Democracies don't vanish overnight. They slowly fade into oblivion. This is the harsh reality that faces the world's largest democracy this winter. Ever since India's Parliament on December 11th passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the nation has been gripped by protests across the land with tens of thousands taking to the streets.
The CAA aims to link one's religion to citizenship which goes against the Indian constitution that names India as a secular republic granting equal rights to all people irrespective of religion. This discriminatory act along with the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) which would mandate that every citizen of India prove their citizenship primarily targets the Muslim minority and has caused great alarm and fear.
India which is ruled by the radical far right-wing, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won a thumping majority earlier in the year. The BJP and its sister organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) a paramilitary organisation modelled after the fascist political parties of Europe from World War II, aim to create India into an Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation). The CAA and the NRC is their attempt to systematically change the landscape of India and subjugate the Muslim minority under a majoritarian and authoritarian Hindu regime.
Since the act, students throughout the country have risen up in protest. However the government has been quick to crack down on the dissenting voice with brutal violence. On December 15, the Delhi Police forcibly entered the campus of Jamia Milia Islamia University and assaulted the students with lathis (the standard 5 feet wooden batons Indian police use) and tear gas. Students who were studying in the library and resting in their hostel rooms were shown little remorse and over 100 students were injured.
Since then the largely student led protests have seen even more brutal suppression. Police have fired at unarmed citizens. The internet has been shut down in many parts of the country. Peaceful demonstrations and protests which are integral to any democracy have been banned in most places by the imposition of Section 144 – a repressive colonial era law that deems any group of more than four persons in a public space as unlawful assembly and enables the police to detain without a warrant. Despite all this, facing detention and arrests, tens of thousands of ordinary students and citizens have taken to the streets in brave defiance with cries of "Hindustan Zindabad" (long live India). In Bangalore, where Section 144 was at play, thousands of protesters turned up that the police ran out of buses to detain them all and let the protest carry on.
However in many of the BJP controlled states, the protests have been met with police brutality that can only be termed as barbaric. Videos are surfacing of police beating unarmed protesters senseless, and firing upon crowds. As I write this, over 21 people have died with the youngest being an eight year old who was trampled in a stampede caused when the police charged at the protesters. Hundreds lie in hospital beds across the country with serious injuries and thousands have been detained and arrested. Amid these massive human rights violation, it was also reported that some of the detained were being denied access to their lawyers.
As the protests intensify and take a tragic turn, the government continues to stand by CAA, dismissing the protests callously as being politically motivated and terming the protesters as "urban Naxalites." Any and all dissent is being supressed with academicians, intellectuals, politicians, journalists and students being detained. Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was termed as a modern day Nero by the Supreme Court following the Gujarat pogrom in 2002 where over 2,000 people lost their lives, has done little to rectify the current situation.
Since BJP has come into power in 2014, minorities in India have lived in constant fear. Persecution of Christians have increased. Key democratic institutions have been eroded and in August the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir was "integrated" into India with India deploying over 700,000 paramilitary troops. Political opponents have been imprisoned and thousands detained. Kashmir since then has faced a complete internet blackout – the longest period for any democratic country.
India faces a black Christmas this year with blood staining its streets. The fear is real. Yet India is fighting back for liberty and braving the worst with thousands turning to protest every morning. Human rights and liberties are not granted by any state but are divinely ordained. Thus they cannot be denied and are worth fighting for. India's democracy might be fading, but she is putting up a fight and her voice rings clear: she will not go gently into the good night. The voice of the Indian protester on the street is not one of defeat but of hope. Hope of a peaceful tomorrow.
There is hope since tyranny and oppression will not have the last word. There is hope since truth will eventually triumph. There is hope since the Son of Mary who came down not only saves his people from their sins, but ultimately will make all things right in this broken, sinful world of ours. There is hope since Jesus will usher in peace – everlasting peace. There is always hope.
Christopher Poshin David is a Presbyterian minister from Bangalore, India.