their parents or grandparents had status from before then. People must have papers, such as voting records, for themselves or their relatives dating back almost 50 years. This status is checked in special courts which do nothing but investigate Assam residents who have been denounced by other people or agencies as foreigners. Even if one has papers, the court may declare, if there is the slightest deviation in how names are spelled, that the documents really refer to someone else. Given the different languages spoken in Assam and the many illiterates, many documents aren’t going to be exact, so even if one can find the proper papers, it doesn’t guarantee that one’s citizenship will be recognized.
The government produced a draft National Register of Citizens on July 30, 2018, but four million Assamese — over one-tenth the population — were left off it. These were mainly Muslims or Bengali-speaking Hindus. Even Syeda Anwara Taimur, who had been Chief Minister of Assam from December 6, 1980 to June 30, 1981, the first Muslim woman to be chief minister of any Indian state, was left off the list.
Not satisfied with the original list, the Assam government published in June this year a Draft Exclusion List of 102,462 people whose place on the registry of citizens had been revoked. Facing criticism, Modi’s reactionary BJP party made a show of benevolence and sponsored a bill to give citizenship to some immigrants from neighboring countries, but it set a religious test for citizenship; one had to be either Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Parsee, or Jain — that is, no Muslims allowed. The bill has met opposition, but this is in large part because the bigots encouraged by BJP not only want to strip citizenship from Muslim Bengalis, they don’t even want to concede that Bengali-speaking Hindus could be citizens.
The purge has terrorized many people in Assam, and it’s a vision of what Modi wants to do elsewhere in India. More and more citizenship courts are being put in operation in Assam; judges who don’t strip enough citizenships aren’t reappointed; and there are plans to build big detention camps. Among those arrested have been Muslim veterans of the Indian army. The purge is enforced in an arbitrary way, in which the same proofs may be accepted in one citizenship court and refused in another.
Modi’s government has proved incapable of dealing with the major problems facing India, such as environmental crisis and mass poverty. Millions of Indians are facing water shortages, even in such a major city as Mumbai, and Modi has no solution. Modi’s crony capitalism has also failed to solve the economic problems in India. But Modi’s party won a smashing election victory this year in Indian national elections through stoking communal hatred, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. He is India’s Trump, and it is no wonder he and Trump are bosom buddies. During the campaign, Modi played up tensions with Pakistan and promised to removed Kashmir’s autonomy, a vicious promise he has now fulfilled. In this way, Modi, the right-wing Hindu fundamentalist, is attempting to divide India’s working people with blind religious hatred, thus binding them to Modi’s reactionary rule and capitalist plans.
Moreover, India is a world power, and the spread of bigotry in India has a world influence. There are almost 200 million Muslims in India. They are a minority in the overall population of almost 1.4 billion people, but India is the country with the third most Muslims in the world, being only slightly behind Indonesia (about 230 million Muslims) and Pakistan (barely over 200 million). One out of every 9 Muslims in the world lives in India; one out of every 4 lives in the Indian subcontinent. What happens to Muslims in India, and how they will react to it, will affect Muslims all over the world. It will be a model for how other minorities should be dealt with as well. It will affect world politics for years to come.
* Down with the removal of Kashmir’s autonomy, and the lockdown of the Kashmiri people! Support the right of self-determination for Kashmir!
* Down with the campaign to remove Indian citizenship from Assam’s Muslim and Bengali minorities!
* Support the people of Kashmir, and the working people of India, against Modi’s Hindu fundamentalism! <>
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Posted on August 27, 2019