Muslims rush to update documents amid misinformation and lack of collective leadership in community
“I’d rather have my mother poisoned and taken to her grave, than have her sent to a detention centre,” says a distressed Ayesha Siddiqua, a mother of four and an entrepreneur.
Ever since she saw a video of the mass detention centres in Assam, where the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise was carried out, Ayesha, a resident of Bengaluru, has been worrying herself sick over the plight of her document-less octogenarian parents.
“Yes, I am engulfed by such scary thoughts all day long. It’s no more a fear psychosis – it has become a reality. What’s happening in Assam can sure happen in Karnataka or elsewhere in India. Let’s not forget that detention centres have become operable. The clip that I watched was very disturbing. More than 200 women were put in one small room with no proper toilet facilities. Can you imagine their mental trauma? My parents are 85 and 87 years old. Except for voter’s ID, neither has proof of date of birth or legacy documents. But both of them are citizens of this country. Both my father and my mother’s father were government employees. But who is going to take these things into consideration?” asks Ayesha.
The MBA graduate who runs an apparel store in the city is also concerned that discrepancies in her own documents might prove detrimental to her family. She moved to Bengaluru for work a few years back and settled here after marriage. During and after the transition, mistakes were introduced into her documents.
“I have to get some documents rectified and that’s the only thing running on my mind these days. Minor discrepancies in our documents can mean dire consequences given the current state of affairs. I am willing to prove my citizenship, but I want the government to be transparent and fair. There should be no discrimination based on religion,” she adds.
Like Ayesha, many in her community are scrambling about to get their documents set right ever since nationwide NRC was announced by Home Minister Amit Shah in the Rajya Sabha on November 20.
The climate of fear, which was palpable during NRC in Assam, intensified after the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) was passed by the Parliament on December 11, triggering large-scale pro and anti-CAA/NRC protests across the country.
While the BJP government at the Centre has repeatedly termed this fear psychosis as unfounded and baseless, chaos and confusion prevails even in southern states like Karnataka, which, unlike the states with international borders, is not home to a large populace of undocumented immigrants.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Sunday rally at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, rubbished all claims that the CAA was discriminatory against Indian Muslims and even debunked Home Minister Amit Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s earlier claims that a pan-India NRC was on the anvil.
In fact an advertisement by the centre carried by all leading dailies in the country on Monday attempts to bust some myths about the CAA and the NRC. Curiously, the advertisement runs contrary to what the Prime Minister said in his rally.
The advertisement reads “No nationwide NRC has been announced. If and when it is announced, rules and guidelines would be framed such that no Indian citizen would face any harassment whatsoever.”
Conflicting and contradictory statements have been the root cause for panic induced into the minds of minorities, especially Indian Muslims.
Karnataka is however home to a sizeable population of Muslims (12.92% as per the 2011 census).
Opacity on the guidelines to be framed for the proposed NRC; lack of a collective leadership, coupled with the spread of misinformation, has pushed the community to the brink of crisis.
The popular notion, both among the haves and have-nots, is that those without relevant documents will be deprived of their citizenship rights.
Little wonder that people making a beeline to the information centres in various mosques in the state to update their records.
The Lede spoke to a cross section of people in the community to ascertain the rationalisation of this trepidation. Barring a few outspoken individuals, many of them opened up only on the condition of anonymity.
Suhail*, an employee of an MNC, was among the many who had gathered at the information centre at the Frazer Town mosque making enquiries about procedures for obtaining a replacement birth certificate.
“I have all other documents, except for my birth certificate. I was born in the year 1977. What should I do?” was his desperate plea to the man at the counter.
Rahman* too was at the mosque to make enquiries about birth certificates. “Thankfully I have my birth certificate. But I don’t have the birth certificates of my parents. They are both deceased,” he said.
Narrating her hapless situation, a woman in her 40s who hails from an affluent family in Bengaluru, admitted that she was having suicidal thoughts. Alluding to the “horrors” in Assam, the woman said that she apprehended the same happening to her family. Her only immediate family is her ageing mother and her grandmother, both of whom are undocumented.
Tanveer Ahmed, an HR consultant and a social activist said that though he and a group of likeminded individuals were trying to create awareness among the community members, his own mother-in-law was difficult to coax.
“I belong to the anti-Aadhaar brigade and I don’t have an Aadhaar card. My mother-in-law is so worried that I will be sent to a detention centre, because I don’t have an Aadhaar. She calls my wife every day in tears pleading her to convince me to get my Aadhaar done. I have tried to explain it to her that there is no need for producing the document, but to no avail,” he added.
He said that notaries and advocates were having a field day as families were approaching them in large numbers to update their records to prove their citizenship.
Karnataka, a BJP ruled state, was among the first states to announce that it was gearing up to roll out NRC. In early October this year, Karnataka Home Minister Basavarj Bommai said that the government was collecting information “illegal” immigrants from neighbouring countries residing here. “We will discuss with the Union Home Ministry and then go ahead (with the process of registering),” he had said.
The BJP dispensation here is keen that it becomes the first to roll out NRC. It was also among the BJP states which clamped prohibitory orders for three days (December 19 to 21) in Bengaluru and Mangaluru ahead of the anti-CAA agitations.
Though the protests were peaceful in Bengaluru, the situation turned violent in Mangaluru resulting in the death of two persons who were killed in police firing. Following this the government suspended mobile and internet services for 48 hours in the communal sensitive Dakshina Kannada district.
It is the younger generation of the community that is acting as a catalyst in the ongoing protests against CAA-NRC. The youngsters are not shying away from speaking their mind, and speaking their mind strongly.
