By employing drones and facial recognition against the opposition, Narendra Modi seems heedless of civil liberties and justice
The anger is extraordinary for its depth and ferocity. In protests that have spread across the world’s largest democracy, Indians of all stripes have taken to the streets. Two weeks ago, the government amended the citizenship law to speed up applications for refugees from surrounding countries who are Hindu, Christian, Parsi, Jain or Buddhist – but not Muslim. The law coincides with an attempt to create a new list of India’s citizens, a task whose precise mechanism has evolved in recent days. Regardless of the details, it will be a Kafkaesque exercise during which poor people with few official documents will have to prove their citizenship. If they happen to be Muslim, the citizenship law means the consequences they face will be different. Detention centres mushrooming across India reveal what those might be.
The pan-Indian nature of the outcry is striking. India has long been home to disobedience, but the scale and reach of the present discontent is rare. Though the protests have been painted as a conspiracy limited to Muslim and elite forces, elements that have come together to suppress the real India, there seems to be genuine and diverse opposition to the plainly exclusionary citizenship law. As the drama and horror have unfolded, both the protesters and the state have acted in familiar ways. We have seen student agitations, silent marches, legal orders, police brutality and recriminations. Yet there is something special about this episode, something new on each side.