Students, activists, and citizens gathered in south Mumbai's Azad Maidan for another large-scale protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register for Citizens (NRC) on Friday. Named 'Inquilaab Morcha', the gathering was one of the many nationwide protests in resistance to the CAA since the contentious law was passed by the Parliament on 11 December.
The protest was organised by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) for Social Justice, an association of rights organisations in the city, and came a week after the massive protest at the August Kranti Maidan on 19 December. Initially planned as a rally from Byculla to Azad Maidan, the JAC's protest was curtailed to a gathering at Azad Maidan because of "fear of violence", the organisers of the protest said.
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While protests in some states have turned violent, with 22 deaths across India, the demonstrations in Mumbai have remained peaceful. Several reports from Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, and Karnataka, have detailed incidents of atrocities from the police, targeting students and unarmed protesters with tear gas shells and lathis.
Unlike the meeting at August Kranti Maidan, where representatives of political parties like the CPI and NCP also addressed the people, Friday's protest was steered solely by students leaders from universities that have been at the centre of the resistance against the CAA and NRC. Students from the Jamia Milia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University, and Jawaharlal Nehru University, spoke to the crowd of a few thousand, calling the law "divisive", and condemning the Delhi Police and Uttar Pradesh Police's action against protesters in the last two weeks.
Activist Umar Khalid, former High Court judge BG Kolse Patil, and actor Swara Bhaskar were among the speakers on Friday, in addition to writers Varun Grover, who performed the poem, 'Kagaz Nahi Dikhaenge' and Hussain Haidry.
The reigning sentiment was that the resistance against the CAA and NRC wasn't just a fight of Muslims — which is the only community excluded from the Narendra Modi government's plan of granting citizenship to minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh — but is a fight to protect the Constitution and its secular values.
Khalid, who has been at the forefront of several student protests since 2016, echoed this statement and slammed Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for making contradictory statements on the policies that have been the cause of the widespread unrest.
On 22 December, Modi addressed several criticisms against the CAA and NRC in a speech at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan, during which he sought to dispel a few "rumours spread by the Opposition".
"There have been multiple rumours about NRC too. NRC was implemented in Assam on the Supreme Court’s orders. No rules have been framed for bringing it to the whole country, it has not been introduced in Parliament. There is no detention centre in India," Modi said, adding that there had "never" been a discussion on the proposed citizenship registry.
However, activists were quick to point out that this statement, among others, were in direct contradiction to Shah's statements in rallies and in the Parliament when he said that the pan-India NRC would be implemented to "detect and deport every infiltrator".
At Friday's protest, Khalid said, "They are using lies to mislead the public. Narendra Modi at Ramlila Maidan says that there has been no mention of NRC, whereas Amit Shah has spoken in the Parliament about the government's commitment to implement NRC in the country. So what do we believe? Who is lying?"
He also slammed Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath for the violence that has erupted in the state. "The reports of atrocities coming in from Uttar Pradesh are horrifying. Ajay Bisht (Yogi Adityanath) is ruling the state and before he became the chief minister, he had spewed hate against Muslims. Today, he has been given the highest office in the state," he said.
Cautioning people against the BJP's stand that the NRC and the National Population Register (NPR) was a UPA-era policy, Khalid said, "Please understand that the UPA's NPR and the current planned NPR are as different as night and day. The UPA's policy was being brought as part of the Census, but this is being brought under the CAA. The NPR is the first step before they attempt to leave people out of the NRC."
Hamad, a student leader from Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) stating that "inclusiveness was India's identity", said that protesters must resist giving communal colour to the movement. "The police's action in universities proves that it's not a fight between Hindus and Muslims, it's a fight between the aware and the ignorant. It's a fight for all communities to assert their right to live as per their choice of religion. We must not make it communal, because that's what they want. Institutions like JNU, JMI, AMU, and Banaras Hindu University, who are fighting the majoritarian regime are being targeted first," he said.
He also lauded the Mumbai Police and the Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra for their cooperation during the protests in the city. "When I was leaving from Jamia, some friends told me to thank the Mumbai Police on their behalf also," Hamad said.
A student leader from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Afreen Fatima, minced no words in accusing the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh Police of targeting Muslim universities like JMI and AMU because of their identity. "People these days are being taught to be afraid of Muslims, of symbols of Muslim identity," she said.
Referring to a recent debate over whether Muslim protesters should wear the hijab or other traditional attire, she said, "Don't ask us to leave our Muslim identities at home, because it's taken very long for us to come out as Muslims. We appeal to secular India to join us in this fight."
Speakers said that in addition to Muslims, the CAA and NRC would put already marginalised sections like the transgender and Adivasi community under more strain, with challenges in procuring the documents to prove their citizenship. "A large section of Adivasis in tribal-dominated states like Jharkhand believe in sarna', which is a type of animism. How will they get included under CAA if they don't have documents after the NRC? And what about members of the transgender community, who are forced to leave homes at a very young age; how will they prove their citizenship?" one of the speakers demanded.
At Azad Maidan, protesters also shouted slogans against the government with attendees alleging that the act was aimed "not against just one community but against the whole country".
The student community, who has been the driving force of the resistance against the CAA and NRC across the country, also made up a large chunk of the attendees at Friday's protest.
"This is an authoritarian regime. They think they can do anything. It is this government's responsibility to protect, and not oppose the Constitution," Nikita Pathak, a student, said. Another protester said this was a "faceless government".
Protesters in at the Azad Maidan gathering kept up the trend of creative posters and placards.
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Twenty-four-year-old Eden Dias, who has attended almost all the anti-Citizenship Act protests in Mumbai, said that she had joined the movement to assert the protection of India's Constitution in addition to expressing solidarity with students who bore the brunt of police action in other states. She said, "The Constitution allows for us to express peaceful dissent, and there should be no reason for the authorities to curb this. One can love the country and still criticise its government."
Meanwhile, Aliya Khan, a student, said that the movement to resist the "divisive and discriminatory" policies had to be sustained, as was happening through the recent protests. "The scale of the peaceful protests across the country are proving to be effective. The country needs to come together now and stand for what’s right."
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Updated Date: Dec 27, 2019 23:36:36 IST