The ancient Greek language used holos to mean ‘entire’ and kaustos to indicate a ‘burnt object’. The compound word formed out of the two was holokauston. Almost a millennium later, the old French brought it in use as holocauste. Not much in use, except in ancient liturgical practices, the term was put into political discourse by Winston Churchill to describe the killing of people in Armenia during World War I. The world understands it now as the elimination of nearly 1.7 million European Jews and gypsies during Adolf Hitler’s regime in Germany. The idea was floated in its initial phase as ‘the Final Solution’. The Hebrew word Shoah, which means in that language ‘a great calamity’ and is pronounced Sha-uh, is preferred by those who have gone through the experience and those who want to carefully avoid the theological connotation of holocaust involving an idea of ‘offering’. The Shoah, or the Sha-uh, was decidedly a shame for humanity and will be remembered for centuries as an inhuman act.
A question that has been bothering millions of Indians and a large number of others outside India is, “Is India sliding towards some kind of Sha-uh? Is India destined to give up, alas, its cherished idea of secularism and make religious minorities people without entitlement to equal judicial relief and equal security of life and property?” The very idea is so unnerving that one’s tongue refuses to utter the words. Yet, the turn of events compel us to ask it.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 was passed by Parliament by using the Bharatiya Janata Party’s majority; it received the president’s unquestioning assent and was also notified. The Supreme Court decided to respond to the 144 public interest litigations with little sense of urgency. It offered four weeks’ time for the government to respond. No response has been received although the time given has expired. The prime minister and home minister have repeatedly stated that no one in India should have the fear of losing their citizenship because of the CAA. Any child will understand that the CAA is meant for those who have come from outside. But, it is the religion-based acceptance of those persons now formalized as an Act of Parliament that is the source of worry. If that logic is extended to the exercise of the National Population Register and if the authority to declare ‘doubtful citizens’ is given to the lakhs of lower officials carrying out the NPR, the Sha-uh in India will have begun. The country has witnessed that when attacks were made by the non-State warriors of Hindutva in Delhi, the police decided to play mere witness for nearly 72 hours. During those hours, arson and killing took place unchecked and so many died. This, in Delhi, the capital of the country.
On March 1, Amit Shah has declared that there is no going back on the CAA and that it has a finality that no amount of protest and questioning can succeed in challenging. Just a month ago, he stated in a television interview that he would be willing to give appointments within three days to anyone who wanted to discuss the CAA-NRC-NPA. One thought that the government had woken up to the fact that the widespread protest was a genuine people’s protest and not a manufactured political campaign supported by any party.
Two weeks after the protests began, many protesting groups felt that they should form a mutual support network. Thus after discussions with Rajmohan Gandhi and Yogendra Yadav, we sent out a letter and over a hundred organizations, groups and networks participated in a daylong meeting at the Press Club in Mumbai on December 29. A number of very distinguished individuals who have contributed to Indian society in many ways were present there. We decided that all that will be done must be entirely peaceful, with no room for any incitement for violence. We decided that the Indian flag and a copy of the Constitution would be foregrounded in the protest. The name accepted for this formation was “We, the People of India/ Hum Bhartke Log”. Therefore, when the home minister stated that he would be willing to get into dialogue, we wrote to him, “It appears from media reports that in your capacity as Home Minister of India, you have offered to allot time within three days to anyone who seeks time from your office, to discuss issues related to CAA. By this email, a small delegation of citizens, jurists and activists representing ‘We the People of India’ seeks an appointment with you at your earliest convenience.” We received a reply from the Director, Citizenship, and Foreigners Division in the ministry of home affairs: “You have made a request through e-Mail to meet the Home Minister regarding The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. It is requested to kindly send a gist of the issues that you want to discuss in the proposed meeting.” A reply was sent quickly giving a gist of our concerns and issues: we would like to understand from the Hon. Home Minister: i) How does the CAA fit in with our Constitution? ii) How do the provisions of this Act match the stated objectives of the Act itself? iii) How does the Act fit in with the solemn promise made by the nation to the people of Assam in the Assam Accord of 1985? iv) How would this Act help persecuted minorities like Sri Lankan Tamils who seek refuge in India? v) What is the linkage between the proposed NPR and the NRIC? In our response, we requested the minister i) To immediately put on hold the proposed operation of NPR; ii) To assure the nation that the government does not plan to go ahead with the nationwide NRIC, and iii) To repeal Section 14 of Citizenship Act and all the changes brought into the Act by the CAA of 2019. The promised call for meeting has not come. One wonders if it will.
These concerns and demands have arisen from people in different states and districts over the last two months. Millions have taken out rallies, held meetings and sit-in protests, a large number of thinkers, intellectuals, media persons have written voicing these concerns, several state assemblies have passed resolutions opposing the CAA, NRC and NPR and various individuals and forums outside India have expressed their concerns as well. Yet, the government gives enough reason for the countrymen to believe that the RSS-BJP desire to change the fabric of the country from the inclusive one to a one that treats populations following different religions differently will remain insatiate till the Constitution is rewritten. One hopes, and one can but hope as hope is endless, that the term ‘Sha-uh’ does not receive any currency in India.
The author is a literary critic and a cultural activist firstname.lastname@example.org