Citizens defy curfew and cops to protest in the 1000s
People versus the State - that was the message from almost every state capital as young and old citizens came out against the Citizenship Amendment Act despite Prohibitory Orders and an Internet clampdown. India reverberated with calls for striking down the discriminatory CAA, along with a strong assertion of unity ---”Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isayi hum sab hain bhai bhai.”
Thousands were detained -- in Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Lucknow where the state governments toed the anti-dissent line set out by the central government under the directives of Union Home Minister Amit Shah. But hundreds and thousands protested peacefully in states like Punjab, West Bengal, Kerala where the state ruling parties supported and joined them against the CAA.
Through the night, in state capitals like Lucknow, the police warned the people against protesting Thursday. The UP police even issued statements to the media that the CCTV footage of possible protests would be scanned to identify individuals. Despite the efforts to generate fear, the police came a cropper as citizens defied prohibitory orders and started gathering at the protest sites in all cities across India in what was a clear show down against CAA.
Historian Ram Chandra Guha was detained in Bengaluru, Yogendra Yadav in Delhi where the top Left leadership was also taken away in buses. The Rapid Action Force was deployed in large numbers, but instead of dealing with terrified citizens, the police found people arriving in batches at protest sites through the day, being wilfully detained, even as more came to take their place. This was particularly true in cities like Delhi and Bengaluru and Hyderabad where governments had imposed a clampdown,
Women were in the forefront, with a woman who identified herself to the cameras a teacher from Delhi University asking the women cops who had detained her, “tell me now we are being arrested for just asking a question.” This was the sentiment that poured out on the streets, with the youth forming the bulk of the protestors. “Do we not have the right to speak” they asked. “Now after beating and thrashing our students they want to take away our right to dissent, how can this be allowed.”
How indeed? But the governments had sent out instructions to the police, determined not to allow people their say. This came after Shah has asserted on different platforms, including television interviews, that the CAA would be implemented. And that there was no question of withdrawing it. His emphasis that this was not against any one community, has been rejected across India and her university campuses in particular, with the question “why have such a discriminatory Act act at all” left hanging in the air. In some cities an odd BJP legislator was seen with a handful of supporters claiming to be part of a demonstration supporting CAA. But for the most part the ruling party has been unable to face peoples power, although it is preparing now to mobilise cadres for a nationwide campaign.
However, the movement against CAA is growing by the day. The students who have been at the receiving end of police brutality in Jamia Millia and Aligarh Muslim University on December 15 were joined by university campuses across India --including the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institute of Management---in sporadic and spontaenous protests across. These demonstrations increased in numbers as civil society organisations and then political parties joined in. Several states have since declared that they will not accept CAA.
Today was the biggest pan-Indian protest since Shah introduced the Bill, and Parliament turned it into an Act. Significantly allies of the BJP who supported the bill are now having second thoughts under peoples pressure, with even the loyal Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar questioning the need for this Act. The Shiv Sena has already expressed reservations and the Akali Dal leadership---faced with huge demonstrations across Punjab---have also asked their BJP ally as to what is the need for this discriminatory law. Mamata Banerjee addressed her fourth rally in West Bengal today. In Kerala, the Congress and the Left Front are working together against CAA in unprecedented unity. In Maharashtra the Shiv Sena has opposed the Bil.
Covert efforts to turn this into a Muslim only protest have failed with the youth taking the lead to ensure unity against the discriminatory move. Students from all across India have strongly countered the propaganda of Muslim ‘violence’ even as intellectuals and others have counselled Muslim organisations to follow and not lead the current uprising against CAA. The situation has moved out of the Hindu-Muslim bracket, into “India for all” assertion with terror tactics failing to subdue the anger and the protest.
Cover Photograph : Historian Ramchandra Guha being detained in Bengaluru