Indian diaspora responds to wave of protests in India

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Image: Used with permission of the ad hoc Montreal group organizing in solidarity with the protests in India against the NRC and CAA.

Aadita Chaudhury is a graduate student at York University in Toronto. Mehak Sawhney is an international student doing her PhD at McGill University in Montreal, and Baj Mukhopadhyay is a physician also based in Montreal. Scott Neigh interviews them about the wave of protests in India against the National Register of Citizens, the Citizenship Amendment Act, and the BJP government; and about the organizing in solidarity with those protests in the Indian diaspora in Canada.

One of the most important political trajectories around the world in recent years has been the rise of the far right. In North America, however, we often fail to appreciate how this political dynamic is playing out not only here and in Europe, but in at least some countries in the Global South. The far-right government of Narendra Modi and the BJP in India, for instance, is not always recognized as part of this trend in mainstream North American conversations.

The BJP and its powerful array of associated organizations are devoted to hindutva, or Hindu nationalism. These politics are taken up in the context of a country with a robust and inclusive tradition of secularism, a secular constitution, and a wide range of cultures, languages and religions (including a rich diversity of traditions within the historically broad umbrella of Hinduism). Hindutva politics seek to transform India into a specifically Hindu nation, under a narrow and elite version of Hinduism. Though they use language of development and economic populism, the BJP's politics work to reinforce hierarchies of gender, caste and class, and to increase economic inequality. In particular, though 200 million Indians are Muslim, the BJP has a long and disturbing record of attack on Islam and on Muslims.

The BJP is currently in the first year of its second successive majority government. Of particular concern for today's interview are two policy initiatives: the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The NRC, as the name indicates, is an effort to create a comprehensive registry of citizens in the country. A recent trial run in a single state resulted in more than 2 million residents being denied citizenship. What this means is that they lacked certain documents, and in India, lots of people, particularly poor people, lack documents for all kinds of reasons that may have nothing to do with migration or residency. The BJP government has committed to implementing the NRC nationally, but it is unclear how they could possibly do this without reproducing this fiasco on a national scale.

The CAA is a piece of legislation that was passed in December 2019 that modifies India's citizenship requirements. Essentially, it offers Indian citizenship to refugees from neighbouring countries -- except, that is, if they are Muslim.

Much of the opposition to the CAA is based on the fact that it treats people differently based on their religion -- a violation, opponents argue, of India's constitution and of the spirit of its secular democracy. In light of the pending NRC, however, the injustice of the CAA is even more stark. It would potentially allow non-Muslims in that process who for whatever reason lack papers to have access to Indian citizenship anyway while excluding Muslims, thus rendering stateless many Muslims who have functionally been citizens of India for their entire lives.

Powerful government figures have already been throwing around dehumanizing language, and detention centres for Muslims are already being built in one state. As columnist Shree Paradkar recently observed in the Toronto Star, "In this way, all Muslims in India could potentially become stateless."

The protests against this legislation in India have been massive. Quite literally hundreds of millions of people have been on the streets at one point or another since the uprising began in December. Students in particular have been leading the way and have faced harsh police repression. Police violence has killed at least 27 protesters since the demonstrations began. And trade unions, women's groups, farmers organizations, and others have also linked this issue to their broader opposition to the BJP's agenda.

According to today's guests, though the Indian diaspora in North America is as diverse as India itself, its politics are most often dominated by elite and conservative elements. There are also, however, traditions of progressive organizing within the Indian diaspora in Canada dating back to at least the 1970s. And since the resistance to the NRC and CAA began in India, Montreal and Toronto have both seen demonstrations and other events in solidarity.

The next big day of action will be January 26, which is the anniversary of the day that the Indian constitution took effect in 1950. Demonstrations are planned in India itself and in diasporic communities around the world, including in Toronto, Montreal and elsewhere in Canada. A key demand of the organizers in this country, which they hope other Canadians will take up, is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak out in some way about what's happening in India. Teach-ins are also in the works, and discussions are ongoing about other ways to exert pressure on the Indian state.

The long-term hope is that mobilizing in solidarity with Indian protests against the far-right policies of the BJP can be part of a broader front to mobilize against the far-right in Canada and around the world.

Image: Used with permission of the ad hoc Montreal group organizing in solidarity with the protests in India against the NRC and CAA.

Theme music: "It Is the Hour (Get Up)" by Snowflake, via CCMixter


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out our website here. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer and activist based in Hamilton, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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