Marching from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar in a massive women’s march in capital city, New Delhi were two determined women Vandana and Kusumlata. Azaadi, they chanted with the collective naaras protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act, which has mobilised people across India in tens and thousands. Being here was their call to claim and assert their constitutional rights as citizens of a socialist, secular and democratic republic. These women had not just come out to rally, they had made a journey. And they had questions. The CAA by a popular definition intends to amend the definition of illegal immigrants for Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have lived in India without documentation leaving out the Muslims in the said countries. This has led to widespread protests across India.
Vandana and Kusumlata work for Satark Nagrik Sangathan an organisation that connects people at grass-root level to spread awareness about their constitutional rights. “What happens to those who don’t have their documents but have been living here for ages? My mother doesn’t have a birth certificate so is she a refugee?” Vandana whose family comes from Benaras has her mom staying with her. She says in a country like India many are born and their certificates never get made. “People go by janampatris,” documents hand written by priest in temple which don’t hold any legal stature but purportedly contain all details on birth, class, caste etc.
Vandana, 46, in a conversation with SheThePeople expressed her concern and asked if her mother who doesn’t have a birth certificate will be deemed a refugee. Will she be detained once the implementation of these new laws begins across in India, she asks.
What makes her more nervous, she says, is that she belongs to the Dalit community, traditionally discriminated against in India’s stringent and exclusionary caste system. The announcement of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), talk of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR) have created a shroud of fear and resentment amongst the marginalized sections of the society against the government. All these laws are aimed at removing ‘illegal immigrants’ from India but the definition of illegal rests on presenting birth documents which a large part of those born before 1975 don’t have in concrete physical form.
“We are from Benaras but my mother has been living in Delhi since 1984. She has all documents like ration card, pension, voter ID card but she doesn’t have a birth certificate, is she a refugee then?” asks an angry Vandana. “The biggest proof of her citizenship is that she casts her vote but our government doesn’t consider it. I was born in 1974, we didn’t have birth certificates back then because a pandit used to make our janampatri back then as that would be useful for marriage.”
“In those days since girls used to not work outside home much, nobody thought that making a legitimate birth certificate. My children have it since they were born recently so we got it made. Now if the government ask for my own birth certificate, I would be scared,” she adds.
Another woman, also from the Dalit community, Kusumlata says it will impact women even more. “We have studied the act that’s why we understand its consequences. Those who don’t know and haven’t read are the only ones supporting it. Once it starts to implement, women will be one of the most impacted groups. Those who get married off to another family and they don’t carry their documents with them, where will they go. Even their maternal relatives don’t respect them in many cases.”
“The biggest proof of her citizenship is that she casts her vote but our government doesn’t consider it as a legitimate act, why?” she questions.
Kusumlata questions if the current government has done anything to benefit marginalised communities. “Why did the Modi government weaken the Right to Information Act, is this democracy? Women are being raped and burned in broad daylight, no action is being taken. Their own (BJP’s) people have been charged with heinous rape crimes and yet the government is silent in all those matters, does this show their support to women?”
Women have mobilised in big numbers during the marches against the new law and other proposed efforts. Marches were held in over six cities including Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kolkata etc. This March also had many trans and queer groups also participated in the march making it eclectic and diverse