“You are students, you should study and not protest.”
This isn’t a well-reasoned argument but an authoritarian and arcane commandment given by those who, while in their arm chairs, sipping piping brew, are apparently astonished looking at the ongoing countrywide student-led protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Astonished because they never expected such large-scale mobilisation.
This student mobilisation is largely a result of the lack of action by those who have remained mute – for whom politics is only restricted to theory and academia and doesn’t seep into the modus vivendi of our generation; a generation that has been witness to how political jingoism can overwhelm a meek opposition and rally public opinion.
They are astonished seeing an otherwise apolitical generation, which has long been characterised as one living on ‘the gram’, flirting with revolutionary ideas and courting insurrection with the ultimate end of upholding the constitution.
Clause number 47 of the Act, or the new amendment, is a string of words that has come to reflect a strange but not entirely unprecedented turn in Indian politics. While on one hand the Act is a step towards an India that has shed its secular values, on the other it has become the very foundation of a pan-India student movement – one seeking to destroy not just the clause, but the very idea behind it.
An Indian student today doesn’t wish to upturn the system, but wants to keep a check on it. Opposition parties have no strength in parliament, and neither are they effectively opposing those in power. Therefore, people are now taking to streets, and it is students who have mounted the opposition – in a fierce yet rational manner.
The protests serve to execute a function which is so fundamental to a democracy – dissent.
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A lack of dissenting voices accords legitimacy to those actions which do not enjoy mass support, and are authoritarian in nature. Such a lack opens the floodgates for future legislation which could be more malicious in nature.
There is also an incredulous attempt to characterise the protests as being against the intake of persecuted minorities. This naïve assumption doesn’t take into account that the protests today are against the underlying notion that led to the omission of a particular religion from the list of faiths mentioned. Moreover, it is this linking of citizenship to religion itself which is a bigger bone of contention.
There shall be many, with beards of sagacity, to argue on the technical and legal nuances of the Act in favour of its constitutionality. But to get to this point, one first needs to examine whether the Act adheres to what’s mentioned in the preamble, especially the term “secularism”.
A lot of members of the right-wing have declared war on secularism, but students are fighting to uphold it. Why? Because students question.
Secularism is fundamental to the idea of India, and this fight, at its heart, is to preserve it. However, it also wrests control over what it means to be nationalistic in true sense. The fight, hence, is to defy the idea that ‘nationalism’ is only defined by those coming from a certain ideology.
Gopal Guru noted in his essay of February, 2016 derived from his lecture at Jawaharlal Nehru University, that
“the issue of nationalism remains continuously embattled because the ground on which nationalism has to be freely discussed and debated has already been captured, if not colonised, by the right-wing forces.”
Students across various colleges in India, have mobilised in solidarity with those in Delhi.
The students in Delhi were the ones who were at the nasty end of a malignant smear campaign back in 2016, where those against the government were labelled ‘anti-national’. But the students didn’t give up.
And today, they are at the vanguard of the protests that have been organised and executed day in and day out across the nation. Students today are offering a “much richer and deeper understanding of nationalism” as propounded by Guru to “resist this unreasonable claim on nationalism” by those in authority.
However, attempts are being made to ‘de-legitimise’ the protests, with claims that participants are generally violent. It shall not be hyperbolic, in the least, to state that non-violence has been an integral element to the very idea of protest, because violence renders moot the very cause that the struggle is for.
In fact, it has been heart-warming to see how citizens have stood side by side, hand in hand in true democratic and secular spirit, with people distributing food and water to protestors on one end, and few cleaning up the roads on the other.
Regardless of the debate on the constitutionality of the Act vis-à-vis Article 14, the protests in India this winter have been a vociferous expression of the freedom of speech, and one delineated by the tremendous participation of students.
In this light, one should most definitely be grateful towards those in government, for their actions have resulted in an impassioned show of unity, regardless of faith and religion, that has ever been characteristic of us, “the People of India”.
I write not as a mouthpiece for the student community, for there can never be a solitary one, but as a part of a fraternity that has recently come of age politically, powerfully.
Featured image credit: Reuters