The CAA and NRC trigger fear, polarising voters in Jharkhand

19 December 2019
The Jharkhand assembly elections are currently underway. The passage of the CAA is likely to influence voting in the last phase on 20 December.
Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP Photo
The Jharkhand assembly elections are currently underway. The passage of the CAA is likely to influence voting in the last phase on 20 December.
Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP Photo

“Miyan log ko humre niche rahna hoga, nahi toh maarenge saala log ko. Ee desh hindu ka hai”—Muslim people will have to live under us, else we will beat them up. This country is of the Hindus—Amit Kumar, in his late twenties, said to me with pride. Kumar works for a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in Dumka, a district in Jharkhand.

On 12 December, I travelled to several villages deep in the interior of the Santhal Pargana division, one of five administrative divisions in Jharkhand. It was the day after the Rajya Sabha passed the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The bill, now an act, states that members of six communities—Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian—from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh, will not be treated as illegal immigrants, if they entered India on or before 31 December 2014. The act paves the way for them to gain Indian citizenship. Notably, Muslim migrants from these countries will not be entitled to the benefits under the act.

At the start of our journey, Kumar told me that there was no Hindu-Muslim dispute in the region, and all communities co-existed peacefully. Muslims form nearly 14 percent of the electorate in the state. However, after a few hours of traveling and speaking to locals, something changed. As he heard critical opinions about the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 by members of the Muslim community, he became furious. Soon, he started talking about how Muslims could not dare to touch a Hindu man like him.

A five-phase assembly election is currently underway in Jharkhand. The fourth phase concluded on 16 December, and the fifth phase will be held on 20 December. My conversations with Muslim voters revealed that the passage of the CAA has angered the community in Jharkhand, and triggered fear and anxiety. Muslim voters who supported the Bharatiya Janata Party earlier said they would now vote against the party. Nearly fifty kilometres away from Jharkhand’s Dumka district headquarters, is the Ranishwar block. The block is part of the Shikaripada assembly constituency and shares its border with the state of West Bengal. Broken roads lead into these villages and the houses are made mostly of mud. I visited the Muslim neighbourhood of the block’s Ektala village. The first person I met was 67-year-old Nur-Islam-Khan, a small-scale farmer who knew about the CAA.

“The Muslims who have migrated from countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will not be allowed to live in India anymore,” Khan told me, describing his perception of the act. He does not use a smartphone and all his information is based on news from radio and Hindi news channels on television.

Keywords: Citizenship (Amendment) Act National Register of Citizens Jharkhand Assembly elections 2019 Shibu Soren
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