The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has dominated my thoughts in the past few days. As cities burned, police cracked down on protesting students, and internet snapped in violence-prone areas, I discovered with dismay that the largest casualty in the discourse is objectivity and information.
Social media is rife with false images and emotionally charged bickerings on religion, history and politics. The common element on all sides being ’emotion’; not ‘information’. Which is funny considering that the world has more data than one can make sense of, and even a person of small means has access to the internet via smartphones. God obviously wasn’t joking when he cursed Babel.
To put it simply, there is a difference in the overt and covert objectives of policy decisions of any government, and our public discourse in the media and social media fails to uncover that. An emotional response to a policy decision is as bad as a purely analytical response, both of which undermine the other. Besides, individual emotions coalesce into a massive mushroom cloud of collective inertia, easily moulded by authorities and media, easily polluted, and as easily transformed into the kind of chaos and arson we’ve been witnessing. My long hiatus from writing ends now for this reason.
Because the signs are unmistakable. Every militaristic, fascist regime that the modern world has produced has operationalised its agenda through data collection and data manipulation. At the centre of this exercise has been the perennial hot button of immigration, that metastasize into the archetype of the ‘bad immigrant’, and further on, into de-naturalizing existing local groups – religious, ethnic, or linguistic – based on political agendas. Census data is the most easily available tool that the state machinery uses to start this exercise – and then creatively morphs to suit its purpose.
‘The Nazi Census: Identification and Control in the Third Reich‘ by Götz Aly and Karl Heinz Roth is a fascinating read that explains how this was perfected in the Third Reich. The overt reason for the massive data collection and statistical analyses, even back in 1933, was not the extermination of Jews. The data was collected to inform policy decisions. An example of a policy resulting from the data analyses were the special loans, starting September 1933, disbursed to married couples who produced a child. The loan amount increased with every child born out of that marriage, and a substantial increase with the fourth child. The overt reason was the protection of the institution of marriage. The covert reason is understood in the fine print. The loans were disbursed to couples only if they were Aryan, German, and had no known hereditary diseases.
The same data would power more discriminatory policies in 1935, with the Nuremberg laws, and further disenfranchisement of German Jews, social, economic, and political, since the state had access to all personal information about an individual’s race, religion, antecedents, bank accounts, and property.
Why am I describing this German excellence in systematic persecution? Because with all of the above information (and more) at its disposal, today’s nation states can transform into way more efficient killing machines than the Third Reich. And also because we are staring in the face of two legislations that neatly fit into the known trajectory of a fascist-militarist government.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the CAA must be seen in the light of this attempt at ‘cohortisation’. The NRC is not new in India; it existed since 1951, and got updated for one state as mandated by the Supreme Court. Nothing alarming there overtly, except perhaps the shrill discourse along religious and ethnic lines that set it apart from a mundane census exercise. However, given that the government announced its intention to implement it across all of India just before it tabled the CAA, hints at the covert objective.
The question we need to ask is, why does this government need more data than what it already has? What will it do with the ‘illegal immigrants’ identified from this exercise?
We don’t know what will be done to these people, except for some rumours of detention centres, a la Gulags, being built for them. We don’t know how many such ‘illegal immigrants’ exist in India, and if the purported size of their population is big enough to be a problem. We don’t even know how much a nation-wide NRC exercise would cost and if that’s a fair expenditure to incur to identify a group of persona-non-grata of an unknown size.
While we look for the proverbial needle in the haystack, the govt has passed the CAA, that overtly gives succour to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries residing illegally in India. Covertly, this Act will enable the persona-non-grata identified from the NRC exercise to be naturalized as Indian citizens if they are non-Muslim and come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The only people to remain in the Gulags would be all Muslim; without adequate documentation to prove citizenship; without money to procure such ‘papers’, and without any idea of what the government plans to do with them, their children, and their property.
A mathematical perspective is more revealing. In a country of 1.3 billion, if we assume a meagre 1% to be illegal immigrants, then that’s 13 million people. Of these 13 million, even if 5% are undocumented Muslims, then we’re looking at a sample size of 650,000 people. Now let’s assume that there’s a 5% error in data processing, which puts the absolute error margin at 68 million — way larger than the expected throughput. Besides, anyone in the cohort of the last 650,000 might be a case of error and vice versa.
The only thing I’m sure of is that the entire process of collecting and vetting information is going to be incredibly corrupt. Bribes will flow in cash and result in bogus liquidity in the economy, bumping up inflation. Personal information will be bought and sold without a whiff of our knowledge. And groups of human beings will be incarcerated, relocated, and ultimately lost in vague records.
It’s pointless to imagine the diplomatic and political fallout of such an eventuality. You may say I’m an alarmist, but I have good reasons to be one.
The CAA and the NRC is a combined tool of deception to start a form of social engineering that was tried in Germany and Soviet Russia before the war. There is no reason to accept a repeat of that history, because no one ever gained from such things. The persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries can be assisted and offered citizenship with the aid of existing laws. We must hold our leaders to their promises, and not let them slant in mischievous policies that reek of ulterior motives.