Is dissent a tool to strengthen democracy or crime in ‘New India’?

BR Ambedkar in his final speech in constituent assembly said “however good constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are call to work it, happen to be a bad lot”

Photo courtesy- social media
Photo courtesy- social media
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Maskoor Usmani

Citizenship is considered as the right for rights, that makes citizen empowered to enjoy several rights of a country, dissent is considered as grease for making the wheels of democracy work smoothly.

After BJP 2.0 came to power with another thumping majority in Lok Sabha, it passed one after another controversial bills including the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019. Indian constitution under article 5 to 11 under part 2 talks about citizenship, it also empowers Parliament to enact laws on citizenship. The new citizenship act makes the process easy for people coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to acquire Indian citizenship, provided they are not Muslim.

This exclusion of Muslims from the Act is against the secular principles of India and it violates article 14 that says that the state shall not deny any person equality before the law or equal protection of law within the territory of India. New Citizenship Act along with controversial NRC will expose Muslims to the threat of losing citizenship and will open the gates of detention centers for them.

This controversial CAA opened floodgates of dissent and protest both on the streets and in the newsrooms. The historic protest of Shaheen Bagh led by Muslim women emerged as a symbol of resistance all across the world. The replica of Shaheen bagh model came in almost all the districts of all states and UTs. This Citizenship Amendment Act was also criticised by many countries and started affecting India's image globally especially among the neighboring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

USA commission on international religious freedom(USCIRF) has downgraded India to the lowest rank "countries of particular concern" in its 2020 report.

It must be clear that laws are made for people and if any law doesn't fulfill the aspiration of people then it must be changed.

Unfortunately, as the dissent grew stronger inside and outside India over the CAA, the world witnessed the outbreak of COVID-19 and as a result almost all the countries of the world were forced to imposed total or partial yet strict lockdown in order to check the spread of the virus.

This brought an abrupt end to the outside protests against CAA. But the Government of India, instead of looking into CAA, talking to the protesters and bringing amendments to citizenship act, started to handpick and arrest students, artists and activists associated with anti-CAA protest and one among them is Safoora Zargar.

She is a pregnant woman and a research fellow of Jamia Millia Islamia. The government accused her of being a key conspirator in the Delhi riot that took place in February in which more than 50, he people died and several became homeless. If anyone closely follows her activism will hardly find any of her links with Delhi riots. Yes, she was very active in the anti-CCA protest which had nothing to do with the riots.

Zargar is presently in jail and she is deprived of all the basic rights of a pregnant women like healthcare, nutrition and regular checkups by doctors. On the contrary, she is facing abuse, deteriorating comments from many people on social media including the allies and supporters of the ruling BJP.

Apart from Safoora, Sharjeel Imam, Research Scholar JNU, Meeran Haider Research scholar JMI, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Student activist JMI, Gulfisha, Shifaur Rahman President AAJMI, Amir Mintoe student activist AMU, Farhan Zuberi, former Cabinet member AMUSU are in jail under saveral fake charges.

BR Ambedkar in his final speech in constituent assembly had said "however good constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are call to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However a bad constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are call to work it, happened to be good lot."

His speech is extremely relevant today when the citizenship act along with NRC will promote state-sponsored inhuman violence. Zargar, along with others was only trying to protect the rights of the poor of all communities in general and the Muslim community of the present generation as well as of future generations in particular; it is in fact she who tried to remind India of vasudhaiv kutumbakam and tried to protect the image of India globally.

Instead of looking at her as an obstacle, the government should see her as a free citizen of India who has the courage to speak, to dissent against the government, and make the government cross-check unconstitutional laws passed by them.

Are we all prepared to face Safoora Zargar’s child and tell him/her that we are a free, liberal, and progressive nation?  Can we face Safoora and say that we are a country which cares for women and mothers?

Dr Maskoor Ahmad Usmani is a political activist and former President of Aligarh Muslim University Student's Union

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