Uprising - The price of starting a movement
The student agitation that has now built up to the entire nation erupting in protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act shows once again that the first wave of a mass movement often comes from the youth but they also end up bearing the brunt of this establishment's knee-jerk response to such protests
Protesters outside Jamia Millia Islamia University on the evening of December 15 did not realise what had happened. As the number of demonstrators kept swelling on that cold Delhi winter evening, a mob-like situation was created and according to some eye-witnesses, they suddenly saw private and public vehicles engulfed in flames.
However, what came after was all-the-more surprising for the scores of students and citizens protesting the contentious amendment to the Citizenship Act, which fast-tracks naturalisation for non-muslim immigrants who have entered India on or before December 31, 2014, claiming religious persecution in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Over the last one week, the students who ignited the flames of a movement have been facing the strictest police action. According to an FIR registered by the Delhi Police in connection with the protests on last Sunday, the police fired 52 tear gas shells at protesters as a reaction to stone-pelting from the mob. Eventually, the night led to a continuous barrage of tear gas shelling inside the Jamia campus, following which the police entered the varsity, without any permission from the Chief Proctor and started rounding-up students. The alleged police atrocities led to several students being injured and some even reported to be injured due to gun firing.
With every major political party taking cognizance of the police action in Jamia, calls for protests and demonstrations in the Capital came from all quarters and on December 19, large protest marches were scheduled. However, the Delhi Police strategised their response this time to make sure protesters are not able to assemble.
On that day, two major rallies that were to meet at Central Delhi's Shaheed Bagh were disrupted by police as they whisked away protesters in buses and dropped them off in the outskirts of the city. As they started to come back to the area of protest, the authorities started shutting down metro stations and cut-off internet and mobile services in certain regions. One protester who was detained from Mandi House and dropped off at Bawana said, "This is the most cunning way to stop people from expressing their views. People are bound to lose the will to protest if they are picked up and dropped off 40 km out of the city."
The same day, protests raged in at least 17 States/UTs, with prominent personalities hitting the streets. But the demonstrations turned violent in Lucknow and Mangaluru, where one and two people died respectively that day. As of the last count, more than 15 opposition leaders and prominent personalities, including the likes of Chandrashekhar Azad, Yogendra Yadav, D Raja and historian Ramachandra Guha were detained in the anti-CAA protests.
This is of course apart from all the everyday detentions by police across the country, in some cases detaining minors and women after dark.
While Congress' Sonia Gandhi and other leaders have met with the President regarding the CAA and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has shown solidarity with protesting students from time to time, the protests intensified on Friday as Chandrashekhar Azad attended a march from Red Fort, where Section 144 was imposed. He was briefly detained from there and later gave cops the slip. He continued to lead protesters from the iconic Jama Masjid, who gathered after their afternoon prayers peacefully.
But the demonstrations turned violent yet again when a car was set ablaze at Delhi Gate later in the evening and the police resorted to using water cannons and lathi-charging. The night ended with around 32 being detained in Daryaganj PS, a lot of whom were minors and large protest gathering outside the old PHQ, demanding the release of the detainees. There have also been multiple reports of protesters dying due to police firing and some reports of police firing at unarmed students. While authorities have admitted to some deaths due to police firing, the police in some cases have maintained that they did not fire their weapons.
As far as mass movements are concerned, historically, it has never been a point of contention that most civil uprisings were in one way or the other initiated, spurred or inspired from grassroots-level protests organised by students of that generation.
And while student protests are always political in nature, mainstream politicians have shown considerable restraint before associating themselves with the youth, until the young generation shows them how efficiently they can mobilise crowd. The highly controversial amendment to the Citizenship Act has shown what students in India can do if they decide to take a stand on such an issue. Of course, while the motives of the Assamese students who started the protests must be considered, it is also important to understand where their reasons lie. A major portion of the protests against CAA originated from a place of being satisfied with the recently conducted NRC in the region. And while this stems from a strong sense of indigenous identity and wanting to protect that identity, it must also be considered that the NRC and CAA are not quite separable. It must be considered that for people excluded in the NRC, CAA gives new hope to all but Muslims. And how can one forget that the amendment was introduced in the backdrop of the government announcing its plans for a nationwide NRC.
The anti-CAA protests have now transformed into a movement - What else would you call residents of more than 17 States and Union Territories protesting against the government's policies? With inputs from Abhay Singh & Nikita Jain
The police action in Jamia on Sunday led to a large night-long demonstration outside the Delhi Police Headquarters the same night. By the next day, at least 10 States/UTs were rising in protest, culminating in the December 19 protests, where several major opposition politicians were detained, internet and mobile services were shut down in the Capital for the first time in history and by the end of the day, protests had spread to over17 States and UTs across India.
The most violent fallout from the anti-CAA protests was seen in Uttar Pradesh, where large demonstrations were observed in multiple cities. What started from the Aligarh Muslim University ended up in the streets of Lucknow, Sambhal and other cities. While officials first declined to confirm media reports of 11 dying in the protests, police confirmed on Saturday that 15 had died, distinguishing the state as the most violent place of the anti-CAA agitiation.
While the violence in Karnataka was not as bad as UP, it was shocking as two protesters were killed in police firing. Photos from the demonstrations showed protesters being manhandled and scenes of stone-pelting. Many prominent personalities were detained in the entire state, including historian Ramachandra Guha.