CAA protests: Police crackdown natural response to rioting, but in era of misinformation and fake news, whoever sets narrative wins

  • Attempts are being made to arouse the passion of the student community in other parts of the country that a dictatorial regime is using brute force to suppress genuine grievances of students

  • Builders of this narrative take the police version of the incident as an outright lie and those coming from protesters and their sympathisers as absolute truth

  • The use of tear gas and lathi by the Delhi Police was in response to the acts of violence and pelting of stones on them by the protesters

The protests by students of Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University and Nadwa College and the violence either engineered by them or "outsider miscreants" could be classical case studies for how a motivated narrative could have a spiralling impact — all negative — on social good.

It’s only natural that when protests turn violent — when mob become riotous, indulge in arson, damage public and private property, deeply disturb and disrupt the lives of ordinary citizens and create a severe law and order situation — the law enforcing agencies, particularly the police, would come cracking down. The problem gets complicated when another narrative starts soon after the police and administration react to the situation – that is of "police atrocity" against helpless innocent students. Attempts are being made to arouse the passion of the student community in other parts of the country that a dictatorial regime is using brute force to suppress genuine grievances of students.

 CAA protests: Police crackdown natural response to rioting, but in era of misinformation and fake news, whoever sets narrative wins

A police personnel fires tear gas as students of Jamia Millia Islamia University stage a protest. PTI

Builders of this narrative take the police version of the incident as an outright lie and those coming from protesters and their sympathisers as absolute truth. Nobody can say that the police does not give statements that suits it and at times even manufactures evidence, but exceptions can’t be taken as a rule. When proponents of this proposition are acquiring communal colour to their detriment, they tend to shift the balance of their narrative to another level.

The turn of events, particularly in Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi and AMU in Aligarh falls in this category. The question of why some of the protesters indulged in arson and rioting, burning four DTC buses and some motorbikes, held normal lives of thousands of ordinary citizens to ransom should be asked to them and their backers — the use of tear gas and lathi by the Delhi Police was in response to these acts of violence and pelting of stones on them.

How should the police respond in such a situation? If the rioters run inside Jamia, Aligarh or Nadwa campus — should the police chase them and nab the miscreants or should the police lay off because the rioters have taken shelter inside the campus?

Another question that needs to be asked to them is that how does the Citizenship Amendment Act affect the present status of the Jamia students, as also their future prospects. It’s true that students have played a key role in shaping movements, political and otherwise, during the Emergency in the mid-1970s and later in pro- and anti-reservation stirs, but those were real issues, impacting their lives and future. One fails to understand how does the grant of citizenship by India to members of six religiously persecuted minority communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afganistan affect their present and future.

One can understand the anguish of students and other citizens of Assam, Tripura and the North East and their argument that settling of any outsiders — Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh and so on — because they have born the brunt of illegal immigration and are facing real-life consequences. But the same does not apply for Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University students unless they believe in the misleading and manufactured anger of secularists and some Muslim leaders that it was designed against the Muslims in India. As students, the protesters should apply some reason and read the Act.

Coincidence or otherwise, protests in Jamia Millia Islami University and the Aligarh Muslim University erupted two days after protests broke out in parts of West Bengal. The rioters in West Bengal damaged trains, burnt railway stations and indulged in loot and arson in several parts, all in name of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the manufactured fear that Muslims could be under threat.

In Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal, the police obviously looked the other way. But Delhi was not West Bengal and the police doesn't belong to the city government. The Police acted and reacted in a way they, for decades, are trained to act in using force in the face of a riotous mob.

While political blame game would continue but the fact remains that tweets by Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia are indicative of what kind of popular narrative he wants to build:

The full video and subsequent investigations by some news channels proved that Sisodia was trying to peddle his own political argument as truth. The policemen were dousing the fire with water-filled cans and not throwing petrol from the cans to ignite fire in state-run buses.

In another example of misinformation, old images of a train set on fire and a woman wounded have been shared in the context of anti-Citizenship Act protests in West Bengal. Fake videos of AMU protesters chanting "Hinduon Ki Qabra Khudegi" were shared as well by BJP karyakartas, whereas, an old video of a Muslim man throwing a stone at a bus after an accident was circulated as Muslims vandalising public properties during Citizenship Act protests, in attempts to communalise and discredit the protests.

Likes of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra whose party, Congress no longer has any stake in Delhi promptly came out in support of protestors and sat on a dharna at India gate, just like her brother Rahul Gandhi had done in JNU. Priyanka, though, didn’t visit Jamia campus.

If university campuses were relatively silent today then the violence spread to Muslim-dominated areas of Jafrabad and Seelampur in North-East Delhi. The fear psychosis created among the Muslims would take a long time to subside. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s repeated pleas that the Citizenship Amendment Act doesn't impact Indian Muslims have hardly any takers in the community, for now.

The question remains if the Modi regime is so authoritarian and dictatorial how are so many protests, including those in front of the Delhi Police Headquarters, are taking place and how are people freely venting their anger against Modi and keep on calling him a fascist and Hitler?

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Updated Date: Dec 17, 2019 19:11:50 IST