CHANDIGARH: An interesting pattern is emerging from the continuing protests in Punjab against the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the unleashing of terror by the Police in various educational institutions across the country including Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi University and Aligarh Muslim University.

Contrary to right wing propaganda -- these are not mere Muslim events but protests organized by Punjabis from all faiths. Secondly, student organizations have dumped their ideological differences to unite and send across a strong message that any attempt to divide the people on communal lines will not be tolerated.

The sentiment of Punjabiyat is overriding all other concerns. It needs to be kept in mind that Punjab is now the only state where a minority is in the majority. Jammu and Kashmir was the other such state till it was bifurcated in August.

Further, Punjab shares an international border with Pakistan, a country with which India shares troubled relations. It also needs to be underlined that Punjab, along with Bengal,suffered the worst because of the two nation theory and do not want a repeat of history.

After a series of protests last week at Punjabi University in Patiala, Malerkotla and Ludhiana followed by one at Panjab University in Chandigarh, students of Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) and Government Medical College braved the piercing cold of Amritsar on Tuesday to air their anger at two separate protests against the central government and police terror.

The protest at GNDU saw the coming together of groups that are ideologically at variance. The participants included representatives of Sikh Youth of Punjab (SYP), Research Scholar Association (GNDU), Students for Society (SFS), Punjab Students Union (PSU), Mool Newasi Students Organisation (MNSO), Phule-Ambedkar Student Association (PASA) and Punjab Students Union (Lalkar).

Rejecting CAA and NRC, the protestors accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led union government of spreading its agenda of Hindi-Hindu-Hindutva and underlined that the country can only be awakened by people’s protest.

SYP president Paramjit Singh Mand accused the central government of taking the country towards civil war and said that absolute power has gone to the heads of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah along with their “coterie” who are behaving like ‘dictators running a tyrannical regime’

“The organizations burying their ideological differences to counter the centre’s agenda is a big thing. While we had a Sikh organization like SYP on one hand, we had Left oriented and Dalit organizations on the other. Students of the Government Medical College coming together to protest on a public issue is also a rarity here. The NRC and CAA are against the basic rights of a citizen in India as they target a single community. If the government wants to give shelter to minorities from neighbouring countries why are Ahmadiyyas and Shias from Pakistan, Rohingyas from Myanmmar and Uighurs from China being excluded?” said Shubhkaramdeep Singh of SFS, who also represents Dental Students Association of Punjab (DSAP).

“A question being raised is - why are the Sikhs protesting when they are a protected community under CAA? My answer is that Punjab does not only mean Sikhs. It means people from all faiths who have a rich history of standing up for those who are downtrodden or targeted for being less in numbers. We understand that the government is trying to divert the attention of the masses from its failures on multiple fronts. It has failed to provide education and jobs. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has tanked and inflation continues to spiral. So it is resorting to the time tested formula of divide and rule,” said Gagan of PSU (Lalkar).

She added, “One can see that the example of Hitler is being followed. What is the need for building detention centres? Even if the government stand is taken at its face value, what is the guarantee of transparency in the implementation of the CAA and NRC? How can one be sure that tomorrow they will not just club any other community along with the Muslims to target? What they are doing is simply undemocratic and unconstitutional.”

"Is this the way the state behaves with students studying at educational institutions? The visuals show the extent of barbarism of police chasing, beating, hurling abuses on girls and boys of Jamia and AMU,” said Research Scholar Association (GNDU) leader Jatinderbir Singh.

It needs to be pointed out that the protests are taking place despite there being winter vacations in the educational institutions in the region. The participants are mainly research scholars.

A general sentiment at these protests is that not speaking out now would amount to complicity with the undemocratic moves of the centre and those who care for freedom of expression, democracy and equality must resist the ‘naked aggression’. A demand being raised is that heads must roll in the police department for entering campuses without permission from university authorities and violating the norms.

Those organizing the protests have been pointing out that while the common person does not understand the intricacies of CAA and NRC, they understands the communal designs of those in power at the centre and the failure of the government on the economic front -- particularly when it comes to creating jobs and addressing farm distress.

Observers point out that Punjabis have learned hard lessons in the recent past on issues of minority rights and federalism. In addition to this, the fallout of the bloody partition resulting from the two nation theory is yet to be forgotten.

One comes across many of them repeating the old saying, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” Punjab does not want the dark times to return.