Serious debates are ongoing over the rights of the young generation, specially students to engage in protests against the CAA and the NRC across the country. The protests are unique given their magnitude and the use of techniques such as civil disobedience and satyagraha movements. In fact a reminder of the movement ‘India Against Corruption’ in 2011, though confined to Delhi.
Recent stance of HRD Minister Prakash Javedkar against students engaging in politics on campuses is being contested by several academics and researchers citing students’ past participation in landmark national level agitations, including the freedom movement. Prof. Soumyanetra Munshi of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata, who had studied student politics and the influence of political parties, observed recently: “Historically, student politics has been rooted in the national cause. There should be no problem if students discuss, debate or agitate on national issues like the CAA and the NRC”.
Further, she pointed out: “The problem is with political parties’ interference in campus politics. From my study I found that student groups affiliated to powerful and dominant political parties are likelier to inflict violence, irrespective of the results of union objections. They do because they are likely to get away with (committing) offences”.
It is heartening to see people emerge in an unprecedented collective protest against CAA, NRC and NPR, even while these are being used to ‘divide and rule’. The establishment’s efforts to silence and quash the movement appear in vain. Students specially have proven to be the torch-bearers of constitutional principles, showing that many still believe in a secular, democratic society. Young women and men in college and university campuses as also people from all walks of life who have been gathering in open spaces, parks across the country, is unique and has rarely been manifest in our country.
It is evidence enough that non-violent protests could become powerful and unnerve the state machinery. It is also reiteration of the fact that this form of satyagraha against a violent state machinery, even in independent India, is a reminder of the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience against the British, which mobilised the masses and even attracted global attention. Remember also mass mobilisation during Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement, similar to what is being witnessing today. And there was mass uproar against Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian regime between 1972 and 74.
The present protests have triggered a fresh rethink about the Constitution, specially the section on fundamental rights and the Preamble. Students and youth are now seen analysing these in order to intensify their agitation against the CAA and NRC. It sends a signal that Indians finally are talking and debating about the Constitution, which may just get marked as a special moment in history.
Though the Constitution aims at providing a framework where all will be treated as equals, this unfortunately doesn’t seem to be the case, as opined by many a student. At a time when the entire Opposition is branded anti-national, protestors are defining patriotism in terms of the Constitution rather than religion or language. An example is IIT Bombay, which has been holding a daily lecture series on the Preamble, delving into ideas such as sovereignty and socialism, attended by 80-odd students and posted online.
At the global level, the Socialists & Democrats Group in the European Parliament recently submitted a resolution denouncing the CAA as ‘discriminatory’ and ‘dangerously divisive’ with the potential to create “the largest statelessness crisis in the world” even as the US too underscored the principle of equal protection under the law. The resolution, moved earlier this week by the 154-member S&D Group from 24 countries, is expected to be taken up during the plenary. It has denounced the fact that India has incorporated religious criteria into its naturalisation and refugee policies and urges authorities to ensure the right to peaceful protest and repeal the discriminatory provisions.
Philanthropist George Soros too has stated that the biggest setback to an open society as a result of the surging tide of nationalism had occurred in India. At Davos, he lamented dictatorial world leaders whose ranks continued to grow, citing the examples of Russia, China and the US. Nationalism, he said “far from being reversed made further headway and the most frightening setback occurred in India where a democratically elected Modi is creating a Hindu nationalist state, imposing punitive measures on Kashmir, a semi-autonomous Muslim region and threatening to deprive millions of Muslims of their citizenship.” Soros, who said he was so enthused by rebellions across the world against dictatorial regimes, that he committed a $1 billion fund to start a global university to fight authoritarian governments and climate change.
Lately, the Seattle City Council, Washington’s largest city, passed a resolution opposing the CAA and the NRC, terming both as discriminatory towards all marginalised sections and asking the US Congress to censure India through legislation. The resolution urged “the United States Congress to (a) support legislation censuring the Republic of India for adopting these policies and (b) call for the Parliament of India to uphold the Indian Constitution by repealing the CAA, stopping the NRC and taking steps towards helping refugees by ratifying various UN treaties on refugees”.
Apart from Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, the resolution argued that the CAA violates India’s international obligations to prevent deprivation of citizenship on the basis of race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin as spelt out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights treaties.
The big question that comes up is that of individual freedom and liberty against state machineries, which are violent and exploitative. In is pertinent to mention Gandhi’s observation: “An increase in the power of the state does the greatest harm to mankind because it destroys individuality which lies at the root of all progress”.
The Government of the day unfortunately is a silent spectator to this mass upsurge, or if it does argue it doesn’t sound convincing enough that neither is it dividing the country on religious lines nor imposing conditions that defy logic. It’s unfortunate that a leadership committed to Ambedkar’s republican Constitution and Gandhian philosophy would act in such an insensitive fashion. It is time it realises the seriousness of such non-party political civil society sit-ins and protests (similar to ‘Occupy Wall Street’) and would do well to understand the dimension of the movement and act judiciously, before it is too late.