THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 3 FEBRUARY, 2020
The impact of the CAA-NRC protests
”What's happening in the country today is just plain terrifying. You have a government that isn't acknowledging the hundreds of protests. You have police, who are supposed to be protectors, not doing their job. As of now, my thought is this is a long fight, and we cannot stop expressing our discontent and dissent. As the Supreme Court said, 'dissent is the safety valve of democracy',” says Andre Borges.
Borges, a journalist and independent content creator, frequently uses his 51.2 K followers strong instagram handle to educate people about various contemporary issues. A recent post on his account, that pointed out the power of people led protests, has been making rounds on social media and was shared by a number of influential political figures including Yogendra Yadav.
With the existing protestors holding their ground and new voices joining the crowds with every passing day, an important question arises; whether this unprecedented mass mobilisation against a parliamentary statute can lead to any tangible results in reality?
Borges tells The Citizen, “Obviously, the point of these protests, and the amplification of this is to reach a solution. At this point, I really don't see much changing from the central government at least for now. But it's very clear that the protests are making ripples that will result in a wave. Small changes are popping up across the country, more people are starting to pick up the newspapers, read online and have discussions, and clearly the country is keen to hold itself together. I never would have imagined Bollywood speaking up, several state governments taking a stand, and yet today, those and more have happened. I see India is finding a way out of this wave of fear and hate. Something has definitely changed in the air. If that change is for the better or worse, depends on who you ask.”
BJP Veteran Asks for VC’s Resignation
The instances that substantiate Borges’ claim that things are changing are many. For instance, wide spread student protests against the in-famous draft hostel manifesto in JNU and the following violence by the masked goons against students led to many influential figures coming out in support of the attacked students in particular and JNU in general. The figures ranged from Bollywood A-listers to BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi. Joshi, in a tweet, called out the Vice Chancellor for his failure to handle the situation and asked for his resignation.
Support of the Stars
Bollywood A-listers, like Deepika Padukone and Ajay Devgan, either came out in support of student protestors (Deepika Padukone) or verbally condemned the act of violence against those protesting. It is one of those rare instances where otherwise apolitical Hindi film industry has also taken up a relatively stronger stance.
Shiv Sena Supports Female Protestor
A female protestor during the Mumbai protests against CAA, was antagonised for holding a “Free Kashmir” poster. She later clarified that her poster meant a Kashmir free from restrictions and should not be taken otherwise. Leading regional parties came out in her support. Shiv Sena, through its mouthpiece Saamana, said "A Mumbaikar Marathi woman could understand the pain of Kashmiris. The opposition feels this is sedition. There can't be a dirtier example of irresponsibility… If the opposition and its supporters feel expressing oneself fearlessly is sedition; it is not good for them and the country. The opposition has fallen flat on its face after the woman's clarification.”
More Voices Join the Protests
In a letter addressed to the President, Jawaharlal Nehru Teacher’s Association, JNU’s teachers’ body, has asked for the removal of the Vice-Chancellor and has held him responsible for the violence in JNU campus.
In addition to students across India, the staff students and alumni associations of various prestigious universities like Cambridge University, London School of Economics and Warwick University have also registered their voices against the infamous act and instances of violence against students.
State Governments in North East Rebel
Bharatiya Janata Party is facing opposition from a majority of leading north eastern parties, including many of its allies. For instance, the state government of Arunachal Pradesh had formed a consultative committee to hear stakeholders’ opinion on CAA. The committee in its final report has decided to ‘unequivocally oppose’ the act (bill at the time of publication of recommendations of the committee). The state governments of Meghalaya and Mizoram went one step ahead and adopted a cabinet resolution against it.
Lawyers and Activists Descending Police Stations
On December 18, a huge number of lawyers and activists were seen standing outside the Daryaganj Police station in an effort to provide legal support to some 40 protestors, including minors, who were detained by the police. Since then many more lawyers and activists have come together and organised themselves into groups for the purpose of educating people and helping individuals during similar situations where legal communication is needed.
A Nudge to the Centre by SC
The Supreme Court of India recently called out the government for depriving the people of Jammu and Kashmir the right to freedom of speech and expression by imposing an indefinite blanket restriction on the internet. The apex court added that trade and commerce are dependent on the internet, and the freedom to practice such trade is constitutionally protected under Article 19(1)(g). Consequently, the government has now decided to make a total of 153 ‘white-listed’ website accessible in the region.
The ruling party is facing electoral setbacks in many of its traditional strongholds. Many have associated the same to the ongoing nation-wide protests and the centre’s inability to find a solution. For instance, BJP registered a resounding defeat in Nagpur Zila Parishad elections despite it being the Lok Sabha constituency of Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and the headquarters of the party’s ideological arm (RSS).
Dropping of Sedition Charges Against Protestors
"Laws are not made to frighten and silence the people but to instil a feeling of safety in the public. My government will work towards being the voice of the people. We have recommended taking back the sedition cases registered against 3,000 people and also asked for action against the concerned official.” These were the words in which Hemant Soren, the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, recommended dropping charges of sedition against 3,000 people who took part in a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Wasseypur area.
The anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests have garnered the attention of not just Indian but also the neighbouring leaders. For instance, Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, while speaking about the act, proposed that India should treat all Afghans equally. He said, “We don’t have persecuted minorities in Afghanistan… the whole country is persecuted. We have been in war and conflict for a long time. All religions in Afghanistan — Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs — which are our three main religions, have suffered.”
Bangladesh, which in the past has called CAA and NRC the internal matter of India, has also started questioning the move. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina recently stated, “We don’t understand why (the Indian government) did it. It was not necessary,”
“Let it be very loud and clear to our opponents that the citizenship law won’t be rolled back at any cost, irrespective of the protests”: a statement made by the Union Home Minister on 21st January, 2020, at the Lucknow rally, sounds like a death knell for all the efforts put in place by masses to influence the centre’s decision. H
owever, is it actually that simple? Do mass protests have no value even in vibrant democracies like India? The answer is nuanced and multilayered. To understand the impact of popular uproar one must look at the smaller victories in addition to focusing on the wider more visible picture.