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’Good Termites’ vs ’Bad Termites’ Gameplay by the Modi Govt: Religious Criteria Introduced Into India’s Citizenship Law - Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 - Select Commentary & Fragments from Citizens Protest

Citzens Protest the Citizenship Law Amendement

14 December 2019

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’Good Termites’ vs ’Bad Termites’ Gameplay by the Modi Govt: Citizens protest on the Citizenship law in India: A select compilation of commentary, reports, statements etc Nov 2019 onwards [updated on 28 Jan 2020] | SACW.NET

India passes controversial citizenship law excluding Muslim migrants by Joanna Slater and Niha Masih (The Washington Post, 11 December 2019) " . . . The citizenship bill is “the first legal articulation that India is, you might say, a homeland for Hindus,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, one of India’s most prominent political scientists. Mehta believes the measure violates the Indian constitution, which guarantees equal rights before the law to all people within the country. . . ."

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Bharat Bhushan: Citizenship Amendment Bill is a bid to fashion an ethnic democracy

(Business Standard, 9 December 2019)

This week Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president and Union Home Minister, Amit Shah will effectively launch the campaign of his party for the 2024 general election. He will do so by introducing the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Parliament. The Opposition is unlikely to have an effective counter-strategy and the six decade old Citizenship Act will be amended to the ideological will of the ruling dispensation. The Modi government is fashioning something much more than an electoral strategy - a system that is democratic but also majoritarian. It wants to dismantle multicultural democracy in India - ironically, using democratic methods.

Israeli sociologist Sammy Smooha first coined the term “ethnic democracy” to describe a system that combines majoritarian electoral procedures, respect for the rule of law and individual citizenship rights with the institutionalised dominance of a majority ethnic group. The Modi government is doing in India precisely what the Jewish state does. Is this a part of the Hindutva agenda? It would certainly seem so. Several markers of such a state are already there. It was always central to the political imagination of the BJP and its mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS). Many of its goals have been met at a pace that the RSS itself may not have envisaged.

From abrogating the provisions of Article 370 and removing Article 35A from the Constitution and firmly ‘integrating’ Jammu and Kashmir with India, criminalising “triple talaq” amongst Muslims and indicating a movement towards a Uniform Civil Code, to securing a favourable Supreme Court ruling for the construction of a grand Ram Temple at the disputed site at Ayodhya, the BJP has done what it had promised. The Modi government has even militarily ‘punished’ Pakistan for its trans-border terrorist activities. With this the ‘weakness’ of Hindu society, with which Hindutva ideologues had been historically obsessed, has been symbolically demolished.

The BJP’s quest for the next big polarising issue has led it to the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), one following the other. The NRC will be completed by 2024 just in time for the next general election. Union Home Minister Amit Shah who once described illegal immigrants as termites, has now come to the conclusion, as a wag put it, that there are “good termites” and then there are “bad termites” eating away at India’s resources. Their classification depends on their religion.

The justifications being offered for the CAB/NRC exercise may appeal to the majority – that Hindus or those whose religions originated in India (Indian ethnic religions) must have a homeland of their own just as various other religions have theirs; that immigrants are a drain on limited national resources or even that some immigrants (read, Muslims) are a national security threat. For all these reasons, it is argued, the issue of illegal immigrants must be sorted out once and for all.

The CAB seeks to offer fast-track citizenship by naturalisation to non-Muslims escaping persecution from India’s neighbouring countries (Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan). They would be granted citizenship within one to six years. Earlier the time limit was 11 years and one’s religion was irrelevant. The CAB/NRC move raises constitutional, social and political questions. The Constitutional question relates to the CAB being ultra vires of the Indian Constitution.

Constitutionally the Indian state cannot deny any person “equality before law” and “equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”. Any discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth is prohibited by Article 14. This applies equally to all residents and is not limited to citizens. Equality before law has been recognised as one of the basic features of the Indian Constitution. The Modi government must know that its tinkering with citizenship law will be legally challenged. Its persistence therefore suggests that it is more interested in the social and political fallout of legislation process.

