India has been witnessing widespread protests since the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) got introduced in the Parliament. The protests which were first only against CAB and a nation wide NRC (as declared by the home minister), have only intensified, turned violent in several areas and been going on for more than a month now. The protests don’t seem to have a single reason, participated in by a single community or led by a single leader. They have been chiefly led by the youth who believe that something fundamentally wrong is going on. Indians across the world have taken part in the protests in their respective cities. Let us look at the various reasons for the ongoing protests-
1. Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) –
a) Assam against CAA
b) Indians against discrimination on the basis of religion
c) The fear of it being clubbed with NRC
2. Violence on students in universities
Citizenship Amendment Bill got President’s assent on 12th December to become an Act. The act proposes to give Indian citizenship to people from Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian religious minorities who have fled from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan due to persecution and have been living in India since on or before 31st December 2014. Formerly, under the citizenship act an illegal migrant who had lived in India for the last 11 years could get citizenship by naturalization, this would still be the case for Muslims, atheists and people following other religions or from other countries than the ones mentioned in the Act. The reasons why people are protesting against the implementation of Citizenship Amendment Act are as follows-
1.a) Assam against CAA – The protests against CAA first began in Assam and some other northeastern states. Over the years, many people from Bangladesh have entered Assam illegally and have started living there permanently. This has caused a socio-demographic imbalance in Assam. If CAA would be implemented, many of these illegal migrants from Bangladesh would get Indian citizenship and would further affect the state’s demography. The Assamese people are worried about losing their culture, tradition, land and language. Furthermore, they fear becoming a minority in terms of politics in their own state. Throughout history, we are aware of many such instances when the inhabitants of an area suddenly become a minority upon the arrival of foreign settlers on their land, e.g.- the Europeans conquest of Native America. That is why Assam is protesting against CAA as they don’t want any illegal migrant to settle in their state. According to the Citizenship Amendment Act, certain tribal areas of Assam won’t be affected by the act but that doesn’t seem to make much difference.
Government’s response- The government has tried to reassure the people in words that it is committed to preserve the culture and language of the state but in vain as the people no longer believe in empty words. The protests turned violent as public property was destroyed to which the government’s response was to deploy armed forces, and to impose curfew and internet ban in the state. Four deaths were reported due to police firing in the altercation between the protesters and the police.
1.b) Indians against discrimination on the basis of religion – The rest of the country, meanwhile, has other concerns with the Act. We have grown up believing in secularism and equality. We are proud to live in a secular country where we don’t make any distinctions between people on the basis on their religion, neither do we want our government to do so. Give citizenship and refuge to people, we have no problem with that. But don’t discriminate between them on the basis of their religion. Humanity comes first.
What is religion anyway? It’s not something permanent. We’ve seen people changing their religions due to fear, force and free will many times in history. Why won’t some people do it now as well if it makes it easier for them to get citizenship. And again why limit such benefits to people from these three countries only?
Furthermore, when there’s already a law for illegal migrants to get citizenship on the basis of naturalization after 11 years of their stay in India then what is the need of such a discriminatory law at all?
Government’s response – When people pointed out this flaw in the bill that it is not in the spirit of secularism, and is thus unconstitutional, the government’s response has been defensive. They have urged again and again that only people belonging to these minority religions are persecuted in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh which are Islamic states. Since Muslims won’t be persecuted in an Islamic country, therefore no need to include Muslims in this bill meant for refugees. Furthermore, on the issue of distinguishing between people on the basis of their religion, the government says that the bill is not unconstitutional as there is a clause in Article 14 that allows distinction on reasonable classification.
We are in an era of global brotherhood. Even if the government is able to somehow justify their stance, it doesn’t take much brain for anyone to see that this Act does not propose equality in any way.
1.c) CAA coupled with NRC – The NRC exercise in Assam required people to show their documents and the documents of their parents or ancestors living in India on or before March 1971. Many of the people who failed to show such documents were labeled as aliens and detained in detention centers. Now people in the rest of the country have the fear that if somehow they are not able to show the required documents they may be declared as aliens as well and sent to detention centers. There are a lot of people in India who lose their documents in natural calamities, or are so poor that they don’t have any documents to begin with. Some people have also allayed fears that a nationwide NRC would be a costly affair and this money would be better spent elsewhere.
Government’s response– The home minister himself said that first there will be CAA and then a nationwide NRC. But it wasn’t made clear as to what happens to those who somehow or the other do not make it in the NRC. As we saw in Assam, such people are sent to detention centers, people are afraid that something like that might happen in every state since detention centers are being built in many states. Not until after all the confusion and protests had already began did the government release a list of FAQs about CAA and NRC through ANI which was unsigned and didn’t seem official in any way. It was not a good way to clear anyone’s confusion at all.
