Presently most of the countries are witnessing massive protests, agitations, and public demonstrations across the world around the issues of economic inequality, corruptions, political freedom, and suppression of democratic rights including the police brutality. The ongoing protests on said issues in the countries like, Hong Kong, Chile, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, and other West Asia regions could be cited as cases in point here. Historically speaking, a noted British Marxist a historian like Eric Hobsbawam had earlier in his path-breaking works has outlined that the world had already witnessed and experienced the critical phases like The Age of Revolution(1789-1848), The Age of Capital ( 1848-1875), The Age of Empire (1875-1914) and The Age of Extreme,(20th century) especially in the cases of European countries.
In a similar vein, while analyzing the 21st century political and social turmoil along with the rise of conservative, Right-wing forces across the world, a noted columnist and scholar like Pankaj Mishra has described the current phase in his book as the Age of Anger( 2017). The rise of the Right-wing and conservative parties across the world could be seen in this backdrop. For instances, the rise of Donald Trump in the USA, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, PM Modi in the case of India and others can be taken as examples. However, due to the sustain protests, governments in Hong Kong, Chile and others have succumbed to pressures and as a result, roll back the proposed legislation.
Having outlined briefly the anatomy of protests across the world; let us, however, confine our discussions with respect to India. In this small piece, I am not going to touch upon the details the nitty-gritty of the legal/constitutional aspects of the CAA-NRC and NPR; it has been already discussed and written by the legal/constitutional experts widely in the public domain. In all the parameters of laws such as domestic and international, the said Act is no doubt anti-democratic and communal in nature which violates basic human rights of citizen irrespective of caste creed and religion. In short, after reading closely the discourse around Citizenship which took place in the Constituent Assembly deliberations and later mentioned in 1955 Citizenship Act; one can safely argue that India’s concept of Citizenship is inclusive in essence and based on the ‘humanistic values’ rather than excluding fellow human being simply because of he/she belong to different religion and ethnicity which current ruling dispensation has done after passing the anti-constitutional act like CAA.
Having said that, in what follows, I will confine myself to highlight the manner in which poisonous public discourse unleashed by the BJP-RSS combine including upper-caste dominated corporate media to quell and demean the dissenting voices mainly young imaginative students who are fighting to save the Constitution and legacy of secular democracy, which were envisioned by the founding fathers of our Republic like Ambedkar, Nehru and Azad. The fact cannot deny that intensity and landscape of protests are no longer limited to one region; it has really acquired a ‘Pan-Indian’ character. However, I will limit my discussions with special reference to places like Jamia Millia Islamia and Shaheen Bagh which are the most vibrant protests and its mode of struggles are peaceful, democratic and inclusive in nature. It would be not entirely incurrent to say that these protests sites which are going within the vicinity of Jamia Nagar is the ‘Epicenter’ as far as launching movement against the CAA–NRC and NPR is concerned. However, my intention is not to undermine the protests which are ongoing elsewhere, but duo to space constraints, I will touch upon the Jamia and Shaheen Bagh protests as said earlier solely because both are going on within the distance of not more than three kilometers. It is crucial to remind us that after 7 PM in the evening, almost every-day Jamia’s Teachers, Students, Staffs(which often joined by the DU, JNU students, teachers and active members of civil society) along with local communities of adjoining areas use to organize the candle March peacefully to extend solidarity and get synergy from each other. The uniqueness of both protests is that kids (who are hardly five years younger) are also joining with their mothers and raising the slogans like ‘save constitution’, ‘save India’, say no to the CAA-NRC-NPR and we want justice and Azadi from hunger, unemployment, and poverty, etc. Having stated briefly about the mode of protests at Jamia and Shaheeh Bagh, let me come to discuss the various programmes and activities which uses to take place every-day basis at the protests sites.
To be precise here, after passing the anti-democratic and unconstitutional the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019) by the Indian Parliament on 12th December; it has triggered massive social unrest at the nation-wide. As a result, students, followed by Left and secular civil society groups have started opposing the said Act simply because it violates the basic and fundamental values of our secular and democratic Constitution which is based on principles like multiculturalism, pluralism, and diversity. It is pertinent to note that issues and problems which led to massive protest might be different across the world as hinted above. But one thing is common that the current phase of protests are leaderless and not dominated by one political ideology and opposition parties, for instance, Right or Left or even Centre outfits across the world. The ongoing protest against the CAA-NRC and NPR in our country is also witnessed this fact too. After observing closely the ongoing protest at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh, I would like to say with a bit of confidence that(barring the Right-wing and BJP-RSS combine), besides the young generation of students of JMI, JNU, DU, BHU, AMU, the progressive forces like Left, Ambedkarites, Sikhs and secular-minded people across the shades of political and social thinking is also continuously extending their solidarity rather than anyone single-handedly controlling and guiding the protests.
