The BJP coming to power has only removed the lid from the internal realities of the unsuccessful story of Indian democracy.
Unlike Pakistan, where student unions were banned during the military rule of Ziaul Haq, in India, student unions on campuses have successfully sustained till date. In the past few years, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has been mentioned as a refrain in discussions on student politics — particularly in terms of burgeoning progressive politics — the spillover effect of which has reached not only Pakistan, but major parts of the globe as a good omen for the oppressed.
The student union of JNU, better known as JNUSU, was recognised as a symbol of resistance, the voice of voiceless and a representative of the marginalised and vulnerable communities within India. JNUSU gained popularity across the world after its former president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested from campus in 2016 due to his association with a protest gathering held at JNU.
The protest was organised by some students of the varsity on February 9, 2016, in order to commemorate the judicial killing of Afzal Guru (hanged Feb 9, 2013) and also to question the violation of human rights by the Indian state in Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK).
Consequently, the fascist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government pressed charges against the students who had organised the protest, as well as Kanhaiya, who had addressed the protest gathering. Kanhaiya, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya were the three students who were jailed following the registration of an FIR [First Information Report] against them.
With already popular Azadi slogans taking a different tone following Kanhaiya’s arrest, students – especially Kashmiri — took a tone that went on to prove their courage at the forefront of the struggle against Indian Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s fascist regime.
The recent wave of mass-mobilisation in India started in the aftermath of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that grants the government the right to declare people, unable to produce citizenship documents, as “illegal immigrants” and allows any declared illegal immigrant, except Muslims, to become a citizen of India on the grounds of persecution in neighbouring Muslim states.
CAA’s implementation, however, comes after forming a National Register of Citizens (NRC). NRC has been implemented in the Indian state of Assam where people, who have not made it to the register, have either already been detained in camps or are facing the threat of landing in the same since there is no way to prove which countries do these allegedly illegal immigrants belong to.
The massive mass-scale protests in India against the discriminatory CAA law drew much attention after the December 15 protest led by students of Jamia Millia Islamia University in a Muslim locality of New Delhi. With police cracking down on these protesting students by not only baton-charging but also shooting them, and that too on campus, tables started to turn on the Indian state.
With students of Aligarh Muslim University protesting on campus against the brutality met out to their peers from Jamia Millia Islamia University, a new wave of resistance took over India. Fierce confrontation meted out to the cops, especially by female students, in what turned out to be the defining moment for the anti-CAA movement, as more people, although largely Muslims, joined the protests, and the same still goes on.
Outside their campuses, students of Jamia Millia and Aligarh University are much more involved in mobilising and organising the ongoing protests. However, they are subsumed by the grandiosity of JNU and its student leadership that has expressed solidarity to Jamia students by joining one of the protests outside JNU.
Despite a huge communication gap and both Pakistan and India’s coercive forces employed to keep people away from each other, the engagement of student-political activists gives us hope that a broader united front to fight injustice and oppression will someday be built.
While mass participation of students, youth and religious minorities in the protests against BJP’s plan of constructing a Hindu Rashtra, which according to their publicised map, is extended to Afghanistan, seems insufficient to deal with, it is important, as well as necessary, to demand that the newly-passed legislation by the parliament be rolled back.
But would it ensure peace and security for Muslims and other marginalised communities like Dalits, who too are at risk after the promulgation of CAA and NRC? Or in other words, does the struggle for safeguarding Indian constitution in itself, guarantee protection to religious minorities?
Apart from the popular discourse propagated around the Indian constitution that claims it is ‘secular’, the deployment of state apparatus against lower caste people within Hindus and other marginalised and religious minorities, tell a different story, which has become clearer under the BJP. The destitution of religious minorities in terms of poverty, employment, education and above all, political representation, stands in testimony to the fact that they were reduced to ‘second-class citizens’ in the largest democracy of the world even when BJP was not in power.
The BJP coming to power has only removed the lid from the internal realities of the unsuccessful story of Indian democracy. Therefore, it becomes much more significant for the protesters from Asam to Uttar Pradesh and from Jamia Millia to Shaheen Bagh to consolidate these anti-BJP forces in one political project which possibly would push the current discourse beyond constitutionalism, instead of leaving the burden of saving constitution and secularism on the shoulders of already underprivileged Muslim community of India.
Amid all the recent political developments in Pakistan and India, there has been a convergence of progressive ideas across the border which is largely manifested in the unconditional solidarity extended by the Progressive Students’ Collective (PSC) among other progressive student organisations in Pakistan to their counterparts in India.
Despite a huge communication gap and both the states’ coercive forces employed to keep people away from each other, the engagement of student-political activists gives us hope that a broader united front to fight injustice and oppression will someday be built.