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The Indian State’s approach to CAA-NRC is flawed – analysis


How does the Indian State think and reason when it encounters a crisis? Is it possible to understand its process of thinking and reasoning through the actions of its institutions?

This article is an attempt to understand these processes by examining the State’s approach to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019 which have, together, brought about a about a crisis of Indian democracy, and more particularly, of the citizen.

Ranjan Gogoi, former Chief Justice of India, dubbed the NRC as a futuristic document, a referent. Seemingly, the Indian State now seems to share a deep desire to implement a nationwide NRC, and redo it in Assam, even though recent statements made by top leaders — including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah — have sought to reverse such an understanding. The National Population Register (NPR) is widely understood to be the first step towards a nationwide NRC.

With the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in December last year, the first set of protests broke out in the Northeast, and particularly, in Assam. But the difference between the protest in Assam and the rest of the country remains since the former supports the NRC and still shares a strong anti-Bangladeshi sentiment.

Soon, anti-CAA protests spread across the country and, unsurprisingly, the administration came down brutally on the protesters in Assam and Uttar Pradesh (UP), killing more than two dozen people and leaving several others severely injured. Responding to the protest, large parts of Assam, UP and several other states were put under curfew, Internet services curtailed and thousands of paramilitary and army personnel deployed.

Why is the government not responding to the demands of the CAA protestors? Why is it that, despite so many reports of malpractice and deliberate exclusions in the NRC, the State went ahead with the process? Can they be read as anomalies?

An answer to how the State and the administration handles the protestors and those malpractices and exclusions can be found in the practice of natural sciences in terms of how they address crisis in their various disciplines.

The process of an “anomaly” that Thomas Kuhn pointed out in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolution, while speaking about crises, will be of interest here. An anomaly can be read as a deviation from a certain expected behaviour, be it in an experiment or a reaction to a policy instituted by our government, and the injury and suffering people are made to undergo.

Suicides linked to the NRC process, detention, international criticism, anti-CAA protests across the country, reports of malpractice and discrimination against minorities through the NRC process can be all read as anomalies in the new citizenship discourse. These instances are not treated as a danger to the design of citizenship that want India to adopt but rather as anomalies that can be corrected or ignored.

The CAA provides a partial treatment of the anomaly of people excluded by the NRC process, by making a provision to grant citizenship only to the Hindus that are potentially left out of the NRC process. In doing so, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) adds to the paradigm of the Hindu rashtra, or Hindu nation.

Moreover, the CAA also creates an anomaly in the process by denting the secular fabric of the nation. The anomaly is so severe that it has brought about this crisis of our democracy. This is another reason why we ought to oppose both the processes and not just one, because, by design, both are anti-minority and undemocratic.

Anomalies are also created by a certain politics of sub-nationalism, which, in turn, revives the wounds that gives the State a chance to become the guardian of people. The State can also create anomalies so that it can show its might. In order to show its might, it needs a soft target in the form of the linguistic and religious minorities.

In science, an anomaly in an experiment does not amount to abandoning a certain theory or method involved in the experiment. Experiments are run again, and corrective measures are taken to prevent or minimise anomalies. When it comes to the NRC and CAA, is the Indian State thinking the way a scientist would treat their experiments?

It turns out that 1.9 million excluded from the Assam NRC was not a satisfactory number in the experiment of citizenship, for the government and the Assamese nationalists both demanded a do-over. So, like a scientist redoing their experiment if it fails to yield a desired result, the State too wants to run a new experiment of NRC/NPR to produce a desired result which may exclude millions more. The only difference here is that the BJP wants an increased exclusion of the Muslims from India and the Assamese nationalist wants a larger number of “foreigners” to be excluded from Assam. This is why the secular nature of protest in Assam against CAA is also a myth.

The way a scientist approaches their discipline in moments of crisis — to its anomalies — shows remarkable similarities with how the Indian State is now approaching its policies and political subjects. However, the difference between both the actors is crucial as a scientist primarily does it with sincerity and good intentions, but the State’s actions remain deeply problematic and potentially divisive.

The cost of speaking truth to power are sometimes bullet wounds. And in the CAA-NRC experiment, death and detention are solutions that remove anomalies.

Suraj Gogoi is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the National University of Singapore

The views expressed are personal

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