Most civil society and human rights activists had fixed 19th December for a nationwide protest against the recently enacted Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the Central Govt’s proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). Together they form a lethal combination, not just against the Minorities, but more so against the landless and undocumented poor that form a sizeable chunk of the populace.
The citizens of Kanpur came together under the aegis of the Kanpur Nagrik Manch (Kanpur Citizens’ Forum) the previous evening (18th December) as it was World Minority Rights Day, instituted by the United Nations in 1992, for the safeguard of all Minorities – religious, ethnic, linguistic etc.
The guest speaker was Dr Rooprekha Verma, the Oxford educated former Vice Chancellor of Lucknow University, known for her bold stand on gender and human rights issues. A self-confessed agnostic, she minced no words in saying that even the British colonialists, whose aim was the commercial exploitation of the nation, were not as tyrannical as the present political regime at the Centre.
She said that the Govt seemed hell bent on destroying the common heritage of the country by polarising people along communal lines, for electoral gain. She challenged the Modi-Shah duo to tell the country where the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians had not stood shoulder to shoulder during the freedom struggle.
As for Kashmir, she said that it was Sheikh Abdullah who staved off the assault of tribal warriors in 1947, and it was the Muslims themselves who fought for the integrity of Kashmir. It was therefore ironical that today the Sheikh’s son, Farooq Abdullah has been under preventive house arrest for the last 4 months, whilst a terror accused like Pragya Thakur is elected to Parliament and roaming free on parole on alleged health grounds.
She bemoaned that earlier the Supreme Court had taken suo moto cognizance of dengue cases, but seemed to be turning a blind eye to what was happening in the country. Recent judgments on Ayodhya, the approach to the Kashmir shutdown and CAA petitions were cases in point.
Dr. Verma took to task the recent political discourse, which she described as debased. Leaders of yesteryears like Nehru and Patel would never have used such foul language. Referring to the CAA, she said that Hindu leaders in Pakistan had themselves stated that they did not seek to come to India as refugees to obtain citizenship.
She said that the NRC would hit the poor the hardest. What documents could landless peasants of the urban poor produce to prove their domicile? In the North-East, the Opposition to the NRC is not against Muslims, but against a flood of migrants that could change the demography and culture of the simple tribal people, so they feel threatened.
She also drew attention to the increasing attacks on women. Together with sexual assault there is now an element of sheer brutality. She opined that the inclusion of Christian refugees in the CAA was a deliberate ploy to drive a wedge between the Muslims and Christians; and warned the Christian community to not fall in the trap.
We are living in dark times, and we need to tread with caution, but with courage, and should avoid any inciting language in our discourse she concluded.
Giving the background of the day, Chhotebhai, the Forum’s Convenor, said that they had been celebrating it in a small way every year. However, because of the increasing assaults on Minorities it had become imperative to have a bigger gathering of leaders who shared a common vision. He analysed the present socio-political scenario using different parables like that of the head of the camel in the Arab’s tent and the frog in the cauldron of hot water. We need to recognize the gradual and sometimes imperceptible increase in the temperature before it is too late, he warned.
Noted lawyer, Saeed Naqvi said that our forefathers fought for a democratic, federal and secular state and drew attention to the provisions of Articles 14,19 and 21 of the Constitution, that we should consider our sacred book.
Asla Ashraf, a student of architecture at the Jamia Milia Islamia in Delhi, gave an eyewitness account of how the students knew little about the CAA. They were peacefully pursuing their studies when the police swooped violently down on them.
Other speakers included Sardar Harvinder Singh Lard, President of the Guru Singh Sabha; Professor Khan Ahmed Farooq, Head of the Department of Urdu, Halim Muslim College; and Rashid Alig, Secretary of the Aligarh Muslim University Old Boys Association. The seminar was compered by Suresh Gupta, President of the Gandhi Vichar Kendra.
The choir of St Patrick’s Church was led by Rev Walter D’Silva and Praveen Dungdung. They sang “Make me a Channel of Your Peace”, St Francis of Assisi’s prayer that forms part of the Gandhian prayer book; and “We Shall Overcome”, the theme song of Nelson Mandela’s anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
The Christian community was well represented by Alfred Peter, Cornelius Kujur, Peter Fernandes, Emmanuel Premchand, Meenakshi Martin and Francisca James. The participants resolved to remain united and work for the withdrawal of the CAA and NRC, come what may.
(Published on 06th January 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 02)