The immediate consequence of the CAB/NRC exercises will be to heighten social tensions. The Muslim community in India will be pushed to the wall with the government demanding documents which even the best of them may not be able to provide. Cleavages would emerge in society along religious lines akin to those during the partition of India. Anyone with a grudge against his Muslim neighbour can designate him an “infiltrator” or an illegal immigrant with the burden of proof being on the victim.

Politically, the resulting social instability and polarisation would be beneficial to only one party – the BJP. All those opposing CAB and NRC would be dubbed minority appeasers or those who indulge in vote bank politics. A trailer of these arguments is already being played out in the Jharkhand elections. Home Minister Shah thus said in one of his rallies referring to the next general elections: “Rahul baba says, ‘Don’t expel them, where will they go, what will they eat?’ I want to ask him, are these immigrants his cousins? Let Rahul baba say whatever he wants to, I can assure you the BJP government led by Narendra Modi will implement NRC across India, and all infiltrators will be thrown out before we come to you to seek votes the next time.” The signal to the public is that the state and the nation belong to the majority.

Smooha, however, has pointed to the basic contradiction of an ethnic democracy saying, “The founding rule of this regime is an inherent contradiction between two principles – civil and political rights for all and structural subordination of the minority to the majority.” This is precisely what the Modi government is doing, reducing democratic functioning to seeking Parliament’s approval for the CAB in order to establish an explicit constitutional inequality, preference and, therefore, dominance based on religion.

The minority Muslim community would be faced with proving its loyalty to a state in which it is neither numerically equal nor has safeguards. Political forces that never fought for India’s freedom would have hijacked it after its emergence as a society that rejected religious or ethnic nationalism and chose to be a multicultural, democratic, secular republic.

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Prem Shankar Jha: Partition Lies and Amit Shah’s Theatre of the Absurd

(The Wire, 12 December 2019)

During the Lok Sabha debate on the Bill amending the Citizenship Act, Union home minister Amit Shah suddenly lost his temper and blurted: “Is desh ka vibhajan agar dharma ke aadhar par Congress na kari hoti to is Bill ka kaam nahin hota (Had the Congress not partitioned this country on the basis of religion, there would have been no need for this Bill).” His remark sent a shock wave through the Lok Sabha, provoking responses which were echoed within hours by civil society.

But Shah, the master tactician, had got what he wanted – he had once again put India’s secular intelligentsia and the increasingly befuddled Congress party on the defensive. And that might have been just the extra edge the BJP needed to get this monstrous Bill through the Rajya Sabha. Shah’s obvious purpose always was to hustle it through, as he did with the Unlawful Activities Act Amendment Bill before the opposition had time to muster its full strength. And he did it with great aplomb.

What is depressing is the fact that even 48 hours after he made this outrageous claim, no one in the Congress, or for that matter the rest of the opposition and civil society, has pinned down the outrageous lie that Shah spoke in the august halls of parliament on a Bill that, by changing the very basis of the Union of Indian, has begun the process of tearing it apart. All have defended the Congress by saying that while it accepted the creation of two nations, it did not do so on the basis of the two-nation theory.

To the vast majority of Indians, born well after Partition, this must sound like sheer sophistry. That is what Shah (who is only 55 years old) was almost certainly banking upon. It was up to the present leaders of the Congress party to checkmate Shah’s strategy. But that required an immediate command of history that Sonia Gandhi, who was sitting in the front opposition benches, did not have. So, in a manner with which we have grown wearyingly familiar, she stayed seated and remained silent.

It has therefore fallen to this 81-year-old former journalist to set the record straight. For what I know about the tumultuous last days of the British Raj and the first months of independence is not second-hand but living, first-hand knowledge. So Shah, whose knowledge is also necessarily second hand, may be able to fool others but he cannot fool me.

The Congress party’s resolution of 1947 accepting Partition gave a full explanation of why the party had felt itself left with no option. It restated in pain-filled detail why it had accepted Partition as the lesser of the two evils the country faced at the time (early 1947) despite its staunch and continuing opposition to the two-nation theory. Its reason was the urgent and imperative need to prevent the “poison of communalism” from spreading further and “tearing apart the social fabric of the country”.

