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. We are publishing a series of interviews on this issue with Dalitbahujan thinkers and people’s representatives. Here, Dalit politician and thinker Prakash Ambedkar says the new Central law will pose a major challenge to the Pasmanda Muslims, Denotified Tribes, and Dalitbahujans in general.
Nawal Kishore Kumar (NKK): Parliament has given its nod to the Citizens Amendment Bill and with the presidential assent, it has become a law. What is your first reaction?
Prakash Ambedkar (PA): It is in nobody’s interest. This law would make the country hollow. As part of a conspiracy, those in the government are trying to portray it as an anti-Muslim legislation. But I believe that this ‘black law’ is dangerous for everyone and it should be opposed tooth and nail.
NKK: How do you see the law from the Dalitbahujan perspective?
PA: To begin with, you should understand that it is not only against the Muslims. If it is implemented, Muslims will be its victims, but so will all Dalitbahujans. The cut-off year in the new law is 2014. Among those who do not have identity documents are not only Muslims. A large chunk of the Dalitbahujans don’t have any documents to prove their identity.
NKK: Would you kindly elaborate?
PA: I will give you an example. You must be aware of the problem of landlessness among the Dalits. Millions of Dalits do not own houses. They live on “gairmajrua” (government) land. They don’t have land ownership documents. Tomorrow, if the government asks them to produce identity documents, what will they do? The problem is even more serious vis-à-vis the Scheduled Tribes (STs). Do you know that in 1871, the British Government had promulgated the Criminal Tribes Act? This black law was meant to suppress the Tribals who had fought against the British, to alienate them. Detention camps were built for them. In Maharashtra, we call such Tribals “Pindaris”. In English, the word is “nomad”. Which word do you use for them in Hindi?
NKK: In Hindi states, we call them ‘Ghumantu’ or ‘Khanabadosh’ communities. They don’t stay at one place.
PA: You are right. They don’t stay at one place. Some of them are Tribals and in some states, they are also OBCs. You should also know that in 1952, Jawaharlal Nehru had annulled the Criminal Tribes Act. The gates of the detention camps were opened and Nehru told them that they are free. But freedom still eludes them. They have no documents.
NKK: Do you plan to launch an agitation against this law?
PA: We are opposing it. But I want to tell you that the Dalitbahujan leaders sitting in Delhi are all brokers of the BJP-RSS. They should have joined hands to oppose this law. But they are unable to see through the game that is being played.
NKK: What is that game?
PA: When were you born?
NKK: In 1984.
PA: You must have been six years old then. Do you know that besides the Rath movement, another movement was also launched at the time?
NKK: Are you referring to the Mandal movement?
PA: No. It had ended with the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. The movement I am talking about was the one launched to oppose GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). At that time, the traders and farmers of different countries had put forth conditions before their respective governments – conditions for becoming a part of the global market. But the traders and farmers of India could not do that. The RSS-BJP embarked upon the Rath movement. At that time, Sharad Joshi and Mahendra Singh Tikait were the two top peasant leaders of the country. They blindly supported GATT, despite being well aware that it would adversely affect the interests of the Indian farmers and traders. The economic recession that you see today is the fallout of that agreement. Instead of drawing lessons from it, they [the government] are out to sell the country. Just see what they are doing. They are selling off the Navratna companies and to deflect the attention of the nation, they are abrogating Article 370 and promulgating the CAA. I’m telling you, once they have sold off the Navratna companies, they will withdraw laws like the CAA saying that the people don’t approve of them.
NKK: Any message for the Dalitbahuhans for the country?
PA: Only this. This law is not only against the Muslims. It is against all of us. We would have to oppose it jointly. They want to break our unity. It is their conspiracy. The Dalitbahujans of the country should see through this conspiracy and oppose them.
Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil
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