India’s Netas Might Not Care for the Minority. Its People Do. The CAA Protests Are Proof

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India’s Netas Might Not Care for the Minority. Its People Do. The CAA Protests Are Proof

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

December 16 will go down in history as one of the worst dates in the capital of India. Seven years ago, on that day, a gang rape shocked residents of Delhi enough to get out on the streets in freezing temperatures and withstand the fury of the police’s water cannons. This Tuesday, December 16, 2019, Delhi was out on the streets again. This time it was in protest of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act that was passed in Parliament over the last week. Midway through the protest, however, the country was reduced to tears as the Delhi police, armed with riot gear, stormed into at least three colleges in the capital — most notably Jamia Millia Islamia — and began assaulting students.

Videos released over the last few days show some of the defenceless students cowering under desks in the Jamia library as the police lob tear gas shells; others were lined up and made to walk out of campus with their hands in the air, like criminals. One particularly disturbing video shows a student pulled out of a building and mercilessly beaten on the street, only to be saved by three women who displayed exemplary courage, and took on five lathi-happy policemen.

These random acts of violence in Delhi were defended with the usual stream of half-truths, especially online — the students were raising “anti-India slogans”, or that they were resorting to random acts of vandalism. Nothing could be conclusively proved in either case, of course, and much like the time the JNU students were called “jihadists”, all students were later released.

Minority

No matter what the politicians say about the colour of anyone’s clothes, these protests are proof that democracy is still alive in this country, and that bigotry hasn’t taken over yet.

Hindustan Times / Getty Images

Meanwhile, all through, there has been an attempt to paint the narrative that the protestors belonged to a certain community. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted himself that the best way to identify violent protesters was through the “clothes that they are wearing” – make of that what you will, but we wouldn’t be surprised if that comment had a communal bent.

But this narrative fell apart quickly, after NDTV’s heartbreaking interview with one student from Jamia. In it, a distraught, weeping girl who was to appear for her Constitutional Law exam on that day, is seen explaining why even though she was “not a Muslim”, had decided to be at the frontlines of the CAA protest. “Why? Because of what has happened to my family… What use is our education if we cannot stand by what is right,” the student says, sobbing, after leaving her hostel. “I don’t feel safe in this entire country. I don’t know where I will go and get lynched. I don’t know if tomorrow my friends will be Indians…”

That powerful sentiment was echoed across the campuses in Delhi. Images of shirtless protestors braving freezing temperatures – a response to the PM’s tweet of identifying the demonstrators by their attire – went viral. Videos of protesters yelling slogans of “Inquilab Zindabad” and wielding the tricolour emerged. Some were photographed holding up images of Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar, others live streamed the event on various social media accounts.

This vociferous protest caught the attention of the rest of the country as well, not all of which were held by Muslims.

This vociferous protest caught the attention of the rest of the country as well, not all of which were held by Muslims. Marches were held in universities across Mumbai, Kerala, parts of UP, Kolkata, and Chennai in solidarity with the Delhi students. The CAA protests in Assam, meanwhile, have entered their second week, with no signs of abating. Priyanka Gandhi was spotted sitting at India Gate. Even West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee joined in, leading a march in her state that looked like a scene straight out of a film.

When you spend two whole days looking at videos of bleeding students staggering around campus, and images of police officers firing tear gas at crowds, it’s hard to be hopeful. But considering the spirit with which India is fighting back, maybe there is a silver lining to be seen here. No matter what the politicians say about the colour of anyone’s clothes, these protests are proof that democracy is still alive in this country, and that bigotry hasn’t taken over yet. It’s proof that when pushed against a wall, even twenty-something students have the courage to not fall in the trap, band together, and fight back.

Seven years ago when Delhi erupted in protests, Parliament was forced to introduce fast track courts, and make amendments to the rape laws. It also brought down a chief minister. Sure, not much else has changed with regard to sexual violence, but without those massive protests, absolutely nothing would have happened anyway. Today, as our students take charge and stand up to authorities, Opposition parties are getting jolted into action, and foreign premiers are cancelling their trips to the country. Advisories are being issued against travelling to India. So even though the last few days have been disheartening to say the least, let these last few days be a reminder — as long as we continue to fight for what we believe in, there will always be hope.

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