An angry Shaik Zakeer Hussain said that he will boycott NRC if it is rolled out. He also hit out at the religious and political leaders for “failing” the community. The 33-year-old media professional said that the older generation was more cautious and submissive as the Islamic institutions had not taken a stand.
“The protest is basically led by the young. The community leaders are absent from this. They are more cautious. They don’t want to confront the government. Though there was a protest to be led by religious leaders on Saturday (December 21), they cancelled it after the imposition of prohibitory orders. They met the Chief Minister and announced that the protest will be held once the prohibitory orders are lifted.
The younger generation is however more confrontational. We don’t feel the need to prove that we are Indians. We are educated and they know their rights, unlike the older generation. There will be more protests. Both Muslims and non-Muslims are coming out in large numbers,” he said.
Having covered the issue in Assam, Hussain said that missing documents or discrepancies in the same are the least of his concerns.
“I know that my documents are at home. Even if I am missing something, I am not really concerned. I have told everybody in my family that even if we are missing something, we aren’t going and standing in a line.
The younger Muslims see the ongoing developments as demeaning and humiliating. We don’t deserve this treatment. Like the government, which is adamant on rolling out NRC across India, even the youngsters are adamant that they will not submit documents to prove their citizenship.”
Hussain said that the situation would not have worsened if the religious leaders had given a call to help people with the documentation process.
“There is a lot of confusion in the community as there is lack of leadership. None of the mosques have made attempts to explain NRC, and its consequences. This is a major concern for the young. That is why there is a lot of anger against the community leaders – be it religious or political.
The religious leaders are nowhere to be seen in the ongoing protests. They could have at least stood by us in solidarity. It is their responsibility to douse the fire. But instead they are making people run around for their documentation process. Also, they don’t like young people coming and advising them. They have absolutely failed in addressing the welfare of the people,” he added.
Advocate Mohammed Tahir said that the community was panicking owing to misinformation.
“Three months ago, an audio was widely circulated on social media. In this clip a maulana, referring to the NRC in Assam, is heard saying that there is a strong possibility of those Muslims without relevant legacy documents will be deported from the country. This audio created panic in the community. Following this there were several other audios and videos giving defective, incomplete or wrong information. NRC in Assam was done under the Assam Accord. But as per Rule 4 of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2003, then there is no need for submission of documents. The community is suffering from information deficit.”
He said that people were being wrongly informed that NRC will be implemented like it was in Assam and that they would be excluded from the citizenship list if there are even minor discrepancies in their documents.
“Information centres run by religious leaders are asking the community members to ready their legacy documents to show that their forefathers lived here. They are unnecessarily creating panic. They are spreading wrong information as they themselves are confused,” he said.
Tahir also said that the circular issued by the Karnataka State Wakf Board had made matters worse for the community.
The circular dated 13 November 2019 calls for all mosques in the state to maintain a register containing documents of all Muslims residing in its jurisdiction.
“The Wakf Board comes under the government and works under its direction. It has no authority on its own to issue such a circular to the mosques. The circular has been issued to divert the Muslim community’s attention.
Mohammed Maqsood Imran, Imam of Jamia Masjid, Bengaluru, however claimed that the mosques were not collecting any documents. The mosques were instead only helping the community members verify their documents.
“Documentation, especially among the poor is not in proper order, requiring rectification. In a majority of the cases the names are misspelt or the date of birth is wrongly entered. Even the gender is wrongly mentioned. Hence we started the documentation verification process three months ago across the state. This is being done for the first time. This however is not being done for NRC. We are doing this only for NPR. This is not just for Muslims. Even non-Muslims can come and get their documents rectified. The mosque has rectified (correction and inclusion) around 600 voters’ IDs so far.”
The Imam also said that the community was a worried lot, especially after the passing of the CAA.
“The Union Home Minister has said that NRC will be implemented in the entire country. However no guidelines have been issued. I don’t foresee much problem in a state like Karnataka as there are not many refugees/migrants in the state. However there is an apprehension in the community after CAA was passed by the Parliament. There should be one law for all religions.
Poor people of the community are really worried. They are scared that they will be sent to the detention centres. The documentation process is being expedited. But the mosques have not decided whether to produce the documents if at all NRC is rolled out,” he added.
The Imam also said that the mosques had not paid any heed to the Wakf Board circular. “The Wakf Board has no authority to direct the mosques to collect documents. Will it take the responsibility if the documents are misplaced or misused? We are only creating awareness among the masses that it is important to keep their documents in order. We are only making corrections. We are not collecting the documents. I have not seen the circular. I don’t think the mosque has even received it,” he said.
Modi may have distanced himself from Shah's statements on NRC for now.
But the fact remains that BJP leaders across the country have been pushing for the implementation of the exercise in their states.
And Karnataka is at the forefront of it. It is merely awaiting a nod from the Centre to initiate the process.
The BJP, which was hanging by a thread until recently, has received a boost after the by-elections.
The party which had gone to extreme lengths to wrest power from the Congress-JD(S) will hang on to power by hook or crook - the key reason why the Muslim population is increasingly jittery in the state.
"NRC may or may not be implemented. But after the BJP came to power the community is anxious and we just want to be prepared for any eventuality. I am 69 years old, and I don't intend to participate in the exercise. But I am determined to update my records, which is why I am running around for my birth certificate," says U Hasanabba, a resident of Ujire in Dakshina Kannada.
Despite the continued assurances by the Centre that no Indian Muslim will be affected, the anti-Muslim rhetoric is so high that the community does not want to leave anything to chance.
(*Names changed to protect identity)