With protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act raging across the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have claimed that the law will not affect Indian citizens: it only seeks to fast track the process of citizenship for persecuted minorities from three neighbouring nations – except if they are Muslim.
Those opposing the CAA point out that the law must be viewed in tandem with the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens, which seeks to identify undocumented immigrants living in India. This coupling, they note, could be used to disenfranchise Indian Muslims. Modi, on the other hand has claimed emotionally (and untruthfully) that his government has not even discussed the NRC. This despite the fact that Amit Shah has frequently declared that the two initiatives are inextricably linked.
On Sunday, India got a snapshot of the chaos that could unfold if the Centre insists on proceeding with the NRC. Days after a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Aravind Limbavali tweeted a video claiming that the residents of a private plot in Bengaluru’s Bellandur area were actually undocumented migrants from Bangladesh, the authorities moved in to raze about 100 houses.
The arbitrariness of the demolition is striking. The municipal authorities have no right to enter private property and take such coercive action without the backing of the law. There are prescribed processes on how to deal with encroachments. In this case, it seems the plot owner had not complained about encroachers. Rather, other residents of the neighbourhood had appealed to the municipal officials to take action in the wake of the video being circulated.
As it turns out, most of those in the demolished sheds were from daily wage labourers
from West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In fact, media reports showed that municipal officials and the police refused to listen to even the residents of the area who said they were from other parts of Karnataka.
Pending a departmental investigation, the official who ordered the demolition was transferred. His arbitrary action must be viewed in the context of the frenzy created by those in power about undocumented migrants. It does not matter if these accusations are actually true. It does not even matter that international law demands humane treatment of even undocumented migrants.
The fact that such a drastic, unauthorised action could be taken so easily to displace hundreds of families is a warning sign about what the government-backed hysteria over undocumented immigrants could lead to. In the chaos, the distinction between Indians and non-Indians will be blurred. This is the reason so many Indians have taken to the streets to opposing the new citizenship initiatives.