India lingers at the cusp of history wherein its moral compass searches the tipping point as several have been confirmed dead, hundreds lay injured in ICUs, and thousands have been detained or arrested in India, as protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 rages on. While the Indian government has imposed Section 144 that prohibits public gathering and assembly in several major cities and states in India, thousands have defied the authoritarian diktats amidst allegations of police excesses. Even minors are not spared the brutality in the national capital of Delhi.
The protests erupted after the CAA was passed by the Parliament of India on December 11, 2019. The act amends the Citizenship Act of 1955, and endows eligibility for Indian citizenship to illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Conspicuously, the bill omits Muslims from the list, along with other neighbouring countries. For instance, the Ahmedia Muslim sect and Shias face discrimination in Pakistan; Muslim and Hindu Rohingyas face persecution in Burma; Hindu and Christian Tamils have been ostracized in Sri Lanka; and the the Uighur Muslims have been tormented in the Xianjiang province of China, many of whom take perilous routes through the Karakoram Range from Kashgar to Ladakh to escape tyranny.
Islam is the second largest religion in India at 14.2 percent according to the 2011 census; an essential, integral, and inalienable ingredient to the country’s secular recipe. Hence, by alienating the Muslims from the Citizenship Act, the incumbent government – under PM Narendra Damodardas Modi – violates Article 14 of the Constitution of India, which affords and professes “equality before the law or the equal protection of laws within the territory of India.” Earlier, Home Minister Amit Shah had assured that the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC) of India will be carried out pan India. The NRC and the CAA, according to Home Minister Shah, will weed out “intruders”.
Students across universities and colleges were at the forefront of protests against the CAA – and that is precisely where the iron fist of the state rested. The police was accused of brutality in Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) on the night of December 15, 2019. Ever since, several videos and horrific tales of cruelty have surfaced on social media that show that the police and the paramilitary forces had used disproportionate force on the agitating students. Live rounds, tear gas shells, and stun grenades were used to brutally quell the students’ protest. While several students are fighting for their lives in the ICU, there are others who have lost their vision, and had to get their arm amputated.
Ever since, universities and colleges from India have expressed solidarity with the JMI and AMU students and have joined the agitation. Solidarity statements have also poured in from several international universities of prominence and repute. The civil society in India responded to the events at the two central universities by mass-outpouring in support of the agitating students.
Similarly, in the north-eastern-states of India have protested the CAA amidst internet blackouts in major cities of Guwahati, Tezpur, Dibrugarh, Kohima, Imphal, Shillong etc. The protests in the state of Assam and Uttar Pradesh have seen the most casualties where several protestors have been reported dead in each state, and hundreds arrested.
Over the past days, the protests have spread and have gained a pan India legitimacy. While hundreds of students, politicians, activists, journalists, and members of the civil society were arrested and detained by the police across India, the mobilization against the CAA has continued unabated.
The recent protests has left the Indian government in a state of quandary; unable to mitigate with its muscular posturing in its domestic policies, and the allegations of human rights violations. Currently, a case has been filed against the Delhi police for its actions in JMI that stand in contravention with the international statutes of human rights.
The international media too has been critical of the Indian Government’s attempt to brutally quell the protests: for instance, The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Al Jazeera, the Gulf Times and Der Speigel.
Further, the UN Human Rights Watch asked the Indian government to repeal CAA and “to respect the right to peaceful assembly, and to abide by international norms and standards on the use of force when responding to protests.”
The India government is taking flak on the international stage on a barrage of issues concerning Human Rights violation, including, but not limited to the recent anti-CAA protests. For instance, on December 20 External Affairs Minister EAM Jaishankar had to cancel a meeting with US lawmakers, since the panel included Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal who was critical of Indian government’s policies in the Kashmir valley that has been in a lockdown and media blackout for 137 days.
While, the next days will be telling as to how the government alleviate the concerns of the anti-CAA protestors, the recent protests in India that upholds the democratic rights of a minority group may have a democratizing influence in South Asia. The Indian state that aspires to be in the centre of the global machtpolitik has to tread carefully in how it indulges with the protests across India – hopefully by upholding natural laws of justice and jurisprudence – an event that might have resonances and consequences towards both domestic and global politics. The Shah-Modi government must be careful not to push India down a pit, from its current state of precariousness.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.
The author submitted his doctoral thesis in 2019 at JNU and his research interests are protest politics, education, and contemporary political issues. Akash was a research fellow at the University of Würzburg in Germany (2019), was a Charles Wallace fellow-in-residence at King’s College London (2018), and was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Kansas (2013-14). He can be contacted at: email@example.com