Protestors across India who cannot be identified by their clothes

The protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act expose the blatant falsehoods of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark that the protestors can be identified by their clothes. Zishaan A Latif
21 December, 2019

India has witnessed an outbreak of protests across the country and even abroad, ever since the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 came into force on 12 December. The police responded with brute force, leading to the death of several protesters in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Assam, and a brutal crackdown against students, particularly in Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia. As protests raged on in several cities, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government at the centre claimed that the police crackdown was in response to violent protests that were spurred by the Congress. On 15 December, while addressing a rally in Jharkhand, where a five-phase assembly election is currently ongoing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked, “Those who are creating violence can be identified by their clothes”—ostensibly, a reference to the Muslim community.

The protests themselves, however, expose the blatant falsehoods of Modi’s comments. The protestors have visibly been from a range of communities. The Caravan spoke to ten protestors from Bengaluru, Mumbai, New York and Delhi about why they chose to protest.

Rohan Seth

Seth is a former student of Jamia Millia Islamia who attended a protest in Mumbai’s August Kranti Maidan on 19 December.

The news about the violence at JMI was devastating. I know for a fact that a lot of my friends did not sleep the night the violence happened, and then for nights on end. A lot of people cried all night—a couple of friends admitted it to me yesterday. These are the places where we have hung out at, chilled at and we never thought it would transform into war zones overnight. We never thought something like this could ever happen in Jamia.

We are India, we tolerate. There’s an anti-student culture, of course, in this country, but we have had a celebrated culture of engaging with students. It’s just heartbreaking to hear some people say that they deserve this for what they were doing.

The CAA when applied with the National Population Register becomes even crazier. Even if you disregard the key reservations against this—that it will change the demography of the north-eastern states, it is a discriminatory law, et cetera—it will be like any other government scheme, like Aadhaar, or the public-distribution system. And every research, every survey tells you that there is an error rate of ten to twenty percent. It is going to be another demonetisation in its implementation.

For the protest, the whole maidan was full with people from every strata of society. It was like a support group for everyone who does not support the establishment. It was cathartic to sloganeer against Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, at a time when you are thinking twice, or thrice, or four times, before criticising, in this culture of hate that they have created.

Chinmay Kanojia

Kanojia hails from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and is pursuing his master’s in law from Columbia University, in New York. He attended a protest in the city on 18 December, and was one of the organisers of another protest at his university on the next day.

On 18 December, a protest was held in front of the Indian Consulate in New York, against the CAA, the NRC, and also the violence. It was mostly to just show solidarity because it’s mostly unprecedented in terms of the kind of protests that are happening in India as well. In New York, too, there were people from all over. It was a diverse bunch. While I was going to the consulate, I shared the subway with an Indian-origin elderly woman, from Bihar, who was also going for the protest. She also said, “They have gone too far this time.”

Other people are now reading up about it. You have students from Palestine saying, “Oh, this is already happening in Israel.” Knowing that students are being killed, libraries have been tear-gassed, the international community reacts with: “Oh my god, are you kidding me?”; “Have they come out with an act expressly excluding Muslims?”; “Are they really doing this in 2019?”; “How is this happening?” People are certainly shocked about it. All my friends are also asking, “Where is the court?” The courts are going to let this die down.

This is how close we can get to emergency, everyone has being saying it. And this is how it is, maybe—people are being arrested, there are internet shut downs. Everybody feels like they are in a helpless situation. If your systems are failing, then the only thing you can do is create pressure. The kind of crowd that is here—with the US president Donald Trump needing Modi to come in to Houston, and you had the British prime minister Boris Johnson appealing to the diaspora in England—I think it’s important to even motivate this kind of crowd. I think there is some sort of an impact—something like the US Commission for International Religious Freedom saying we should have sanctions against Amit Shah coming here.

Gautam Gayan

Gayan is a 27-year-old writer from Assam who is currently based in Bengaluru. He has been participating in protests in the city for years, and attended a demonstration against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act at the city’s Town Hall on 19 December.

In every protest in Bangalore for causes of minorities, the minimum strength had been around one hundred and the maximum around five hundred or six hundred. But at the 19 December protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, there were at least a thousand or two thousand people. In my ten years of experience of going to Bangalore protests, I have not seen such a spirit where people have been emotional, angry and anxious.

It is completely ridiculous to say that those who are spreading fire can be identified by their clothes. Hasn’t the RSS done enough violence? Aren’t their clothes evidence of who created violence in this country? But you cannot target a particular community by saying that these are the people you identify by clothes. So far, the only brutality that has been done has been by the armed forced. In JMI, unarmed students faced against people who have teargases, who have lathis. The brutality that has been done in Assam, has not even been shown because the internet has been cut off.

I have two opinions on the CAA. From an Assamese point of you, I definitely support the people of Assam and my identity. My parents were themselves a part of the Assam Andolan for the identification and deportation of illegal immigrants in the state, in the 1980s. The Assamese people, in their own state, will lose their own ethnicity, heritage, culture. They would become minorities in their own state. I also condemn this bill because it’s anti-Muslim, anti-women and anti-poor people. It is anti-minorities. People who came in during partition, do you think they would have documents from their forefathers? What about the transgender people? How would they show their citizenship? It will be so difficult. If you want to give citizenship, then give to everyone equally, irrespective of religion, and try to spread them in the country, not just North East and Assam specifically.

