People’s march against CAA & NRC: Rallying forces in Tamil Nadu

Print edition : January 17, 2020

In Chennai on December 23, DMK president M.K. Stalin along with senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram, MDMK chief Vaiko and Left party leaders at the forefront of a protest rally. Photo: R. Senthil Kumar/PTI

Rabeeha Abdurehim of Pondicherry University refused her gold medal at the convocation in protest. She was asked to leave the hall before the President entered the hall. Photo: By Special Arrangement

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.

Peaceful marches, rallies and demonstrations marked the mass protests that swept across Tamil Nadu against the CAA. Waving the tricolour and singing the national anthem, the protesters, including students and activists and members of political parties and civil society, poured out onto the streets. They also called for people from all walks of life to mobilise themselves against the Act, which excludes from its ambit Sri Lankan Tamils who have been living in Tamil Nadu for decades.

Students from almost all colleges and universities and other higher educational institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, the University of Madras, Madurai Kamaraj University and Pondicherry University staged protest marches and dharnas, which spread to the streets. The police entered the campus of the University of Madras in Chennai to forcibly remove a group of students who has resorted to a sit-in for more than 18 hours. As the stir threatened to gather momentum, the State declared holidays for all educational institutions.

Jakob Lindenthal from Dresden in Germany, who was doing a master’s in the Department of Physics at IIT Madras on an exchange programme, was among the protesters in Chennai. The 23-year-old German student became the cynosure of all eyes after a picture of him carrying a placard went viral on social media. It said: “1933 to 1945: We Have Been There”, a reference to Nazi Germany. Since he was in the country on a student visa and its rules do not permit “any sort of political engagement”, he was asked to leave the country immediately by the Bureau of Immigration’s Foreigners Regional Registration Office in Chennai. He left for Amsterdam via Delhi on December 24.

In Pondicherry University, a girl student created a flutter at the convocation function when she refused the gold medal that she had earned for outstanding performance in her studies. A student from Kerala, Rabeeha Abdurehim, a postgraduate in mass communication at the School of Media and Communication, was to receive her degree and gold medal from President Ram Nath Kovind at the function. She told the media that officials, whom she could not identify, had come to where she was seated in the auditorium and asked her to leave it immediately just before the arrival of the President and without giving her any reason. She was wearing a hijab at that time. “No one told me why I was sent outside,” she said. She said the reason for her removal could be her active participation in the recent agitations against the Act. “I was allowed to enter the hall only after the President had left,” she said. Although she accepted the degree from another dignitary on the dais, she refused to accept the gold medal to show her protest against the Act and dismay over the way she was treated. It was also in “solidarity with students who faced state oppression across the country”, she said. Another gold medallist from the same school, Karthika B. Kurup, boycotted the convocation function in support of the nationwide protest.

Besides students, Muslims in Tamil Nadu poured out in their thousands, mostly in Tier II and III towns such as Tiruchi, Madurai, Coimbatore, Vaniyambadi, Ambur, Vellore and Tirunelveli, to express their opposition to the Act. These demonstrations morphed into a broader platform, with activists, lawyers and like-minded members and organisations and political parties like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the CPI and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) joining them.

The DMK spearheaded a series of protests in all the districts. Its December 23 rally in Chennai, led by party president M.K. Stalin, in which major political parties took part, saw a huge turnout. A day’s fast was organised by writers, cine artistes, activists and the public in which DMK Member of Parliament Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, veteran CPI leader R. Nallakannu and others took part. The actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiyam, too, opposed the Act. It has filed a petition against the Act in the Supreme Court.

The ruling All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) stood embarrassed as 11 of its MPs voted for the Bill in the Rajya Sabha. The opposition said that had those 11 MPs not voted for the Bill, it would have been defeated in the Upper House. Stalin called it an act of betrayal. In an interview with The Hindu, an AIADMK member of the Rajya Sabha, S.R. Balasubramaniam, said that his party was under pressure to vote for the Bill. An embarrassed Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami issued a statement saying that the opposition was politicising the CAA issue and asked people not to believe rumours. He said that it would not affect any Indian citizen and that his government had urged the Centre to provide dual citizenship to Sri Lankan Tamils in India.

Since all forms of protests against the Act were banned, the Tamil Nadu Police’s response to them was to indiscriminately slap hundreds of cases against protesters across the State. The Chennai City Police alone registered cases against around 6,000 protesters, including Stalin, the actor Siddharth, the musician T.M. Krishna and VCK leader and MP Thol. Thirumavalavan.

 

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