The resolution reflects its leaders’ awareness that they were surrendering their own most cherished principle, but felt compelled to accept the lesser evil in order to avert a much greater one.

To understand why it felt this, it is necessary to go back in time to June 1947, when Mountbatten announced the partition plan. The ‘communal poison’ to which the Congress was referring was the Muslim League’s ‘direct action’ plan to deliberately inflame Hindu-Muslim animosity in order to garner support for its demand for partition. This had begun with the planned killing of Hindus in Calcutta of August 1946 that went on for two days, before the Hindu reaction engulfed Bihar in a bloodbath.

This was followed by a planned pogrom of Hindus and Sikhs in what was then the North West Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) in December 1946. This was a Muslim League conspiracy in the most evil sense of the term, because it occurred in a province ruled by the Khudai Khidmatgars (also dubbed the Frontier Congress) which had been stoutly opposing partition ever since it was mooted in 1940. The two minorities made up only 6% of the province’s population, but they were the richest 6%, consisting of traders, moneylenders and rich landowners. The pogrom was therefore aimed both at seizing the assets of the Hindus and Sikhs and simultaneously de-legitmising the Khudai Khidmatgars. (This was a pogrom that the British government had tacitly supported and enabled. The evidence is in the Transfer of Power Documents, Volume 12.)

Those who escaped fled to Rawalpindi, where they received little sympathy or support, and to Muzaffarabad where the Muslim inhabitants, despite the communal hysteria of those times, received them with open arms. But by then the Muslim League National Guard (modelled, like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, on Germany’s SA) had the bit between its teeth.

In January 1947, the League turned its attention to Punjab, where as in the NWFP, the Sikhs numbered 18% of its population but owned 30% of all the farmland and paid 50% of the land revenue to the British. Lahore, Amritsar and other cities were dominated by Hindu traders and moneylenders. So here too, the League used the lure of stolen wealth to start a series of communal riots and pogroms.

Like the NWFP, Punjab was also against the partition of India. It was ruled by the Unionist party, a party composed in more or less equal parts by Muslim, Sikh and Hindu feudals, under the prime ministership of Sikander Hayat Khan and after his death in 1942, by Sir Khizar Hayat Khan. Khizar Hayat Khan also opposed Partition but lacked the strength of his predecessor. As a result, the Unionist alliance had begun to fray at the edges when the Muslim League launched its communal riots in January 1947, following his resignation.

This brought the danger to the freedom movement posed by the poison of communal polarisation to the Congress’s doorstep. For Punjab stretched then from the Kabul river at the foothills of the Hindu Kush range till Delhi. If the capital went up in flames, then not only would freedom get indefinitely postponed, but the dream of a single independent country would be destroyed in the scramble by the rest of the country to prevent the poison from spreading into it.

It was to avoid this dire fate that the Congress accepted Partition. It reasoned that three quarters of a secular, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country was better than none. It was to save an inheritance of secularism that stretched from Gautama Buddha till Akbar and the Din-e-Ilahi, and embraced Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis and Jews, in addition to Muslims, that it decided to cut that glorious India’s losses and accept Partition.

And while the Congress was fighting this epic battle for an ideal, what was the RSS doing? From the Dandi Salt March in 1929 till Gandhi’s Quit India call in 1940, the RSS stoutly opposed every attempt to secure freedom through satyagraha and even offered its cohorts to the government to act as civil guards to quell the unrest that Gandhi’s call would generate. It maintained a monumental silence on the Muslim League’s direct action programme and while it may not have instructed Nathuram Godse to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi, according to Pyarelal, Gandhi’s secretary, “Members of the RSS at some places had been instructed beforehand to tune in to their radio sets on the fateful Friday for the ‘good news’.”

For the RSS to claim that it is amending the Citizenship Act to complete the work that was left undone by the Congress is beyond calumny; it is sick comedy. Unfortunately, as Nagaland’s extension of the requirement to obtain an Inner Line Permit to the whole of Dimapur district has just shown, it is comedy that could turn in a flash into tragedy.

