Protests Turning Violent Over Citizenship Amendment Act

The aftermath of passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) as part of country’s existing citizenship law has not been as smooth as that of scrapping of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution for the government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The opposition parties dominated by the Congress Party that only showed nominal resistance with regard to scrapping of the Article 370 recently, have vehemently opposed CAB during the parliamentary debates earlier this month. However, due to the ruling party’s numerical superiority in both houses of the parliament (and with some support from its allies), CAB was successfully passed and became an act of law (Citizenship Amendment Act) on December 11. After some initial signs of protest by students against the CAA, the opposition parties took to streets and have mobilized more youth all across the country. The Modi government claims the opposition parties are trying to make an issue of CAA for no valid reason, and that they have been actively encouraging students to take up agitational methods to oppose it. Consequently, the sparks of protest that have been lit by the opposition parties (and some student groups) have quickly turned into a wildfire in the northeastern State of Assam. The sparks have started flying across the country simultaneously beginning with West Bengal, Delhi, Aligarh and Lucknow down to the south of the country to the State of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The new law seeks to grant the Indian citizenship to protect the minorities who flee to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan because of religious persecution there. The minorities in these three countries are Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis. The people in Assam as also other Northeastern States, which share border with Bangladesh, fear that the new law opens flood gates for immigrants from neighboring countries, thus depriving job opportunities for the locals. If the trouble stems in Assam from the fear of local people that the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) would result in an influx of immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, the fear elsewhere in the country is that it would discriminate against the Muslim community. Some say that the new law is well planned to turn India into a Hindu nation.

West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who is a bitter critic of Narendra Modi and brands him as a pro-Hindu promoter hampering the secular identity of India, took out a massive rally last week encouraging the people to actively protest against the Modi government. The youths and workers, who have always been hostile to illegal migrants in West Bengal, feel their jobs, particularly the ones in the tea gardens, have been “robbed” by such immigrants because they accept low wages.

In Guwahati the agitating mobs consisting of several hundreds of young people have turned violent and set fire to buildings and clashed with the police resulting in the death of two people and injuries to several others on December 12. To maintain law and order, the police have been compelled to fire bullets and use teargas against the violent mobs. Reports say that peace in many parts of Assam has been disturbed and agitators have vandalized railway stations in the State and tried to set fire to them. In a town called Chabua, protesters have torched government property, including a post office and a police station. The mob has also set fire to the house of Binod Hazarika, a local BJP lawmaker.

A report coming from New Delhi has said that the Jamia Millia Islamia University has turned into a battlefield on December 15 when police tried to stop students, who wanted to march to Parliament House to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act. In the clash that ensued, the police detained 50 students. The students alleged that the police baton-charged and use teargas against them. But the police alleged that the students were continuously pelting stones. More protests were reported in Delhi over the last few days, and as of this writing on December 20 some of the protests have turned into vandalism. Some student groups alleged the involvement of “outsiders” in the violence to discredit their “legitimate” protests during the time and venue, which were sanctioned by the police.

In Uttar Pradesh (UP), similar incidents of “vandalism” by the students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) have been reported on December 15. The students claimed that when they marched towards the main campus gate they were verbally abused by security forces posted outside, and later attacked with teargas shells, rubber bullets, stun grenades, pellets and stones. The students dispersed and hid in buildings nearby, but the police and the Rapid Action Force personnel entered the campus forcibly. The students alleged that the police raided hostels. A fire that began in a hostel room following which the police cut its window mesh and broke the glass pane. As the students started fleeing the room, the police allegedly fired teargas inside. About 60 students were stated to have been injured in the crackdown. According to a report, the AMU will remain closed till January 5 and Internet services would be temporarily suspended to help bring peace in the area. Protests continued in UP into the middle of the week with one death reported in Lucknow on December 19. As of this writing, six more died in different parts of UP after protests have turned more violent.

Amongst the southern states, Karnataka witnessed violent protests and two people reportedly died in Managalore. Sporadic incidents of student unrest resisting the CAA have also been reported from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Telangana states.

The student agitation, with some active support from the opposition parties, has continued despite the clarification by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, and Rajya Sabha MP and BJP leader Dr. Subramanian Swamy.

Narendra Modi said: “No one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow.” During the parliamentary debates, Amit Shah had said, “This bill has been introduced not just to run the government as the previous governments did. It has been introduced with a view to perfecting the governance. Actually there is no need for this bill if the country was not divided on the basis of religion. Pakistan was carved out of India basing on its Islamic identity. In fact this bill should have been introduced some 50 years ago. This bill is necessary to protect the honor of the persecuted immigrants of non-Islamic religions living in these three neighboring Islamic countries. This does not mean to refuse citizenship to Muslim immigrants. In the past five years of the Modi government, 500 Muslim immigrants have been granted the Indian citizenship.”

Dr. Subramanian Swamy counter-attacked Congress leaders Kapil Sibal and P. Chidambaram’s claims on the unconstitutional validity of the bill on the basis of Article 14. Dr. Swamy highlighted that Article 14 can make distinctions based on the equality in entitlements of the people. To prove his point, he also gave an example of SPG protection provided to PM Modi and invoked the 1988 Antulay case as well. He accused some of the opposition leaders of misleading the House against CAB. He said, “I think the Opposition is confused between CAB and NRC (National Register of Citizenship) and most of them have argued against the NRC. Those who have argued against CAB have in fact misled the House in some ways.” However, the opposition parties have relied on the “secular” feature of Indian constitution in their argument against the CAB (now CAA after the bill was passed). Some opposition leaders have argued it would be a precursor to the nation-wide NRC, which had created some furor when it was implemented in the state of Assam last year.

Different groups are opposing CAA for different reasons – political, “non-secular ethos” of the CAA, wide discretion on how it can be implemented, and loss of jobs to the immigrants. Whether or not these are valid points to protest against the CAA, the opposition seems to have got some support from the states such Maharashtra, Odisha and Bihar that supported the CAA initially. However, it remains to be seen how the Modi government would deal with these protests in the coming days, and whether it would be open to any suggestions from the protesters on the CAA.

– Contributed by Mr. J.V. Laskshmana Rao, a former National News Coordinator of Express News Service, New Delhi, and former Chief Editor of US-based India Tribune. He frequently travels between India and the US.

Picture Credits: AP /

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