Despite bloodshed, Indians continue to resist discriminatory citizenship law

Today was the bloodiest day in the course of the protests so far with 15 killed in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh by police firing

December 21, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
After police violence on Friday evening against anti-CAA and NRC, people gather at Delhi's Jama Masjid. (Photo: V. Arun Kumar Kumar/ Peoples Dispatch)

For over a week, India has been gripped by massive unrest against the far-right government led by prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The protests that began as a movement against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act or the CAA, has turned into a nation-wide uprising to protect the values of secularism, democracy and socialism.

The CAA opens pathways to citizenship for a specific set of immigrants who have lived in India from before December 31, 2014 and are from India’s three Muslim-dominated neighbors, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Critics of the Act have stated that specification of only non-Muslim minorities from a handful of Muslim neighbors, has far-reaching implications that will define Indian citizenship along religious lines.

The CAA along with plans to expand the even more controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC), as implemented in the state of Assam, has been viewed as a potential threat to secularism and a means to disenfranchise millions of Muslims. The implementation of the NRC in Assam, ended up with the exclusion of over 1.9 million people, with a large number of cases of exclusion being merely that of bureaucratic or processing errors.

Massive protests began in Assam, and spread fast across the rest of the neighboring states, bringing the entire northeast of India to complete standstill. After the violent repression of the protests in Assam, mobilizations spread to other parts of India and reached the national capital of Delhi, which were also met with police brutality.

Students of two of the renowned universities in the country, Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University in the state of Uttar Pradesh, who have been actively mobilizing against the Act, were also met with brutal violence from the police. The police violence inside the universities led organizations to broaden the grievances and demands of the protests to include an end to state brutality and anti-democratic policies of the government.

Left parties, along with civil society organizations, in the country, held an all-India strike against the government on December 19, which was unsurprisingly also met with police violence and repression. In several states police detained and arrested thousands, and while in Mangalore, Karnataka police killed two when they open fired at protesters.

The pan-Indian strike gave momentum to an even larger struggle that has expanded to different parts of the country.

Delhi

December 20 was a monumental show of strength as multiple protests were held on December 20 across the capital city. In the old quarters of the city, a historically Muslim neighborhood, a massive demonstration was held despite threats made by the police to arrest anyone participating in protests.

At the historic Jamia Masjid, the largest mosque in the country, hundreds converged to meet Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’, chief of the Bhim Army, a militant anti-caste organization named after the architect of India’s constitution Bhimrao Ambedkar.

Despite the police blockade, Azad managed to enter the mosque and join the demonstrators, and held up a copy of the Indian constitution with a picture of Ambedkar on it. Azad was later apprehended by the police later outside the mosque.

Protest at Jama Masjid area. (Photo: V. Arun Kumar/ Peoples Dispatch)

A massive protest was also held at the landmark India Gate organized by civil society movements and joined by leaders of opposition political parties.

Later in the day, while peaceful protesters were carrying out their evening prayers in the Daryaganj neighborhood, police attacked them with batons and sprayed water cannons at them. The repression lasted hours and 15 were arrested, including 8 minors. Dozens of injured protesters were denied access to medical help and lawyers by the police which had the entire neighborhood in a virtual lock-down for hours.

The Delhi High Court hearing petitions against the police on December 21 chastised the body for arresting minors and for the disproportionate use of violence against protesters. Shortly after, the police were obliged to release the minors.

The rest of the detainees are still in custody and were only granted access to medical help and legal counsel after people protested for hours outside police headquarters demanding their release.

Uttar Pradesh

The northern state of Uttar Pradesh witnessed the most violent episode of police repression in the ongoing protests. On December 20 and 21, protests in Aligarh, Varanasi, Lucknow and other parts of the state witnessed sweeping and unhinged violence ordered by the state government of right-wing Hindu-nationalist chief minister Yogi Adityanath of the BJP. Chief Minister Adityanath had also made an inflammatory statement yesterday, stating that the government will exact “revenge” for the supposed vandalism caused by the protesters.

The state government imposed harsh restrictions across the state, cut internet access in several parts of the state, and deployed armed special police to deal with protests. In the span of two days, the police detained nearly 3,000 protesters and injured hundreds. On December 21, the violence was at its peak, when the police open fired at protesters in different parts of the state, killing 15, and bringing the pan-Indian death toll to 21 as a result of police violence. In the city of Varanasi, part of the parliamentary constituency of prime minister Modi, an 8-year-old was reported to have been killed in police firing.

Bihar

The state of Bihar was brought to a grinding halt due to protests by civil society movements and students’ movements. The response of the state government was a complete shutdown of the internet across the state for the entire day on December 20. On December 21, opposition parties in the state joined the protests after they called for a statewide strike against the Act and violence meted out by the police on the protesters.

 

The state government of Bihar is led by chief minister Nitish Kumar, leader of the Janata Dal (United) Party, an alliance partner of the BJP. The JD(U) was among the few non-BJP parties that gave a decisive vote in favor of the CAA in the parliament. Kumar, who will face an election next year, has taken a reconciliatory stand in the face of a massive protests. On December 20, he ruled out any chances of implementing the NRC in the state. Nevertheless, the attempts at political reconciliation was not reflected in police violence as baton charges and other means of repression reportedly left 27 injured in different parts of the state on December 21.

Kerala

The southern state of Kerala, currently ruled by a leftist government, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), was among the states to have categorically opposed the implementation of CAA and the NRC. On December 20, the state government led by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, has ordered the state bureaucracy to stay all activities towards implementing the National Population Register, which is seen as a precursor by many to an all-India NRC. Vijayan, has also called upon other chief ministers belonging to different national opposition parties to do the same and resist the sectarian machinations of the ruling federal government.

 

The Kerala government was among the few opposition state governments to participate in the all-India strike of December 19. Vijayan was joined by the state’s primary opposition leader, along with every other party represented in the state legislature. The government has also encouraged for constant statewide demonstrations by students and civil society movements against CAA and NRC, and also police violence in northern parts of India.

Elsewhere

Multiple protests were also held in the neighboring state of Karnataka. In the city of Mangalore where two protesters had been killed on December 19, intense protests were held and the government responded by shutting down the internet and imposing curfew-like prohibitions on the movement of the people, and arrested dozens.

On December 21 students from several universities and colleges in the eastern metropolis of Kolkata in the state of West Bengal, marched to the state’s BJP headquarters to protest the CAA and NRC. Students were joined by civil society organizations and leftist movements in response to some of the recent pronouncements of the Home Minister of India and BJP chief, Amit Shah, hinting at the imposition of NRC across the country. The state of West Bengal had absorbed a vast majority of refugees during and after the Bangladesh Liberation War, and is expected to be the most affected state if the BJP goes ahead with its plans.

 

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