The Year 2020: An Overview — Dr Zafarul-Islam

The year ended while we were still fighting a four-front war – Covid19, China, economy  and communal politics. On all these fronts we are clueless about the next move of the government. This situation has highly dented India’s place and image in the world today.

THE year 2020 was unusual in our recent history. Not only we grappled with an unprecedented epidemic, our country also saw during this year two of the biggest protest movements in our history.

Anti-CAA-NRC protests: The first was the anti-CAA-NRC movement across the country. This continued for more than three months and could be stopped only under the Corona lockdown restrictions. These protests were triggered by the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), piloted by Home Minister Amit Shah with a grandiose plan to marginalise Indian Muslim by snatching away citizenship of millions of them. This movement was spearheaded by ordinary people, especially by Muslim women who braved the cold weather and continued to protest at hundreds of sites across the country for over three months. The protests could be dispersed only using the Covid lockdown late in March 2020. While government refused to listen to the protesters or negotiate with them, administration and police everywhere, especially in BJP-ruled states, used draconian measures and violence to disrupt these protests. Huge fines were imposed on hundreds of protesters disregarding legal procedures. 

Farmers’ protest: Towards the end of the year, we faced farmers’ protest against the pro-corporate and privatisation policies of the Modi government. Protests started in various states in the wake of the passage of three thoughtless agricultural laws passed in May 2020. When Modi government refused to listen to them, the protesting farmers came to Delhi where they are still camping at the borders since last November. There are no signs that they will budge until their demands are met. Modi government is ready to defer the controversial laws for 1.5 years but the farmers are adamant on their total abrogation. Like the anti-NRC protests, the farmers’ protests too are popular and spontaneous with no role of political parties.

Delhi riot: The year also saw a major communal riot in the north-east district of Delhi in the last week of February 2020. These were engineered by some BJP and Hindutva leaders while a high-profile state visit by the US President was midway. No action has been taken against people like Kapil Mishra who planned and ignited the riots in order to end the anti-CAA protests. Police has failed to take action against the real planners, instigators and executors of these riots. Instead, it is blaming the victims and anti-NRC protestors for plotting and carrying out the riots.

Communal Riots in 2020: Low Numbers Only A Deception

IN 2020, India witnessed 10 communal riots claiming 59 lives as compared to 25 communal riots in 2019 claiming 8 lives according to the monitoring of centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS). There might be more than 10 riots but, here, the focus is on the riots reported in 5 newspapers monitored by CSSS.  In fact, there are new patterns emerging in communal riots which are insightful in understanding the decline in the number of communal riots.

In 2020, the major riots that took place in north-east Delhi in February and Ujjain, Indore and Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh are the telling signs of the times we live in. The patterns in these riots point towards the overreach of the authoritarian State in targeting the Muslim community. Earlier, the institutionalised riot system (IRS) was carefully constructed where riots were engineered and orchestrated at available trigger points.

There was comprehensive planning and extensive political mobilisation to trigger a riot. However, there was still some fear of prosecution and investigation into the communal riots, however weak and biased against religious minorities. But the State was not as blatantly and officially involved as witnessed today. The State no more pretends to be impartial.

India at 72: Vast Multitude of Citizens Wondering About Their Future

N the first year of the new decade, we’ll mark the 75 years of our Independence and 72 years of India as a Republic, but there are many questions, which assail the common Indian.

75 years after Independence and 72 years after India became a Republic, instead of feeling ecstatic and consolidating our achievements we are forced to ponder the question, whether our freedom fighters, leaders and constitution framers dreamt of India in its present form?

At present we are standing at a crossroads, where a vast multitude of Indian citizens are wondering about their legal standing and the future, besides feeling concerned about the continued secular and inclusive character of the Indian society. The largest majority of the country along with millions of illiterate, landless, backwards and a mass of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have been forced to ponder over the question of their legal identity in the country, whose constitution’s preamble read: We, the people of India… Secular, Democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens…

The largest minority community in the country has been thrown many challenges in the last two years. Though confused and floundering, it was trying hard to come to terms with the harsh reality of being part of an India, which is being governed by the forces, which have always been considered inimical to it.

A large number of Indians believe this to be the doing of the right-wing government. But the moot question is, how did it happen and who allowed it to happen? Leading us to a more sensitive and ponderous question, whether India ever was a truly secular republic at all?

The largest minority community, though confused and floundering, is trying hard to come to terms with the harsh reality of being part of new India.

‘Love Jihad’, Conversions and Laws Curbing Freedoms

UTTAR PRADESH Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020, passed by UP on November 27, 2020, has set the ball rolling. On one hand many other BJP ruled states like MP and Haryana are activating their machinery to bring in similar law in their states, and on the other, at social level, many interfaith couples are being subjected to harassment, some of the Muslim men in particular are being put behind the bars.

This law has intentions which are out and out communal as already since the 1960s there have been anti-conversion laws. The new laws have goals which are sinister and have the potential of being misused to create social disharmony.