Prem Shankar Jha is a Delhi-based journalist and writer.

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Democracy Is About Difference And Its Celebration, Drowning Voice Can Be Counterproductive

by Mahesh Rangarajan

(Outlook Magazine, 03 February 2020)

As the Indian Republic draws to 70, the hopes and dreams lie in vibrant debate. The challenge will lie in addressing the yearning for identity in a way consistent with the practices of democracy, writes Mahesh Rangarajan

A year ago, it was clear that republican democracy was at a crossroads. The very term is about a place where choices are made about which direction to proceed in and at what pace. This isn’t the first time India has been at such a juncture, but there is a crucial ­difference. In May 2019, India’s voters didn’t just give the Modi-led NDA government a second term in office, they also increased the seats and voteshare of the ruling party. Together with allies, the BJP polled an impressive 45 per cent of the popular vote. This meant, at the very least, that there is one ruling party at the helm of affairs in New Delhi for a decade with a majority of its own—for the first time since the 1980s, when the Congress was in power under Indira Gandhi and then Rajiv.

There is another crucial difference: India then had very few opposition governments. Madras, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Guwahati, Aizawl and Srinagar were among the few state capitals where the CM was not from the Congress. The Congress under Indira, especially after 1972, commanded almost all the states. In March 1971, the Congress (R) secured a two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha. It then took over most states in the mid-term assembly polls in 1972. This was to be critical as unrest grew in 1974-75, first in Gujarat, followed by Bihar and then much, if not all, of India. The pattern broke in 1977-80, but Congress dominance was restored after 1980.

Today, the picture is very different. The BJP gains from the deep crisis that continues to afflict the Congress. Since its bid to make a mark in the UP assembly elections of 2012, the party has struggled with the issue of leadership. This is compounded by two successive defeats in the ­general elections and a new feature in the oldest of India’s parties—some state leaderships seem more agile and grounded than the all-India high command. But the BJP is still not in control of 16 of the 28 states. This makes all the difference, given the extent to which it aims to redefine the grammar of politics.

Post-Colonial Shift

Students of JNU at a protest in November 2019.
Photograph by Getty Images

Amidst the rapid changes unleashed by the Modi ­government, the annulment of Article 370 elicited wide comment. What was crucial is not just the relation of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh with the rest of India. But the abolition of statehood and the carving up into two Union territories was salutary. It has implications for the federal frame well beyond Jammu and Kashmir as the state was from 1947 to 2019. It raises questions about whether the Parliament, drawing on the governor’s views, can abolish any state. If it were so, India would be a Union of Union ­territories, not a Union of states. This may seem far-fetched, but the fact that it has happened establishes a precedent.

At a pan-Indian level, the ideas and ideals of republican democracy have more traction than a few imagined.

It is no coincidence that the two states with the most ­sustained protest—Punjab and Tamil Nadu—were both with a strong sub-national identity and a long history of struggle for a more even distribution of powers between the Centre and the states. This rift between the Centre and key states has been even more marked with the issue now at the ­centre stage of politics: citizenship. The amendment passed by the two Houses of Parliament and signed into the statute book by the President is a significant one. For the first time, there is a fast track to designated groups from three neighbouring Muslim-majority countries. All the listed groups are non-Muslim religious minorities.

This de facto shift from a territorial idea of India (all who live in India are Indians) to an ethno-religious idea of India (all who are in India are Indians, but Islam defines other un-Indian identity) is of epochal significance. The predominant idea of India as envisioned in the Constitution, which recognised rights of worship, but ­refused to equate nation and religion, was at odds with that of the ruling BJP.

