People all over the country are protesting against the damage that has been done to the very ideas of Mahatma Gandhi. In western world and across the globe, India is known for the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and let those ideals remain intact and flourish in his India.
Citizens Protests against the Citizenship (amendment) Bill, 2019
Indian Parliament last week enacted the amendment in the most controversial Bill in this millennium – The Citizenship (amendment) Bill, 2019, neglecting the beforehand mentioned stand of US Commission on International Religious Freedom that stated that US should go for sanctions against present Home Minister and ‘other principle leadership’ if the Bill goes through the parliament and becomes an Act. The very next day, Bill was through the parliament, became the Citizenship (amendment) Act, 2019 and New Delhi retaliated by pushing back the statement by USCIRF. But probably, it was unaware that a huge wave of active citizens is heading to counter the change, which they call ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘undemocratic’ in the criteria of amended Act. Since December 10, from when the Bill was enacted, a huge wave of protests have begun and are still going on.
The protestors are basically protesting for 2 reasons: First, the protests by students, various academia, scholars, and different citizens across different cities and states are against the ‘discriminatory nature’ of the Act which intentionally keeps one religious community (to name Muslims) out of the scope of the amended Act. The Act, as per New Delhi’s stand, basically grants citizenship to 6 religious minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The point that New Delhi misses here is that – the constitution of the country doesn’t grant any power to the state to enact any law which could potentially be ‘discriminatory’ on any grounds. Furthermore, the Act remains mute when it comes to Atheists and other Muslim minorities which are also persecuted in the countries mentioned in the Act. Now, to potentially exclude atheists indicates that it is direct violation of fundamental right in democracy – the right to choose or not choose the religion. Also, not including other minorities which are ‘persecuted’ in the neighbouring countries also has raised eyebrows about true intention of the Act.
The Second group of protests are happening in the north eastern region of the country which is bound to have the maximum plausible impact, be it positive or negative, by this legislation.
The citizens in the north eastern and eastern states, primarily in Tripura, West Bengal, and Assam see this legislation as a threat to their regional identity. India is diverse – both culturally as well as linguistically and any attempt which seems to curb that identity has always had a negative impact on the state and this time as well, the same thing has happened. Here citizens are uniting and protesting against the legislation because if the Law comes into the force then thousands of all those who are “foreigners” in the eyes of the citizens of north eastern state will acquire the official citizenship of the country and a complete change in demography of the region will take place, which might be up to an extent that in many areas the majority of native citizens would become minority against those whom they call “foreigners” and will acquire the citizenship.
Democracy itself at stake
New Delhi has always boasted about being the “world’s largest democracy” at all the international forums and panels but in present circumstances it is no strange that in the country the very idea of “democracy” seems to be at stake. Firstly, the university students, initially in New Delhi, who protested against the legislation were detained and have alleged the use of ‘force’ by the Delhi Police. The lathi-charge, use of tear gas, and that of water cannons by police against the university students indicates that everything is not going alright in the country. Initial protests occurred at the University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia University of New Delhi. The violent clash between police and protesting students of JMI occurred on 15th December 2019 in which 50 students protesting were arrested by the police. Soon thereafter, the students of another university in the neighbouring state to New Delhi, Aligarh Muslim University broke down the protests against the legislations as well as in the solidarity with the students of JMI. Again the students in AMU as well were made to face the brutality of police. In AMU campus, which initially saw a peaceful demonstrations till the campus area, the lathi charges, tear gas, stunned grenades, pellets and stones were used in the clash. Many students have been injured in a crackdown with the police.
Soon thereafter, the unity of the students across the country shook all the legislators, irrespective of the political party as presumably none of them would have expected that students across the country could unite and make all those in the government face – ‘the active citizenship’. Students, scholars as well as academia, irrespective of their academic background, have united against the legislation which they deem to be “discriminatory” and also in the solidarity with the students of JMI who faced the police ‘force’. The protests which began from 3 most prestigious universities of the country have spread across every region of the country and have covered universities in almost every territorial domain of India. The participation covering wide spectrum of citizens, protesting and demonstrating against the ‘nature’ of the Act clearly indicates that the ‘public opinion’ in the country is not in the favour of legislation which the current majority-retaining regime has brought.
Although the Bill has always been controversial and the present regime had failed to enact it in 2016, but after retaining power in 2019 elections – the present regime went ahead with the legislation. The present regime missed two thing – first the public sentiment in north eastern state and second and most unexpected for the legislators – the active citizenship by the students of the country. Presently ‘to maintain law and order’ situation, internet services has been seized in many regions of the country including its capital city – New Delhi. Government has imposed Section 144 of Indian CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) and curfew has been imposed so as to stop protests from being violent.
New Delhi has suffered a huge diplomatic loss as a consequence of the recently amended Act and it is an ‘open secret’. Since very beginning itself USCIRF – the body of US congress has been critical of the Act which held a view that it is ‘a dangerous turn in wrong direction’. Later on United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR), in one of its tweets, expressed the “concerns” over the Act and maintained a stand that it is “fundamentally discriminatory” in nature. New Delhi seems to have forgotten that it is no isolated place from the rest of the world and if anything which seems to be “undemocratic” happens in the largest South Asian country then it is much obvious that fingers would be pointed out to the country which, at many occasions, has boasted about being “world’s largest democracy”. The very ideals of India as well as the Indian diplomacy are based on pluralism and democracy, which has to be kept in mind while making any decision. It is highly likely that New Delhi might be held accountable, at international level, for the Act which has caused a chaos throughout the country. Furthermore, its relations with eastern as well as southern neighbouring countries might also be affected by this legislation. The long-standing international image of India being pluralistic and respective diverse opinions seems to be at stake.
Meanwhile the statements in which the elected representatives are trying to humiliate protestors in name of seizing their properties and doing economic loss to them will accelerate the image blurring of the country at international level.
India is going through a phase where potentially its “democratic” image itself is at stake. The present generation, particularly the students and academia have raised their concerns and have held the demonstrations and protests all across the country to express their displeasure with the legislation. Nation-wide protests have erupted since last one week and the ‘wellbeing democratic country’ image of the country has begun to tarnish which will surely have its own implications in the future. The activeness of the students is commendable as they are trying to participate in the democratic decision making process irrespective of their respective academic background. The present legislation has already been challenged in the Supreme Court but it would be too idealistic for citizens to sit idly and wait for the apex court to deliver the judgement and thus they have came out in the streets and have expressed themselves. In the western world and across the globe, India has always had an image of country of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B R Ambedkar – the country of pluralism and rule of law, it is high time that the very ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and the chairman of drafting committee of their constitution – Dr B R Ambedkar is realised in the country.
By Jaimin Parikh – moderndiplomacy.eu