The issue of citizenship is on the boil all over the country. In the Northeast, including Assam, people are up in arms. The situation in other parts of the country is far from normal. In Bihar, the main opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal has called for a bandh on 21 December 2019. We are publishing a series of write-ups on this issue, including interviews with Dalitbahujan thinkers and people’s representatives. Here is an interview with journalist and former Rajya Sabha member Ali Anwar. He talks about the challenges that the Dalitbahujans, including Pasmanda Muslims, will face under this new Central law.
Nawal Kishore Kumar (NKK): With President Ramnath Kovind granting his assent, the Citizenship Amendment Act has come into force in the entire country. Your reaction?
Ali Anwar (AA): Acting on the instructions of the RSS, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has murdered the spirit of the Constitution. The Preamble to the Constitution says that India is a “Secular, Democratic Republic”. The new law has rendered these words meaningless.
NKK: You have been raising your voice for the rights of the Pasmanda Muslims. How will the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) affect them?
AA: The new law will push India down the path to becoming another Pakistan. And I wish to make it clear that the Muslims will not be its only victims. It will spell trouble for all the poor Dalitbahujans of the country. Understand it like this. Who are the people facing an identity crisis in this country? I will give you my example. My great grandfather was the coachman of the manager of the Maharaja of Dumraon. He was allotted a piece of land in front of the manager’s house. He built a house there. He had no papers to prove that he owned the land. It was given to him on the orders of the Maharaja. That piece of land is the only property I own. When my father got me admitted to a madarsa, he simply asked the Maulvi Sahib to enroll me and it was done. He provided all the necessary details, including my date of birth, orally. My father was a bidi worker. He did not have any document to prove his identity, let alone mine.
What I mean is that there are a large number of Dalitbahujans, including Pasmanda Muslims, in this country who don’t have a house to call their own, who don’t have an address. They move to cities in search of livelihood. They have no documents. If you ask them to produce identity proof, they won’t be able to for the simple reason that they don’t have any. Now, who are these people? They are not Hindus or Muslims. They are poor. The government’s policy of trying to divide them on the basis of religion won’t work. In Assam, both Hindus and Muslims are opposing the new law.
NKK: You have rightly pointed out that it would be impossible for the landless to prove their identity. Now that the new law is in place, this question will be raised.
AA: Definitely. It should be raised. I will again quote my personal example. My ancestors were born here and were buried here. And now they want us to produce documents to prove our identity.
NKK: Janata Dal United (JDU), the party of your former leader Nitish Kumar, helped the government by walking out during voting on the Bill in the Rajya Sabha. What have you to say about it?
AA: You are right. Nitish will now have to live and die with them [BJP]. If Nitish Kumar tries to take a different path, the BJP will gobble it up.
NKK: Last question. What are the options before the nation now?
AA: It is not that no options are left. When governments turn authoritarian, the people respond in their own way. I want to call upon all those who believe in the Constitution of India, all those who want to protect and preserve this country’s diversity to agitate, to protest against the new law. They should take to the streets. It is already happening in the Northeast. The people won’t remain mum.
Translation: Amrish; Copy-editing: Anil
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