At around noon on 14 December, a middle-aged man was painting on a wall of Jamia Millia Islamia’s Chemistry Department that faces the varsity’s Central Canteen. That day, many students were painting colourful messages on every other wall in Jamia, expressing their opposition to the recently enacted Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
But the man’s brush strokes were an attempt to efface an Islamic proclamation of faith written in Arabic on the wall: “La ilaha illallah”—There is no god but Allah. A group of about fifteen students and security guards were standing next to him. The group started cheering on the guards for paying heed to their complaint against the “communal slogan,” and asking someone to repaint it. At that moment, another group of about ten–fifteen students walked into scene, visibly upset at the attempt of effacement. One of them said, “How dare you attempt to remove this? Isn’t this the whole reason why Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens are being used to target us?”
The man holding the brush sensed the tension and quickly walked away. One of the students from the second group rewrote the two words that had been painted over by then. Students from the second group began telling those gathered there that the CAA needed to be seen as an attack on Islam and Muslims, and that it must be an entry point for Muslim assertion. The first group retorted by calling the slogan “communal” in an otherwise secular movement—“Non-Muslims are also joining in, after all,” one of them said.