Arundhati Roy: Protests over India’s citizenship law give me hope
Amid mass protests, acclaimed writer and activist tells Al Jazeera why she calls India’s new citizenship law dangerous.
New Delhi, India – Mass protests have gripped parts of India over a controversial citizenship law.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed earlier this month grants citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but does not include naturalisation for Muslims.
At least 25 people have been killed as hundreds of thousands rally in cities across the country against the law. Critics argue it goes against India’s secular constitution.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of the right-wing ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has defended the law, calling it a humanitarian gesture.
The law follows the publication of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in India’s northeastern Assam state in August, which excluded nearly two million people – about half Hindu and half Muslim – from the official list of citizens, raising fears they could be rendered stateless.
On Tuesday, India’s federal cabinet approved funds for a census and population survey that many fear could be used to build a controversial citizens register.
Acclaimed writer and activist Arundhati Roy joined in the protest in New Delhi on Wednesday, urging Indians to protect each other and guard against any oppression by Indian police and security forces.
Al Jazeera spoke with Roy about the new law’s implications and why she is still hopeful.
Al Jazeera: I know you are very hopeful about this moment in India. Why is that?
Arundhati Roy: I am hopeful because this movement intellectually understands and emotionally and passionately understands the horror of this Hindutva programme that Modi, BJP, RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu supremacist organisation) have been selling for so many years and of course in power since 2014.
They have only this as the one answer to every problem – economic, social, education, whatever it is. The idea is to ratchet up the hatred.
And suddenly young people are saying “sorry, we are not buying this”. And that’s why I’m hopeful.
Al Jazeera: Do you think the protests we are seeing by young people around the country will make a difference? Because as these protests happen, the government passed funding for National Population Register (NPR), which many people see as a precursor to the NRC?
Roy: It is a precursor. It is the database. They are going to go through with whatever they can go through. They are going to go through with every bit of their agenda. And they are going to shed blood.
And they are already killing people all over the state of Uttar Pradesh because that’s where they have the most vicious chief minister, acting in tandem with the central government.
But they are losing power in all the other states. So just a few years ago they were in power in so many separate states, and now they hold power in just three or four states.
Ten chief ministers have already said they will not allow the National Register of Citizens. They will not allow the NPR, which is the soft entry to this. I think people still have to understand that this is a very dangerous thing.
But I think there is still a chance. If there was ever a chance, here is the chance to stop them.
Al Jazeera: Do you think the Supreme Court will stop them when it hears dozens of petitions against the CAA next month?
Roy: I don’t know. I don’t have much hope there. Look at what happened with Assam.
They went ahead with the national register while the Supreme Court is still hearing the case about whether or not it’s constitutional.
So all the damage is already done. The Supreme Court is still going along and prodding away. And the horror that’s been unleashed on the people of Assam because of this few people in India know this.
So I’m just hoping that it’s going to take much more than the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has not so stood in the way of the government in any of its agenda so far. I hope it will, but I don’t have that much hope.