People’s march against CAA & NRC: Show of solidarity in Maharashtra

Print edition : January 17, 2020

Students of Mumbai raised their voice against the CAA and the NRC and the police atrocities on the Jamia Millia campus. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens have snowballed into a mass movement across India. Significantly, students are spearheading it in many places.

MUMBAI is known for its electoral apathy, with voter turnout hovering around 50 per cent at best in any election. So it was surprising to find Mumbaikars coming out in large numbers for the rallies against the CAA across the city.

The first rally against the CAA was held on December 19 at the historic August Kranti Maidan, where Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement. There were close to 25,000 people who attended the demonstration that went on late into the night. Some of the posters were striking, for example “Bure din wapas lao” (Bring back the bad days, a take on the BJP’s slogan acche din, or good days). A girl wearing a hijab and a bindi was holding a placard saying: “What offends you more, my hijab or the bindi with my hijab?”

Organised by several smaller political parties and citizens’ groups, the protest was initially planned as a march down Marine Drive to August Kranti Maidan. The Mumbai Police, however, did not give permission for the march. But this did not stop people from gathering. Students, activists, intellectuals, politicians, corporate and government employees, concerned citizens, large contingents of women, members from minority communities and a few Hindi film personalities lent their support to the protest. The Bollywood actors Farhan Akhtar, Swara Bhaskar and Javed Jaffery and the directors Saeed Mirza, Kabir Khan and Nikhil Advani were part of the gathering.

Before beginning her speech, the activist Teesta Setalvad made the crowd recite the Preamble to the Constitution of India. “I would say that was the most chilling and poignant moment in the rally,” said Abhimanyu Ghia, an executive with a private bank. The film-maker Anand Patwardhan, the rights lawyer Mihir Desai and several Left leaders led the crowds in chanting anti-CAA slogans. The noted freedom fighter G.G. Parikh, 94, also participated in the demonstration.

Essentially, the protesters said the CAA was communal and discriminated against Muslims. Several protesters said the Act was a smokescreen to cover up the government’s inadequacies. “They came in on the plank of growing the economy, instead they have exposed their fundamentalist and Hindu Rashtra agenda,” said Rajeev Advani, a Bombay High Court lawyer. “We voted them thinking they were a better alternative to the Congress. But they have failed us.”

A supporter of Modi, an investment banker who is from a minority community, said: “I am deeply disappointed with this government. We thought they would need more time to bring change and that is why we gave them our mandate in 2019. But they are not interested in addressing the real issues. A few measures that have been introduced only cater to a small percentage of the population. It does not have long-reaching benefits.”

Said Shivraj Dange, 75: “After the Emergency this is the darkest times I have seen. It is heartening to see this demonstration because it is part of our fundamental rights to be allowed to dissent..”

“The demonstration made me realise that at our core, Indians are still secular. Without a BJP in power, it is almost like we can breathe again,” said Shiraz Irani, a restaurant owner in south Mumbai. “Things are changing. We can feel it.”

The success of the August Kranti rally enthused citizens in other parts of the metropolis. Within days, massive rallies were held in Dharavi, Thane and Kalyan. Other parts of Maharashtra also saw demonstrations, including Nagpur, a BJP bastion. Unfortunately, the one held at Beed turned violent. Reports say that 104 people were arrested and 12,000 booked in Maharashtra for inciting trouble at rallies.

Two rallies

Mumbai saw two rallies on December 27 that were separated in more ways than just the 5 km distance between the venues. About 15,000 people gathered at Azad Maidan, chanting secular slogans and calling for an end to the CAA and the NRC. At around the same time, a rally in support of the CAA and the NRC was held at the August Kranti Maidan.

The anti-CAA rally, called the Inquilab morcha, was organised by the students-led Joint Action Committee for Social Justice. The mood at the rally was one of determination but not aggression. The comedian Varun Grover read from his poem: “Tanashah aakar jayenge hum kagaz nahi dikhayenge [Dictators will come and go but we will not present them with our documents].” Grover said: “The NRC is not a Muslim issue like everyone is making it out to be. It is an issue for every Indian.”

The heartening aspect of the rally was the extent of student participation. The youth-fuelled protests across the country as well as the attacks on students in Delhi seem to have had a galvanising effect. The presence of Umar Khalid and Afreen Fatima of Jawaharlal Nehru Univesity, Hammada Rehman from Jamia Millia Islamia and Maskur Usmani from Aligarh Muslim University gave further impetus for a coming together.

Explaining that the original NPR was being distorted by the current regime, Umar Khalid said: “The earlier NPR did not require you to give details of the date and place of birth of your parents, but in this present form that is the first filter… the government will try to delegitimise real concerns by fuelling violence but we will not resort to violence.”

Fatima said the movement against the CAA had thrown up another suppressed issue. “Muslims are being seen as bogeymen. It has become an existential crisis for us. We need to reclaim our space and celebrate our identity. The idea of India allows us to celebrate our identity.” The lead organiser and Tata Institute of Social Sciences PhD student Fahad Ahmad said all they were asking the government for was a dialogue with those who were apprehensive of the new law. The same thought was expressed by the Archbishop of Bombay.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias said in a statement: “Religion should never be the criterion for citizenship of a country. Nor is violence a solution when there is a difference of opinion. It is necessary that the government dialogues with those opposing the Act and come to an agreement about the way forward with justice, equity and fairness. There is no harm in backtracking, changing course if this is necessary for the good of our country and our people.”

Trade unionist and Communist Party of India (CPI) member Milind Ranade said there would be an all-India trade union protest on January 8 to “guard the Constitution”. He added: “This government blames Nehru for everything, but it is anti-poor and anti-labour.”

Rally in favour of CAA

The other rally that was held on the same day was in support of the CAA and the NRC. It was organised by the Samvidhan Samman Manch, a BJP outfit, and drew about 6,000 supporters.

Former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis used his time on the platform to attack the Shiv Sena, saying: “The Sena was until recently against Bangladeshis who had infiltrated into the country. They wanted to throw them out, but now the Sena has gone quiet on the issue because it has developed a love for power.”

His statement exposed the true motivation behind the CAA and the NRC. A similar rally was organised by the Manch on December 21, two days after a successful anti-CAA rally.

 

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