Then PM Modi in his gratitude rally in Delhi proclaimed that there have been no talks on NRC at all by his government. I don’t think the nation misheard what the home minister had been saying for quite some time. Also according to the PM, there are no detention centers whereas a quick google search can give you the details about all the detention centers existing and being built in India.
In the recent times, we have heard a lot of reports of violent protests as well as violence against protesters by the police and armed forces, especially in the Kashmir valley. In the wake of anti CAA protests, violence erupted in Assam as well. Internet bans, curfew, deployment of armed forces- all has been justified in name of maintaining law and order. Similar violence was reported in U.P. and Aligarh Muslim University and again internet was banned. However, this time certain disturbing videos also came out in which policemen were threatening and verbally abusing common men and protesters in the streets and telling them to go to Pakistan.
No one supports violence anywhere and by any one. However, the nature of violence is such that as long as it does not affect you personally you might hear about it, discuss it and then get distracted by other things.
So this time, when violence happened in Delhi, it affected me. Delhi is my city. I have lived here the entirety of 23 years of my life and I don’t recall such violence and brutality happening in our universities ever before in my lifetime. On 15th December, protests turned violent in Jamia Milia Islamia University as some protesters allegedly pelted stones on the police, burned buses and destroyed public property. In retaliation, the police lathi charged the students, used tear gas and as some videos show, even opened fire on the students. The police entered the campus and even threw tear gas in the library. The police entering the library does not seem to be justified in any way. The videos that came out showed the police brutally thrashing the students with lathis. Such videos seemed horrifying and somewhere or the other our pride in Delhi police lessened. The thought that ”it could have been me on the receiving end of the police’s atrocities” entered our minds. It made us lose faith in our police force and made us feel unsafe. It made us feel a range of emotions from anger, anxiety, sadness, empathy to worry for the students hurt in the unrest. Yes, when it comes to my city, it affects me hard. No matter how many times the police says that they were just dispersing the violent stone pelters, and followed them inside the university, it makes no sense to me as to why innocent students were hurt, and that too so horrendously. Was there no other way to control the violence?
Then we saw another protest turning violent in Delhi’s Seelampur, another at Delhi Gate, even in our Delhi University some people turned violent towards those protesting against CAA while the police silently looked on. Section 144 was imposed in some places where people had decided to protest, which bans an assembly of 4 or more people. So now we can’t even protest?
And then again on 5th January, violence erupted in JNU, a place I have been to several times and have been told by my friends that it is safer than the whole of Delhi even at night. When I see such videos of masked goons with hockey sticks, rods and hammers in their hands beating the students in JNU hostels, it makes my blood boil. I abhor it. It makes me despair. It’s sad to even witness such a day. Why weren’t such hooligans stopped? Why didn’t the guards or police intervene? Where were the people who are supposed to take care of students security?
And despite all this violence going on in the national capital the Prime Minister remained silent on the topic. Some ministers did condemn the violence. But it’s not condemnation which we want. We want action and justice. We want peaceful protests. We want violence not to happen in the first place. We want innocent people not to get hurt at all.
Meanwhile, the government and all the politicians keep engaging in a blame game, blaming each other for inciting violence and protests, causing confusion and spreading rumors. Our politicians need to understand that we are sick of this blame game they keep doing. Blaming each other is not going to lead the country anywhere. The people are able to see right from wrong on their own without any political party’s instigation. It’s the parties’ actions and not their blame game upon which we are going to judge them.
Apart from playing the blame game, BJP and its affiliated groups started their own pro-CAA protests. As far as I know, protests are meant to be against something. The Cambridge English dictionary describes protest as ‘an occasion when people show that they disagree with something by standing somewhere, shouting, carrying signs, etc.’ So the whole concept of pro-CAA protests are a laughable idea at best. Then they launched a IndiaSupportsCAA campaign on Twitter where they asked people to register their support by giving a missed call on a number in innovative but desperate ways from promising jobs to free Netflix subscription. Does the government seriously needs to stoop so low?
However, humor aside, the government acknowledges the protests but turns a deaf ear when it comes to actually listening to the voices of dissent. They seem to be adamant and refuse to budge. Can all the people who are protesting really be so wrong? This is why we feel that the government is getting too obnoxious and is bent on quelling our voices. If things go on like this, it might not be long before we lose our faith in the government. The government right now seriously needs to step up and either provide proper clarification on these bills or admit their mistake and take them back. The PM and the home minister in their recent public addresses, apart from playing the blame game, seemed to obfuscate the whole CAA-NRC issue by arguing and raising their voices. It seems that it’s not so hard to spot sophists even in today’s world.