An 18-year-old student

An 18-year-old Kashmiri Pandit, who requested not to be identified, participated in a protest against the act in Bengaluru’s Freedom Park on 17 December. She is currently studying at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

I am Kashmiri, was raised in Jammu and then shifted to Bangalore. We showed up at the Bangalore protest, on Tuesday—this is the first protest that I have been to. I was really scared because as a Kashmiri, I am not very keen on other people knowing my political standing. I have grown up not being very open about where I am from; I do not trust the other person’s reaction to it. I was scared, I’ll be honest, but at the same time, I thought I would be too much of a hypocrite if I walked away from this. It was now or never essentially. I have just been angry with the government for a really long time.

There’s a huge divide between what people in Jammu think, and what people in Kashmir think. There are a lot of Kashmiri Pandits and such from Jammu who are very pro-BJP, and would support these policies a lot more than Kashmiris would. Today is the first day that I heard of a protest happening in Jammu. Protesting in Jammu and Kashmir is always a risk because we have been under a curfew or a lockdown for a really long time. I am not aware of such a protest happening in Kashmir, because we can’t be aware about that. I was very proud, because I wasn’t expecting that out of Jammu, I was expecting Jammu to be a little silent on this a bit. But they proved me wrong.

Mamili Umbrey

Umbrey is a 24-year-old student at a Delhi-based management instutute. She hails from Arunachal Pradesh and was participating in a protest in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on 19 December.

The passing of the CAA is so disheartening, and it is not just me. My fellow northeasterners will feel so helpless. The Assam agitation went on for six years—from 1979 to 1985—and it reached a culmination with the Assam Accord. Under the accord, if anyone enters India after March 1971, they will identify those illegal immigrants and deport them back. The CAA is clearly breaking the Assam Accord. So many people died for the cause of Assam Accord.

I live next to Assam in Arunachal Pradesh. The population of the illegal immigrants is so high there. I am from the Idu Mishmi community. My language is on the verge of extinction. We have been protected till now under the Inner Line Permit [an official document issued by the government that authorises entry into certain states] so that is why there has not been much influx. But even under the presence of ILP, there are lots of illegal immigrants. The locals of the place become the minority and then the clashes between the minority and the majority start. See what has happened in Tripura, the indigenous people are oppressed.

In Assam, five people have died but nobody in the media is covering this. Nobody is bothered. It is like the market forces of demand and supply are dictating the news coverage in mainland India. Nobody wants news from the north east. We are always excluded from your coverage.

On a larger level, the BJP is trying to stifle free speech. Look at the way the government abrogated Article 370—with a snap of a finger. Our constitutional rights are being stifled. They are trying to suppress our voices, our right to dissent, and what is a democracy without the crucial right to dissent? It is not just about us northeasterners, but collectively how the BJP is trying to destroy our democracy.

Anshika Varma

Varma is a 34-year-old photographer from Delhi who attended the protest at Jantar Mantar, on 19 December.

I am against divisiveness in any form. I feel that the act has been passed to protect [the BJP’s] own agenda, very specifically focussed on one particular community—the Muslims. It is not the kind of idea of India that I grew up in. I am against this and that is why I am here today.

These protests are extremely significant because we are, at least on paper, still a democratic country. If the government does something, we have a right to come out and say that we do not agree with this. The people are out on the streets to claim their right. For me, that is what it is.

Ganga Singh

Singh is an undergraduate student in Delhi. She attended the protest at Jantar Mantar as well, holding a placard that read, “Winter is coming for Modi and Shah,” a reference to the warning of an impending struggle in the television series Game of Thrones.

We have come out against Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. No matter how forcefully they want to suppress dissent, we want them to know the opposition will stand against them. They have gone too far this time and the people will rise against them.

David S

David is a German citizen who is married to an Indian woman. He has been visiting India regularly since 2016, and attended the protest at Jantar Mantar.

It is sort of a critical moment in Indian politics. Coming from Germany and knowing about how this kind of fascist systems slowly install themselves—I am not saying that it is at that point yet, but there is this danger. I think that the public must be made aware of this and that is why public showing of support is very important. I think there are also many people who are on the fence, who are not sure. They have all these arguments going around like that the government is good for the economy, these are just minor things and nothing will really happen. I feel these sort of bystanders might get encouraged seeing that there are actually people who are vocal about it and feel that something needs to be done. I feel passionate about what is happening politically and its impact on the diversity of the country.

Gyan Singh

Singh is an autorickshaw driver who is originally from Uttar Pradesh, and has been living in Delhi for the past thirty years. He had decided to forego his daily earnings—an average of Rs 700—to attend the protest at the Red Fort on 19 December.

I have come to stand with my Muslim brothers. This is not about religion, this is about humanity, and what is wrong is wrong. What Modi and Shah are doing is wrong, Muslims have been in India since Mughal times, why should they be asked to prove their citizenship, going back to fifty years? It is the common man and the poor who will suffer, not the Modis and the Shahs or the Sonia Gandhis and Rahul Gandhis or any other politician.

Surendra Sharma

Sharma is a 62-year-old tour guide who was worried because he has seen his business collapse in the last one year. He was at the protest in Delhi’s Red Fort.

Business has never been so down, there are no tourists and even the foreign tourists have stopped coming because of all these disturbances. All the hotels in Paharganj, Karol Bagh, Jama Masjid and Lajpat Nagar are empty, the economy is chaupat [destroyed] and the BJP is to blame. I am a BJP supporter. I have been with the party since LK Advani did the rath yatra. I am even a mandal adhyaksh [block president] of the party in my locality in north Delhi, but even I am not supporting the BJP now.