The image of historian and writer Ramachandra Guha being dragged away by the police, during what appeared to be a non-violent protest in Bengaluru, seems to typify the state reaction in the wake of the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Every action has a reaction, but this time round, even simply shouting slogans or protesting at public places is not kosher.
Neither Guha’s books on Mahatma Gandhi, nor his reputation as a historian, stood him in good stead when the police came for him today. A protesting Guha was forcibly taken away from what was clearly a peaceful demonstration. On the night of 18 December, the government imposed prohibitory orders in Bengaluru but that didn’t deter people from gathering to oppose the CAA.
— ANI (@ANI) December 19, 2019
The unprecedented nationwide wave of protests against the CAA has clearly taken the Centre by surprise. And it is responding in the ways it knows best: getting the police to attack by invading universities, entering libraries (is even studying an offence now?), using teargas against students, imposing prohibitory orders as in Bengaluru, or shutting down telecommunications as in New Delhi and elsewhere.
The one thing the government cannot seem to do is stop the protests in India, or elsewhere in the world. Student communities from Vancouver to Oxford have been out with placards, in solidarity with their Indian counterparts, demanding an end to state violence, apart from opposing the CAA.
Leaders such as Yogendra Yadav and others have reportedly said they were proud to be detained. There are echoes of the Civil Disobedience movement of 1942, but there is no Mahatma to lead it. Instead today, his image is vilified and so is his legacy of non-violence.
The manufacturing of violence is an art that this government has perfected. When students protest, they are attacked, fired at, tear-gassed, assaulted in their rooms, as reported from Aligarh Muslim University.
This is how the government has steamrolled in its new laws, be it the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, where it shut down communications, arrested political leaders and detained many locals, or the CAA now. There are over 330 habeas corpus petitions pending in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court but they can’t be heard as summons cannot be served except in person. Internet services are still suspended in Kashmir and postal services are not working. The Kashmiris have chosen a “heroic silence” as a means of protest, and that’s something the state cannot handle.
In the Northeast, where there was immediate backlash to the CAA being passed, there is a sense of betrayal. A least four individuals were shot dead, according to reports. There too the internet was shut down and police presence stepped up.
Today, 19 December, marks protests in most states in the country against the CAA and its discriminatory provisions, as also in solidarity with the students who protested and stood up to the use of force. It’s a statement that force will not be tolerated, that the equality enshrined in the Constitution has to be respected, and the law cannot be abused.
Ramachandra Guha and others were standing up for that, for the right to protest, the right to speak up and the right to be treated as equals.
By dragging him away, by using violence to silence protests and by negating the Constitution, the government has only exposed its callousness and inability to deal with democratic protests in a country that has witnessed a long struggle to uphold equality and freedom of expression.
It has alienated its own supporting parties like the Asom Gana Parishad and the Akali Dal and broken faith with the Assam Accord.
This time round, there is a clear signal that repression will be resisted. The people of India have spoken up and their voices have gone viral. Unlike the virtual WhatsApp groups that can ensure even fake posts go viral, this is for real. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.
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Updated Date: Dec 20, 2019 12:22:44 IST