While the ordinance does not use the term ‘love jihad’, the foot-soldiers of the Hindutva nationalist politics are out in the open with apprehending Muslim man-Hindu girl couples, and subjecting them to increasing degrees of torture. In Northern states the phenomenon of intimidation and violence against such couples, the Muslim men in particular is surging. Gradually more couples are being brought into the spiral of moral policing and intimidations.

Modi’s Farm Laws Belittle Even Sardar Patel’s Bardoli Struggle

THE Indian Farm Reforms Laws of 2020 were rushed through the Parliament of India on September 27, 2020. The RSS-BJP government seemed to be in a hurry to impose these laws as the same were promulgated by the President of India as ordinances on June 5, 2020 as part of the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ (self-reliant India campaign), a favourite aphorism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for imposing a series of anti-people policies during the covid-19 pandemic.

The RSS-BJP government led by Modi and its cronies in and outside the government claim that the three agriculture laws were brought in with the exclusive vision of benefitting the Indian farmers.

On the contrary, millions of farmers protesting throughout the country and thousands of them sitting at the borders of Delhi with their families against these laws are unequivocal in declaring that these laws are the death-knell of the Indian agriculture. The farmers have presented irrefutable facts to prove that the Modi regime has brought these laws to facilitate entry of Modi’s corporate friends like Ambanis and Adanis into agriculture.

The Modi government through these laws planned to use the might of the Indian State in robbing Indian farmers of their lands and hearth which would destroy food security of the Indian people. The Modi administration’s commitment to the cause of Adanis and Ambanis seems to be so solid that retention of these laws has become an issue of personal honour and the prestige of the Prime Minister.

Is not it mysterious that all this is being done by Modi who adores Sardar Patel? The former presents himself as another ‘iron man’ in the shadow of the original ‘iron man of India’, Gujarat-born Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Modi’s love for Sardar should be seen and believed; the PM takes pride in having installed Sardar’s statue in Gujarat which is the tallest in the world. It was almost a personal project of Modi executed through the Chinese companies.  

Rising communal Polarisation, A threat to India’s Future : Prof. Muchkund Dubey

Thank you Salim Engineer, I would like to join you in welcoming those who have come to participate in this webinar. As you have pointed out, on account of the corona virus condition there has been a long hiatus between our last meeting and the meeting going on now. I think we are not able to meet face to face hence meeting online but this is the advantage that we are able to meet without incurring travel costs, lodging & boarding charges etc. and it seems that it may become a new norm which may be followed in future also. Since our last meeting the communal division in the country has widened conspicuously, and it is for anyone to see it. Although those who have fought, from the beginning, for bridging this communal divide are saying that this communal divide is getting farther and farther, the same thing is being said by foreign government and agencies interested in our country. I think the divide is perceptible mainly in certain forms like the rights of minority communities, particularly the 200 million muslims, are being violated in a variety of forms and ways. Secondly, their life and liberty is being put in jeopardy making them increasingly feel insecure in their own country. I think then, there is this question of erosion of their religion-based identity. Then, the law and order authorities are being deployed to suppress them when they try to air their grievances or fight against injustice and arbitrariness. This all has become quite evident in the minority community of the role which police is playing in the implementation of some of the legislations that have been adopted recently and which encroach the private domains of the minority communities. I am referring to what is happening in UP and Madhya Pradesh. So, in a variety of ways the communal divide is widening. Let me give an example. In the process of collecting donations and mobilising support for the construction of the Ram temple, there has been kind of pressure resulting in the instances of violence taking place. One obvious thing that I would like to highlight is that this is a deliberate, well planned and concerted effort and the thing which has been on the agenda of the ruling party. There seems to be an understanding as to what the central government would do and the state government ruled by it would support, and what the state government would do and the central government would just condescend without speaking about it. There is also some kind of a collusion with some sections of the media and the think tanks of this country.  So, this is a multi-pronged, well planned and concerted effort.

Now, I would like to point out that development, a term which the ruling class is using, is only a varnish to brighten the ugly face of communalism. The fact is that it is a doubt whether the development is really taking place as is being claimed. In fact, it depends on the measuring yardsticks that you use and the perspective with which you view it. But, in the process the communal division is a reality.

There are two purposes behind it. One, it (communalism) is a kind of machinery tool to come to power, remain in power and consolidate themselves in power. That is why you hear the slogan of ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’, ‘Saffron colour flying over all the states’. Two, the point which is of fundamental and more deeper concern, it (communalism) is an attempt to realise the tortured and apparently untenable dream of ‘Hindu Rashta’ in India. I am using the words ‘tortured’ and ‘untenable’ deliberately. ‘Tortured’ in the sense that it is not novel in the Indian conditions and it is ‘untenable’ because so long as India is to remain a pluralistic state which it would remain, there is no way it is going to become a reality. The forces of opposition will continue to spring up and at one stage or the other would come in the way of this idea taking shape.

