Democracy is at stake in India

12.02.20 Editorial
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Citizenship, the gateway to all rights, is under attack by the government of India. Over recent months thousands of people have been detained and dozens killed as protests continue across the country in opposition to the government's assault on the foundations of Indian democracy.

The government of Prime Minister Modi's ruling BJP party is rapidly implementing its historic dream of replacing secular democracy with an authoritarian ethno-nationalism in which there is no room for Muslims, dissent, civil liberties or democratic rights, including trade union rights.

In December, the government pushed through the adoption of a Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which formally stigmatizes Muslims by offering a fast track to citizenship for non-Muslims from neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who arrived in India before 2015. This was preceded by a presidential decree withdrawing the constitutional guarantee of political autonomy for the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir and the imposition of direct rule from Delhi. The government rushed thousands of additional troops into what was already one of the world's most militarized areas, carried out mass arrests, shut down the internet and telecommunications, imposed a crippling curfew and barred international observers. The lockdown continues.

The CAA is flanked by ongoing efforts to potentially strip tens of millions of people of their citizenship rights. This builds on the precedent already set in Assam, where 2 million residents were removed from the citizen rolls in 2015. Those unable to document their identity - and many people are simply too poor to access the required records - were removed from the citizenship register and face indefinite detention and the loss of all rights.

While the government denies there are plans to implement this program on a national level, in December it approved plans for a National Population Register tied to the census which would do just that. The Prime Minister denies that there are mass detention centers in India, when in fact there are at least ten across the country (6 in Assam) with new ones under construction.

The government has responded to the wave of protests with lethal violence and repression. Police have used deadly force or stood by while armed thugs brutally attacked protestors. BJP leaders have demanded 'vengeance' against the protestors, called for them to be "burned alive" and "shot like dogs", and threatened to prosecute them for sedition under the National Security Act.

The movement against the CAA and citizenship registry correctly understands these attempts to define citizenship on the basis of religion as part of a many-sided onslought against the secular basis of Indian democracy and the most fundamental of rights: the right to have rights.

In the BJP project of intolerance and exclusion, there is no place for the solidarity which is the universal basis of the labour movement. That historic commitment to solidarity and democracy accounts for the resilience of our movement, and is the guarantor of our future. Unions everywhere should be standing together with the protestors.

Women in Shaheen Bagh, Delhi have maintained a continuous 24-hour sit-in against the CAA and the National Population Register since December 15.