By Ghazala Ahmad, TwoCircles.net
In December last year, the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to introduce a nationwide registry of citizens known as National Registry of Citizens (NRC). The BJP also unveiled their plans to expand citizenship tests by introducing the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which after getting passed in both houses of the Parliament, became Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The CAA laid out that it will provide Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains living in the Muslim majority neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Soon after the citizenship law was introduced, massive protests broke out across the country led by students in universities. They took the streets reclaiming their right to existence and condemning the anti-Muslim and anti-minority policies brought out by the ruling BJP. However, the government has been maintaining that the CAA has been framed to bring back the persecuted minorities and Hindus in the neighbouring Muslim majority countries and it has nothing to with Muslims residing in India. There was a clear contradiction on the citizenship policies of the Modi government but it was very clear that NRC was completely meant to target a particular community out of the Indian lineage.
The anti-CAA protests initially took place in the state of Assam where BJP paved out the National Register of Citizens under the orders of Supreme Court in 2015, which was billed as a way to identify unauthorized immigrants, forcing residents of Assam (both Hindu and Muslims) to either prove their Indian lineage or get rid of citizenship. But the act proved to be targeting Muslims only as the major proportion of the population that was carved out during NRC in Assam were Muslims and around 2 million residents were stripped off.
On December 15, 2019, students at Aligarh Muslim University started protesting against the anti-Muslim and anti-minority NRC and CAA and took to the streets followed by Jamia Millia Islamia. These two central universities are the only Muslim majority universities in the country which led to the nationwide protests including the famous Shaheen Bagh sit-in at the national capital. As soon as they began to protest the police unleashed force on them in the form of tear gas, batons, water cannons, canisters, shelling, lathi charge and mass detentions. These protests resulted in the huge turnout of masses from almost every community to condemn the government for its policies and acts.
Due to the unprecedented global pandemic caused by COVID-19, the anti-CAA protests came to an end in late March 2020. However online campaigns are still active on social media platforms. Meanwhile, the Indian authorities are committed to muzzle the anti-CAA voices by arresting and booking Muslim students activists, human rights influencers and protesters. Many Muslim protesters have been arrested on the attempt of severe crimes such as murder. The government’s communal agenda, anti-minority nature targetting Muslim activists, charging them under the anti-terror law for protesting against citizenship law amid COVID-19 lockdown is accelerating day by day.
On April 1, police arrested two students Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar from Jamia Millia Islamia for their alleged role in inciting violence in Northeast Delhi pogrom.
On April 16, Amir Mintoee, a student activist at Aligarh Muslim University was arrested. He has also taken part in anti-CAA protests.
Farhan Zuberi, an activist and former cabinet member at AMUSU was also arrested on May 28, 2020, for merely being an active voice against the government and Citizenship Amendment Act.
Several other activists have claimed to be targeted by BJP and the right-wing forces.
One such voice is M Salman Imtiyaz, former president of Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union and an active anti-CAA protestor. Imtiyaz is a research scholar in social work and he has strongly called out the actions of the government and actively participated in anti-CAA protests. The authorities have booked him under various charges even if there is no evidence to prove these charges.
While talking to TwoCircles.net, Imtiyaz said state machinery is working with force and misusing the law to muzzle the voices who constantly questioned the present regime during the anti-CAA movement.
“The current government doesn’t have any strong opposition to criticize or question them and they enjoy this position of not being questioned at all, but as they see youth, activists and especially a minority or Muslim activists emerging out of their shells and questioning them they find it a threat to their position. The BJP government is trying to threaten us by putting us behind the bars saying that if we will call out their actions, we will eventually face the consequences,” he said, and added, “The state is working systematically to serve their communal agenda. We can see that most of the CAA detainees, be it Safoora, Meeran or Farhan have one thing in common – that is their identity, they all are Muslims. So it is very clear that they are targeting a particular community. The universities that were hounded with the police force brutality on the night of December 15, 2019, were also both minority institutions like Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia have a majority of Muslim students. Moreover, many of them are framed with fake cases under severe laws such as UAPA, NSA, etc. Government is misusing such laws against students and activists.”
Imtiyaz said that he has also been charged with several cases over activism in protest against CAA.
“In most of the cases I was not even present at the place physically and I have been booked with an FIR. I believe that no student believes in violence or criminal activity but the authorities are unlawfully handling the students and activists. We were protesting peacefully to claim our democratic rights and this is not wrong in any way. We were only doing what our constitution allows. And we will continue doing so if not physically but on different platforms by writing and speaking, as far as arrests are concerned we are not afraid of any such thing because we all have faith in our constitution,” he said.