India was more than idea or ideal. It became a ­nation-state above partisan calls to faith, sect, tribe or creed. At the same time, by stating that, “India that is Bharat shall be a Union of States”, it affirmed that diversity would strengthen, not weaken unity. This will explain how the anxieties of those in the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam, for decades a destination for settlers from the more crowded plains of Bengal, could find redress. The issue of citizenship had a different salience from Oxomiya nationalists, from Gopinath Bordoloi or Ambikagiri Raichoudhury. These found redress in the Assam Accord of 1985 with 1971 as a cutoff date. It is no coincidence that in viewing India through a Hindu/Muslim lens, the new amendment and the citizenship process that foreran it provoked such deep resentment across Assam.

To pull back to the larger picture, there is no doubt about the mandate of the ruling party. Nor can anyone question the conviction of its leaders and cadres who believe they know what is best for India. They see these moves whether on Article 370 or citizenship as “historical wrongs” being set right. In a strange way, it is Tsarist Russia (where there was no doubt the Great Russians ranked first) or China (ditto the Han Chinese) that evoke comparison. Or Burma, where the nascent nationalists aligned with the invading Japanese to force out Indians who often had to flee on foot. Or General Zia ul-Haq’s Pakistan, where Islamisation stirred a witches’ brew with explosive consequences for this region and beyond to this day.

The challenge will lie in addressing the yearning for identity in a way ­consistent with the practices of democracy.

But India is unlike any of these countries. It is neither an empire nor a one-party state. It has a distinctive history. The idea of an inclusive India was not crafted by the English-speaking elite in salons and coffee houses. It took shape in a largely non-violent freedom struggle, which saw the end of imperial rule as the first, not last, step in the forging of a nation-state. Here the new rulers err. Where they probably more than just err is in underestimating the ways in which diversity and democracy are intertwined in a continental polity with seven decades of an active democratic political life. The last matter for democracy is not about dissent, which exists even in authoritarian systems. Democracy is about difference and its celebration.

This is clearest where state boundaries and regional ­aspirations matter. For all the differences, those in Assam have played a central role in the denouement of the National Register of Citizens. Octogenarians, war veterans, elected representatives of the people and pillars of local communities were being denied citizenship. Two-thirds of those who did not manage to produce necessary documents were Hindus. Far from drawing lines on grounds of faith, the process created a new solidarity where yesterday’s proud citizen became today’s hapless subject.

At the larger level, this raises a question of Centre versus states. If states such as Maharashtra or West Bengal do not cooperate, what real options does the Centre have? There may be legal and constitutional remedies, but it is unclear if there can be a political breakthrough without a dialogue.

At a pan-Indian level, it is clear that the ideas and ideals of republican democracy have more traction among large sections of society than a few commentators or observers imagined. It is humbling to witness students and young people across towns and metropolises gather to read the Preamble to the Constitution. Across north, west and south India, Muslim women have not only held up the ­tiranga, but also pictures of B.R. Ambedkar.

It is still unclear what happens next, but there is little doubt on the epochal nature of the times we are living through. Never has what India does or does not mean been so keenly contested since the early years of independence. The challenge will lie in addressing the yearning for ­identity in a manner consistent with the practices of ­democracy. And to attempt this is a manner that is ­respectful of regional aspirations and loyalties.

None of this is possible with a weakening of the democratic framework. A year ago, the possibilities lay in the light that electoral battle might shed on choice or policy. But as the Republic draws to 70, the hopes and dreams must lie in ­vibrant debate. And those who try to drown these voices out may do well to think again. After all, a country lives in its people. What unfolds next hinges on how far the ­remaking of the polity and society encounters serious, ­sustained resistance. The day the latter meshes with the bread-and-butter issues, the government, no matter how large its majority, will have a challenge on its hands. Even short of that, it is already wrestling with a legacy of democracy that is entwined with an idea of India with deeper roots than they perhaps bargained for.

(Mahesh Rangarajan teaches history and environmental studies at Ashoka University. Views expressed are personal.)


