December 21, 2019 - e-flux - Best wishes for a better 2020
December 21, 2019


Best wishes for a better 2020

Usually at this time of year we send a holiday greeting to our readers as e-flux closes for a short break. This year, we would like to share with you a brilliant and timely brief essay by Santhosh S., a cultural theorist based in New Delhi. His text responds to the deeply unjust and troubling new legislation imposed by Modi’s government in India, which suddenly levied official disenfranchisement not only of refugees, but also an entire religious community of 200 million people within the world’s most populous democracy.

Please read and share.

Moving through 2019 has proven to be a markedly tumultuous undertaking for people on this planet, not to mention for the planet itself. This year has brought dire times the universe over. Still, there is a new year ahead.

We sincerely hope that 2020 will see more justice and peace for all.

—all of us at e-flux 


State of Exemption, State of Exclusion: CAA and NRC

Santhosh S.

In India, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) are two pieces of legislation—one already enacted, and the other in the making. Needless to say, they are twin laws, coming together to substantiate a modern mythical notion of the nation through the definition of its citizenry. In a curious way, both these legislative acts center on what constitutes a refugee—one is a peculiar form of accepting refugees, and the other, a mechanism to produce refugees.

According to governmental interpretations, the CAA is aimed at granting Indian citizenship to all members of the Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh facing religious persecution, and who came to India before December 31, 2014. The first question here is: Why is there a need for such an amendment when India already has legal provisions to grant citizenship to immigrants based on the merits of their claims? The answer to this question lies not so much in the domain of jurisprudence as in the domain of politics and ideology.

The Citizen and/as the Refugee

To begin with, we need to think more on the question of the citizen itself. The paradox here is: a judicial act (CAA) that purports to include minorities, becomes itself an exemplar of an exclusionary vision. In fact, this selective inclusion and pre-qualification nullifies the very concept of the refugee based on the rights of man. As Hannah Arendt (1973) observed, the question of the refugee links together the fates of the rights of man with that of the nation-state. Her striking formulation seems to imply the idea of an intimate and necessary connection between the two. Arendt argues that the very figure who should have embodied the rights of man par excellence—the refugee—signals instead the concept’s radical crisis. Here in an ironic way, in the context of CAA and the proposed NRC, the rights of man are held hostage through the production of an entire religious community (or a major percentage of the population) as potential refugees in their own land.

In his commentary on Arendt’s radical conception regarding the crisis of the rights of man, Giorgio Agamben (2013), by way of his analysis of the ambiguity surrounding the very title of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, of 1789, observed that “a simple examination of the text shows that it is precisely bare natural life, which is to say, the pure fact of birth, that appears here as the source and bearer of rights … The nation—the term derives etymologically from nascere (to be born)—thus closes the open circle of man’s birth.”

The CAA, by extending citizenship merely on religious grounds, is an attempt to expand the geographical ambit of the Hindu nation. This outward expansion has a definite counterweight in terms of internal contraction through the proposed NRC. In contrast to the CAA, the NRC redraws firmly the contours of nascere, or “to be born,” by projecting that Muslims are not natural citizens because their “real birthplace” is elsewhere. What necessitates the NRC is the presence of this imaginary elsewhere within the body politic of the (Hindu) nation.


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