Country to the Right-wing allegations including PM Modi on the nature of protests,( as PM has commented that he can understand who is behind the protest after looking their clothes) after watching and analyzing closely the events and programmes like public meetings, slogans, streets plays, display of posters/ banners, revolution for reading ( to note that Jamia’s Library and reading rooms are closed since police brutality and vandalism took place inside the library and reading room), photos at protests sites, I have no hesitation to say that movement against the CAA-NRC-NPR (both places such as Shaheen Bagh and Jamia) are inclusive, non-violent and very educative in terms of not only awareness on the said issues but also deeply informative and secular in its orientations. Because of the slogans which have been written at several places like on the Jamia and Sheen Bagh’s walls, and displayed on placards indicate that nature and forms of protests are full with the slogans of Gandhi, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Faiz Ahmed, Ramprasd Bismil, Asfaquallah Khan, and other progressive poets and writers who were associated with progressive writers movement and played a vital role during the anti-colonial struggle. In short, the language and mode of protests at both places are based on the constitutional values, plural and secular legacy of our freedom struggle rather than based on sectarian and illiberal values as often blamed by a section of communal forces.
However, communal forces and the BJP-RSS combine continue to allege that ongoing protests at the nation-wide (which is in my view are very democratic, peaceful and inclusive in nature) are conspired and misguided by the anti-nationals, urban Naxals, anarchists, illiberal and Islamists to spread the confusion about the CAA- NRC (for the BJP, this Act and exercise of the NRC-NPR is not anti-constitutional and discriminates anyone including the minorities on the grounds of religion). For them, through this Act the government is widening the concept of citizenship by including groups such as Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, and Christians who are the victim of religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. However, for the BJP-RSS combine, anti-nationals, frustrated groups like Tukde, Tukde, Gangs, Urban Naxals and Jihadists are involved in these protests and manufacturing social unrest, fuelling chaos, confusion, and disorder amongst innocent masses. To be honest here, as a regular visitor of the protests sites at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh, I have no hesitation to say that contrary to the Right-wing allegations, both protests are deeply democratic and secular in nature and continuously going on without the support of opposition parties and there is no one group who are controlling and giving the political direction to masses.
Till the date, the diverse social background of people is regularly visiting the protests sites and theorizing the mode of protest from their own political vantage point. For some, the movement is still at the nascent stage; hence it will be too early to predict which political direction it will move in the times to come. For a section of Left minded activists and scholars protest (mainly at the Shaheen Bagh) has the potential and content of the working-class movement. Others see it is issue base protests simply because, if the unconstitutional Act like the CAA and exercise of the NRC-NPR will be withdrawn by the government, protests will cease to exist. What will be the future direction of protests, it is difficult to predict now because the ruling government is still adamant and indicated that the CAA has been passed by the Parliament and the government is fully committed to implementing it in the times to come. The Indian Judiciary still has not taken the matter seriously, however, it is reported that it will take cognizance within this month.
After closely observing the ongoing protests which have completed more than 20 days at Shaheen Bagh and Jamia, it appears that both protests are every-day energizing and educating the masses in which women and youths are at the forefront. The social base of protests are widening every-day, because of new social forces like Dalits, Sikhs and other subaltern groups are also extending their solidarity. The ongoing protests have not been captured by one single ideological force. It is leaderless movement as happing elsewhere in the world. The masses themselves are leading the protests particularly women and young in the case of Shaheen Bagh.
The current ongoing protests are widening every-day and evolving it’s own unique political and cultural slogans accordance with the norms of our secular constitution and in the light of progressive legacy of freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi. It is vital to note that Jamia Millia Islamia is a product of Non-cooperation and Khilafat movements and their stalwarts like Zakir Husain, Maulana Jauhar saheb, Hakim Ajmal khan and Mohammad Mujeeb saheb and several others had fought anti-colonial struggle with other nationalist leaders shoulder to shoulder. After observing the protest at Jamia keenly, it would be not wrong to say that students of Jamia are reviving the rich legacy of nationalist struggle against the Colonial rule in the current political scenario while launching a movement against the CAA-NRC-NPR and by raising the slogans like Humare logo ne goro se lada hai hum ab chore se ladege (our forefathers had fought against the English rule now we will fight against the present ruling thefts).
To be optimistic here, no doubt we are living in the age of darkness, however, through sustain and non-violent mode of protests launched by the masses (as our Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi had launched during the anti-colonial struggle) themselves can put pressure on the existing ruling dispensation to review the anti-constitutional and draconian Act like CAA. Besides, unnecessary and much expensive exercise of the NRC-NPR (mainly at the time when our economy is passing through the most critical phase and rate of unemployment is the highest in comparison to the last 45 years) is not worthwhile exercise to go ahead especially keeping the interests of the larger masses in mind the government must roll it back the CAA and stop exercising the NRC-NPR as seen also in countries like Hong Kong, Chile and elsewhere.
The author is research scholar University of Delhi