India’s first-time protesters: Mothers and grandmothers stage weeks-long sit-in against citizenship law (12 Jan 2020)

Scars of CAB protests will further burn bridges between northeast and rest of India Politics after CAB: On the one hand, are principles emptied of meaning. On the other, a clear-headed majoritarian project. by Suhas Palshikar (December 14, 2019)

Religious basis of citizenship would be a negation of secularism, liberalism, equality and justice by Faizan Mustafa | Updated: December 11, 2019

The morning after CAB: It will be a mistake to rely just on Supreme Court by Pratap Bhanu Mehta | Updated: December 12, 2019

Citizenship law, proposed nation-wide NRC will revise conception of group rights in India A nation-wide combination of the CAB and NRC will mark India as the natural habitat of Hindus while deriding some Muslims as “foreigners”. Indians will be called Indians not only on territorial grounds but also on ethno-racial and religious lines. by Christophe Jaffrelot , Sharik Laliwala | Updated: December 12, 2019

Blaming the Congress for Partition is a travesty - History matters. With the British continuing to give the veto to Jinnah, that the Congress, with great reluctance, to avoid civil war, and because it was left with no choice, “agreed” to Partition (13 December 2019) by Mridula Mukherjee

History contests Shah on Partition - ’It was Congress that divided India on religious lines, not us’ by Sanjay K. Jha in New Delhi (12 December 2019)

In the name of a majority by Anupama Roy (13 December 2019)

In India’s Citizenship Act, an eerie echo of Nazi Germany’s claims to protect ‘racial comrades’ by Rishabh Bajoria (14 December 2019)

Q. & A. India’s Citizenship Emergency [Interview with Niraja Gopal Jayal] by Isaac Chotiner (18 December 2019)

Modi’s citizenship law: dangerous for all - Editorial, The Guardian

@UNHumanRights - #India: We are concerned that the new #CitizenshipAmendmentAct is fundamentally discriminatory in nature. Goal of protecting persecuted groups is welcomed, but new law does not extend protection to Muslims, incl. minority sects:

Loi sur la citoyenneté en Inde, une polarisation populiste ? Trois questions à Christophe Jaffrelot INTERVIEW - 28 Janvier 2020

Booklet: CAA, NRC and NPR: Ten Big Lies of the Modi Government (Dec 31, 2009) [via CPI-M]

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India: Statement by People’s Union for Civil Liberties on Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019

Statement by Academic and Scholars on the Proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill (Dec 2019) [URL]

India: CAA-NPR-NRC’s Impact on Urban Poor - Statement by National Coalition for Inclusive and Sustainable Urbanisation (NCU)

Statement by MKSS

Statement by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019

Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has produced some leaflets and booklets on the contentious CAA-NPR-NRC issues.

CAB/CAA/NRC Material Links:

1. We The People of India (English) (Brief leaflet)

2. भारत के हम लोग (हिंदी) (Brief leaflet)

3. आमही भारतीय लोग (मराठी) (Brief leaflet)

4. Hum Hindustani Awam (Urdu) (Brief leaflet)

5. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the CAB/CAA 2019

6. कौन हैं भारत के नागरिक? (28 Page Booklet)

7. Who is an Indian? A complete guide to the NRC in India (28 Page Booklet)

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Comrade Sitaram and D Raja’s Press Conference in Delhi on 19 December 2019 [URL for Facebook:]

Illegal police order on internet and communications shutdown in parts of Delhi

Arundhati Roy speaking at the citizens protest on the citizenship law at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi on 19 Dec 2019

Slogans by Girls from Jamia at Jantar Mantar on 19 Dec 2019

Illustration by Anirban Ghosh
source URL: Anirban Ghosh on facebook

satire by @TheDeshBhakt

A girl offering a red rose to the Policeman at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on 19 Dec 2019
via Facebook

Varun Grovers Anti NRC Anthem

Protests across Delhi

Reports on PAN India Protest on 19 Dec 2019

De Calcutta à Bombay, la contestation fait tache d’huile Par Guillaume Delacroix Publié le 18 décembre 2019

India citizenship law : Protesters across country defy ban by Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Delhi

India: largest protests in decades signal Modi may have gone too far - Demonstrations against citizenship act continue despite ban, uniting people of all ages, castes and religions by Hannah Ellis-Petersen (20 Dec 2019)

Professor Irfan Habib on CAA, NRC & NPR | AMU | RDA