Several former Indian Administrative Service officers and activists have urged Indians to begin a civil disobedience movement to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens. After over seven hours of heated debate on Monday, the Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019. The bill, which explicitly excludes Muslims from three neighbouring countries from applying for Indian citizenship, is expected to be introduced in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
Activist and former IAS officer Harsh Mander said that if the bill is passed in Parliament, he will officially register as a Muslim. “I will then refuse to submit any documents to NRC,” he wrote on Twitter. “I will finally demand the same punishment as any undocumented Muslim – detention centre [and] withdrawn citizenship. Join this civil disobedience.” Mander is also a former IAS officer.
Author Tony Joseph said he would refuse to submit “to this immoral act” by not submitting the requisite documents needed to prove his citizenship. “I will stand along with my brothers and sisters rather than be a mute spectator to their disenfranchisement,” he added.
The bill proposes amendments to a 1955 law to provide citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians from the Muslim-majority nations of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. If passed, it will grant citizenship to persecuted people from these communities, provided they have resided in India for six years. The cut-off date is December 31, 2014.
A number of people on social media also began to call for civil disobedience on Tuesday. Using the hashtag #CABNRCSatyagraha, Twitterati asked Indians to not submit their documents to prove their citizenship.
Former IAS officer Sashikanth Senthil wrote a letter to Amit Shah saying the passage of the bill “marked the darkest day in the history of modern India.” Irrespective of the status of the Citizenship Bill, the “idea of an all-India NRC by itself is a dehumanizing effort”, he said. Senthil had quit the Indian Administrative Service in September citing the clampdown in Jammu and Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370.
“I refuse to accept the process of enumeration in NRC by not submitting the requisite documents to prove my citizenship and is willing to accept the action taken by the India state against my disobedience,” he wrote in his letter. “If the state chooses to declare me as a non-citizen, I would also be happy to fill up the many detention centers that you are building all over the country. I would accept the incarceration with all humbleness than to wait at the sidelines as a mute spectator to the communal profiling and disenfranchising of my fellow humans.”
Activist and former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid also called for a civil disobedience movement against both the NRC and the bill. “We have to launch a civil disobedience against the NRC because it is impossible for 20 crore people to have their documents ready,” Khalid told HuffPost. “There is no organisation that has the resources to get their documents made. You will have to fight this battle. It’s not something that you think you can cooperate with and come out of it.”
On Monday, a civil society group, the Joint Forum Against NRC, held a protest march in Kolkata. The aim of the protest was to put at end to the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Bill being proposed by the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre. A number of speakers at the event argued that if the government decides to continue with these tests of citizenship based on religion, citizens must respond using non-cooperation and civil disobedience.
“We will not allow a single person to lose citizens,” said Debarshi Chakraborty. “If that happens lakhs of people will hit the streets in Kolkata.” Adivasi leader Saradindu Uddipan said that any detention camps built in Bengal should be demolished.
Kanhaiya Kumar, student leader and former president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, argued that people should simply refuse to go along with the NRC process: “If an NRC person comes to your doorstep, tell him to come tomorrow with Rs 15 lakhs. Indians now need to do this sort of non-cooperation with the government”.
An 11-hour shutdown called by the North East Students’ Organisation, an umbrella body of students’ organisations, to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill is currently underway in the North East. Groups in the North East fear that once the bill is passed, local populations defined as indigenous to the region will be culturally and physically swamped by migrants.