Now, I would like to point out that development, a term which the ruling class is using, is only a varnish to brighten the ugly face of communalism. The fact is that it is a doubt whether the development is really taking place as is being claimed. In fact, it depends on the measuring yardsticks that you use and the perspective with which you view it. But, in the process the communal division is a reality. As I said earlier it is for all to see and is being seen by a vast number of us in this country and a large number of foreign countries. Even those countries regarding whom we claim to be friends and with whom we have strategic relationships like United States, many of the European Union countries, have pointed out at the events happening in India.

Now, I would like to dwell a little bit on this law of UP, Madhya Pradesh, the so called ‘Prevention of Forceful Conversion’. I think we have very distinguished jurists here and they would give more and authentic information on the subject, but to the best of my understanding, conversion should be a part of a major’s right because it is in accordance with the rights given in the constitution like the right  to pursue one’s religion, the right to life and the right to live the way you want. It is also in accordance with the right to expression since this is a powerful means to express yourselves. All these rights are being suppressed. I want to give just you one example from Gandhiji’s life, when he went to Africa for the first time, and was trying to settle in Pretoria and Nettle where he came under the pressure of his Christian friends (who had helped him in settling down in those places) and Muslims (Shaik Abdullah was his employer) to convert to Christianity and Islam respectively. It is interesting to read his autobiography ‘My experiments with truth’, where it is mentioned that he simply said that he would like to study them and subsequently he realised that he has to study his own religion also to understand it. He devoted a great deal of time and came to the conclusion that he should remain in his religion. So, the conversion is not something forbidden or which has to be outrightly rejected. As I said that it is a part of the basic freedoms all of us should enjoy under the Indian constitution.

Now, there are two more points I would like to make. One, in the title of today’s theme it is mentioned that ‘a threat to India’s future’, one could clearly see that in the extreme forms like conflicts and acts of violence that have been taking place recently and are likely to accelerate in future if there is no addressing of the situation. You cannot hold more than 200 million people, which is almost more than the whole population of at least half a dozen countries, under suppression, deny their basic rights as citizens and under a shadow of threat to their lives, which is the ultimate threat an individual can face. In the worst situation it would divide the country or cause violence resulting in de-stabilization and bringing all the development and progress to a halt or a slowdown. The other aspect in manifesting the unfolding of this situation is we can never be a prosperous and advanced country by alienating more than 200 million people. But the 200 million minority today is virtually alienated. One can palpably feel when he observes the situation from the sidelines and while interacting with the members of minority community. Even though the people are working in this situation but it is not the same as utilising the optimum capacity. When a nation cannot utilise its capacity to the optimal extent  and when almost 20% of its population lives under threat to its life, liberty, property, heritage, it will remain a place of disharmony, conflict and absence of peace. This is not the condition in which a country can grow, prosper let alone becoming a major country in the world and taking its right place in the community of nations.

I have some so much to say, especially in the context of what happened to Subhash Chandra Bose and we read in today’s newspaper the claim that Subhash Chandra Bose would have been happy to see the situation of today’s India. I have done some study of Subhash Chandra Bose and I was the chairman of people’s committee for celebrating his 100th anniversary and I have got a book published which was released by the then Chief Minister Mr. Jyothi Basu and there is a caption in this book titled ‘Netaji’s conclusion to communal amity and harmony’. I have no time to illustrate that, but I think that very few persons contributed to communal amity in a practical manner as Netaji did and I would like to include Jawaharlal Nehru in that. He was the chairman of the CWC committee which made the first and the most extensive recommendation on Hindu-Muslim unity. Most of it was bodily taken in the constitution documentation subject material. He used a very interesting word, which we generally use in international relations, in the ‘30s for communal harmony. He said that law would not do unless we have a policy of ‘rapprochement’ towards our muslim brothers. By quoting ‘rapprochement’ he meant deliberately taking steps to go near them, be near them, make them feel as honourable citizen of this country and give them the dignity of person and personality. I am saying this on the basis of my own research which I did before writing my paper.

Finally, just one topic to conclude. We have assembled here after such a long time in a situation which is galloping towards widening the division in this country. So, we have to think of concrete action that we may take through our forum. Earlier, we used to knock at the doors of the judiciary at the last resort and we used to get sturdy response from the judiciary but of recent there is a great deal of concern among those who are working in this field, at the attitude the judiciary has taken at such problems. The role that it presumes itself to have when dealing with communal and other similar situations, I think the higher courts today are detruding from grappling with the problem and doing something to prevent the drift towards greater divide in the country. Either by own suo-moto action or in response to the application made to them by various groups on various issues, I think they don’t want to touch the structural and fundamental issues involved in the situation. They want to deal with the law and order problem that may arise during the course of the implication of these legislations/measures.

I think this is matter of great concern and I hope that we will pay attention to that also and I would like to conclude with these remarks. I know I have been speaking for more than what I should have and we have so many other speakers also.