Dr. Ayaz Ahmad
The specter of CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), NRC (National Register of Citizens) and NPR (National Population Register) threaten to put our political democracy in peril. It seeks to drown the public sphere under hindu-muslim binary with the primary object of arresting democratic aspirations of Pasmanda Bahujan (SC, ST, and OBCs cutting across religions). For this purpose, religious cleavages festering for more than 150 years are sought to be exploited to the hilt.
CAA-NRC-NPR is the tool to tap into the communal divide theorized and operationalized by Ashraf-Savarna nexus since inception with the tacit support of the British empire. This divide was legally sanctified by separate electorates in political life, separate educational institutions in cultural life and communal personal laws in the family life of the early 20th-century Indian subcontinent. While the former culminated into partition, the later stares at us in the form of CAA-NRC-NPR after playing its role in the partition and numerous other communal pogroms. This piece focuses on the challenges posed by the continuance of communal personal laws and various forms in which these challenges emerge.
Communal personal laws from the early 20th century ensured that the family life of this subcontinent remains segregated on religious lines camouflaging caste hierarchies. While communal personal laws attempt to dilute casteist foundations of family life to a limited extent, they glamorize the religious character of subcontinental families. Communal personal laws deceptively privilege religious character of subcontinental families over their casteist character. It implies that in the determination of family relations among citizens, hindu/muslim/christian/parsi personal laws play a key role rather than any shared sense of citizenship. One inescapable consequence of such communal segregation of family affairs is the development of the communal conception of citizenship. In fact, communal personal laws have led us right into communal citizenship laws by laying the communal foundations for social and political action. Segregation of family life inevitably leads to the separation of living space which after CAA-NRC-NPR would mean separation by detention camps.
Segregation laws which make it difficult for different communities living in one country to develop family bonds are usually imposed by the ruling class of the day. In the Indian subcontinent, such laws were imposed by the resurgent Ashrafiya class (upper caste muslims) in collusion with the British raj. Nowadays these laws continue to flourish in the name of minority rights and legal pluralism patronized by Ashraf-Savarna left-right liberal conservatives. A close look at the Ashrafiya leadership who have been propagating such communal laws would reveal the true object and purpose of these laws. The alacrity with which communal personal laws were accepted initially by the British and after independence by the Brahmin-Savarna rulers points towards their real role in social and political life. Communal personal laws were the result of Ashraf-Savarna anxiety against the democratic claims of Pasmanda Bahujan over their zamindari properties, wealth and privileges. The centralization of hindu-muslim binary through segregation laws was mutually rewarding for the Ashraf-Savarna class. It partially explains why even the partition of India on communal lines could not lead to the abolition of communal personal laws. These laws have symbiotic role in mutating Ashraf-Savarna interests into hindu-muslim interests which are deployed to erase Pasmanda Bahujan concerns.
For instance, the violent and dramatic reversal of Shahbano judgment (1985) in the name of communal personal laws at the insistence of Sayyadist Ashraf class legitimized the idea of communal citizenship. It helped Brahmanical Savarna to drum up the demand to build Ram temple over Babri mosque in Ayodhya which found traction in this backdrop. The affective reasoning went like this; if the Ashraf could violate the principle of equality in Shahbano case on the strength of ‘communal idea of citizenship’ then the Savarna too could violate the principle of justice in Babri mosque case ‘to honor the sentiments of communal citizenry’ with greater ferocity. That all this happened in the wake of the evolving Bahujan movement led by Manyavar Kanshiram points towards Ashraf-Savarna jugalbandi in orchestrating dramatic confrontations to hegemonize public space. Such confrontations leave little room for Pasmanda Bahujan to launch their democratic claims of equal citizenship.
The constitutive role of Ashrafiya class in shaping hindu-muslim binary rests on the following three supremacist ideas. One, Ashraf consider themselves superior to Pasmanda Bahujan on the basis of their upper-caste status so as to entitle them to represent and selectively erase the lived experience of Pasmanda in order to assume the leadership of all Muslims. Two, Ashrafiya male are superior to all women which imply that Ashraf remains shielded against the feminist movement. Three, Ashraf as leaders of all muslims consider themselves superior to all non-muslims namely, hindus, sikhs, buddhists, jains, parsis and christians. It is the third idea which Brahmin-Savarna class has been attempting to invert for decades socially, educationally, culturally, and epistemologically to assume the leadership of all ‘non-muslims’. CAA combined with NRC-NPR is the closest that they have come to make a legal inversion of Ashrafiya claims of religious supremacy. CAA-NRC-NPR move has been made by them with full faith and confidence that Ashrafiya class would respond strictly by the script handed over to them by Brahmin raj. Therefore, no real fight against CAA-NRC-NPR can be launched without destroying these three supremacist ideas of Ashraf which constitute the base of communal citizenship which is now being used by Brahmin-Savarna to impose their own supremacist ideas.
In order to break the vicious cycle of Ashraf-Savarna communalism born out of caste supremacy, it is imperative to develop social and family relations among Pasmanda Bahujan. Ending social, educational and cultural segregation around hindu-muslim binary is a key to achieve social and economic democracy in Ambedkarite sense. A beginning in this direction can be made by adopting a Common Family Code (CFC) under which Pasmanda Bahujan cutting across religious lines can establish family relations with stronger social ties. CFC can facilitate marriage and family relations among Pasmanda Bahujan which would in due course translate into social, cultural and political bonds strong enough to destroy Ashraf-Savarna hegemony in the subcontinent. For CFC to become a reality, Ashraf parading as social, educational and intellectual leaders of ‘all muslims’ must be confined to the dustbin of history. They are the biggest foot soldiers of Brahmin-Savarna class today who help them communalize the citizenry preparing the ground for communal citizenship laws.
CFC is the much-needed antidote to the communal conception of citizenship so that democratic ideals of citizenship can find their roots. Ashraf’s opposition of CFC on the ground of legal pluralism is as disingenuous as it can get. Obstructing the process of endosmosis among citizens from divergent faith traditions is the worst way to counter communal moves of Brahmanical forces. Such arguments only conceal the supremacist believes of Asrafiya class. Nor is the presence of Special Marriage Act, 1954 any excuse for running away from CFC. This Act so far has helped only the Ashraf-Savarna elites to form marital relations while marking out Pasmanda-Bahujan relations across religions as ‘special’. The Special Marriage Act along with communal personal laws continues to perpetuate the myth that inter-religious marriages are special but marriage between individuals professing the same religion is ‘ordinary’, ‘routine’ and ‘normal’. Common Family Code can reverse this by legally normalizing inter-religious family and social relations. With the enactment of CFC, communal personal laws along with special marriage act can be repealed paving way for a social order supportive of religion and caste neutral norms of citizenship.
Thus, no amount of protest can reverse the communalization of citizenship unless it also challenges Ashrafiya notions of patriarchy, caste and religious supremacy. These supremacist ideas co-constitute communal citizenry with Brahmin-Savarna which is the launching pad for CAA-NPR-NRC and similar other divisive moves. CFC in due course could evolve as a permanent safety valve against CAA-NPR-NRC by rooting out its casteist, patriarchal and communal foundations.
Dr. Ayaz Ahmad is Associate Professor at Unitedworld School of Law, Karnavati University, Gujarat. He teaches Constitution and studies legislative and judicial behavior from an Ambedkarite perspective.