Good protestor, bad protestor: The uneven police response to anti-CAA demonstrations

08 January 2020
Police detain a demonstrator during an anti-CAA protest in Delhi's Seelampur.
Danish Siddiqui / REUTERS
Police detain a demonstrator during an anti-CAA protest in Delhi's Seelampur.
Danish Siddiqui / REUTERS

The Citizenship Amendment Act, with all its discriminatory provisions, was adopted by the Parliament in no time. In comparison with the Nuremberg laws of Nazi Germany, and the law of return that renders Israel a Zionist state, the recent amendments in India’s citizenship laws, differ merely in detail, not in spirit.  The Nuremberg laws, enacted in 1935, forbade marriage between Jews and persons of “German or kindred blood.” They also declared that only Germans or those of related blood will be eligible to be citizens of the Reich. The law of return, passed in 1950, is an Israeli law that gives Jews living anywhere in the world the right to return to Israel, and claim Israeli citizenship.

Faith has now made a surreptitious entry in the statute books as a guarantee to Indian citizenship. The CAA dispatches a message, unequivocally, that blood and belongingness will be a determinant of Indian nationality—it is invested in marking a separation between so-called Indian and foreign faiths. By belatedly adding Parsis and Christians to the list of faiths whose adherents would be granted citizenship, the communication is loud and clear. Unmistakably, the Muslim is the bête noire—dispensable and to be defiled. An old diabolic distinction between immigrant and infiltrator has been resurrected—the camouflaged language in which it spoke earlier is now abandoned as the enemy has been clearly marked out. The CAA comes on the back of the everyday violence on the street that the ordinary Muslim fears today. This is besides the routine dosages of hate that are served to them by Right-wing commentators and the anonymous mercenaries of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Information Techonology cell.

The spiralling protests against the CAA and the impending all India-National Register of Citizens simply refuse to fade out. What began with the students of minority institutions—Jamia Millia Islamia, the Aligarh Muslim University, Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama—has today come to consume several institutions, small and big, secular and technical, reputed and internationally acclaimed. Anti-CAA protests today, have truly acquired a mass dimension with cross-class participation, gigantic mobilisations and most remarkably, a certain degree of spontaneity. It is a time when the usual interlocutors of the state—the compromised politician, the caste and community leaders in want of recognition, and the pampered middle-men—have found themselves out of work. Women, many uninitiated in politics until now and not necessarily armed with any theory of radical transformation, have plunged into leadership roles, as have ordinary men of different hues and descriptions. Whether it is the pent up anger against a series of indignities or this singular assault on their very existence as equal and unencumbered citizens—it is no guesswork that Muslims form the bulk of the protesters. Although a significant section of non-Muslims, and part of enlightened civil society too has hit the streets.

The protests have varied in their form and intensity, and styles—long marches, sit-ins, candle light vigils, to even reports of alleged stone-pelting and arson.  The agitators appear undeterred by detentions, arrests, custodial torture, by ruthless lathi charges and police bullets. However, there has been a discernible unevenness in the police response to protests—from a studied tolerance and indifference, to going for the overkill. The students of Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and those of AMU in Aligarh, though geographically miles apart, faced an almost identical response from the police. In what appeared to be synchronised action, the police chased the protesters into the campuses, brutally beat them, and left them with broken limbs, amputated fingers and arms. Some students have claimed that the police fired gunshots. Libraries and hostel rooms were vandalised, and the worshippers in the university mosque, who were assembled for evening prayers, beaten mercilessly. The shards of glass, the shoes left behind as worshippers scrambled to escape the wrath of the police, and the blood stains on the prayer mats are the pitiful remains of an evening of terror.

In Delhi’s Seelampur, a working-class resettlement colony across the Yamuna, and in the Jama Masjid area of Shahjahanabad, the police was again at its ferocious worst. Stories of police excesses have poured in from different parts of the country. In Nehtaur in Bijnor, a predominantly Muslim locality, police opened fire—purportedly in “self defence”—killing protesters. The Mangalore police killed two protesters, and cited the same reason. In Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Rampur and various other parts of Uttar Pradesh, armed police unleashed a reign of terror, showering bullets, ransacking houses and indiscriminately arresting people in Muslim localities that had overnight turned into sites of vociferous protests. 

Tanweer Fazal is an associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Social Sciences.

Keywords: Citizenship (Amendment) Act Jamia Millia Islamia Aligarh Muslim University protests Uttar Pradesh Police police brutality