Students’ Protest against Citizenship Act: The revolting meet the revolted 

History tells us that you mess with students at your own peril.Modi and Shah has sparked off a contagion of flames that is fast engulfing the country. Will the fire end up consuming fascists in power?

Students’ Protest against Citizenship Act: The revolting meet the revolted 

Tathagata Bhattacharya

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke, Anglo-Irish philosopher

When the Narendra Modi-led and Amit Shah-dictated government sent in police forces into the campuses of Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) in New Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, both central universities, the government’s implicit understanding was that non-Muslim citizens, including students, would remain largely inert against the brutal assault on universities with a predominantly Muslim-majority student populace and minority institution tag. The cops barged into the campuses with lathis blazing and tear gas shells lobbed here and there. In AMU, they even used stun grenades which reportedly led to amputation of hands of two students. Girls and boys were beaten up mercilessly. The Washington Post quoted a Safdarjung Hospital doctor saying that he treated two JMI students for gunshot wounds. Hundreds lay with their limbs fractured and heads broken. Both in JMI and AMU, clandestine guerrilla evacuation operations managed to get many to hospitals and local treatment centres. The brutality was unprecedented in the annals of student politics of India. Male cops entered girls’ hostels in JMI and barged into toilets where girls had locked themselves in. Students said the cops turned off lights and molested them.

Unfortunately for the Modi-Shah duo and fortunately for India, the Hindu-Muslim binary, which has served the BJP’s divisive cause in the past, does not hit the sensibility of students when they see their fellow students being brutally assaulted inside their campuses, inside their hostels, inside their libraries and praying spaces. They don’t see Muslims being assaulted. They see their fellow students being shot at, lathi-charged, wreathing in pain, screaming in fear. They see the merciless police force as a part of the fascist State’s coercive arm trying to silence students who were peacefully demonstrating against an utterly anti-constitutional and unethical law.

The results are there for every body to see. Students across the country are hitting the streets in their thousands. The very night of the assault, thousands of students of Delhi-based universities and colleges, alumni and concerned citizens braved the bitter Delhi chill to barricade the gates of the Delhi Police Head Quarters at ITO, New Delhi, leading to the police releasing all students they had detained during their assault at 3 AM in the night. The protesters held vigil almost till the first light of dawn. And by next morning, students across India were hitting the streets to condemn the violence against their fellow students in the following campuses.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means:

• Panjab University, Chandigarh University, Punjabi University (Punjab);

• Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, JMI, Ambedkar University, South Asian University, IIT Delhi, AIIMS, National Law University, GGSIU, Maulana Azad Medical College (Delhi);

• Benaras Hindu University, AMU, Lucknow University, Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, Allahabad University, IIT Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh);

• Patna University (Bihar);

• Jadavpur University, Calcutta University, Presidency University, Aliah University, Visva-Bharati University; nearly all colleges in the state (West Bengal);

• Hyderabad Central University, Osmania University, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, University of Huderabad (Telangana);

• IIT Madras, Madras University, Loyola College, New College, Mohd Sathak College, Vellore Government Law College, Central University of Tamil Nadu (Tamil Nadu)

• Pondicherry University (Puducherry)

• Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), the University of Mumbai, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Savitribai Phule Pune University, IIT-Powai, Ferguson College (Maharashtra)

• Central University of Kerala, Kasturba Gandhi University, Kannur University, University of Calicut, University of Kerala, Mahatma Gandhi University, CUSAT, nearly every other university and college (Kerala)

• Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Jain University, IIM Bangalore, Mysore University, numerous colleges across the state (Karnataka)

• IIM Ahmedabad, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad University, Nirma University, MS University (Gujarat)

News is filtering in that in more than 100 university and college campuses, students are coming out on the streets. Police have also entered the premises of Delhi University and Madras University. Mega rallies are being held across Bengal, Bihar, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh. The contagion is spreading.

Northeast and West Bengal have been burning for a long time. At least four people have been shot dead in Assam. Internet services are affected. Normal life has been affected. Trains and railway stations are burning in both West Bengal and Assam. Nearly every college and university in the North-East and West Bengal are part of the protest.

Reports of clashes between protesting people and lawkeepers are filtering in from every nook and corner of the country. People have started joking that the party which abrogated Article 370 to ‘Indianise’ Kashmir has ended up with turning entire India into Kashmir.

The game plan of communal polarisation had been working well for the BJP government at the Centre since the last six years or so. Though the Narendra Modi-led saffron force rode to power in 2014 on the twin planks of an ‘anti-corruption movement’ and the promise of ‘development’, ever since coming to power, in every Assembly election and the Lok Sabha Election of 2019, it has tried to use binaries like ‘Hindu-Muslim, Shamshan-Kabrastan, Mandir-Masjid’ and the strategy had by and large worked, albeit with waning effect. The 2019 General Election was won in the nationalistic frenzy whipped up by the party after the Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot air strikes. In the meantime, the country’s economy has been tanking with extremely questionable low-growth, no jobs and low demand. The youths were already angry with even post-graduates applying for manual scavenging jobs and PhD holders applying for peons’ positions. When the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed by Parliament, a large section of the society including non-Muslims started opposing it. So the Amit Shah-Modi combine again resorted to what it knows best.

It is clear that both Shah and Modi have little idea as to what they have triggered. They have little idea that popular revolutions in various parts of the world started from small campuses, only to engulf the country in flames that consumed the most despotic of leaders. The May 1968 students’ movement in France that started from Sorbonne and another lesser known varsity consumed the Gaullist bones of post-war capitalist France, a movement where workers and students together put France on a socialist, welfare path. In Chile and Argentina, during the Cold War, the students have been at the vanguard of resistance against CIA-backed military coup detats. As we speak now, Chilean students, after a two-month protest, have forced their government to a vote next April on possible changes to the Chilean Constitution that was put in place in 1980 during the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet who killed thousands of students after throwing out the elected socialist government of former president Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973.

The legendary anti-Vietnam War protests in the US which saw students being gunned down inside the Kent State University premises reshaped US military policy forever. The elimination of the US draft and its replacement with an all-volunteer professional army was the major lasting consequence of the anti-War movement. It also brought to the forefront the serial lies that the then POTUS Richard Nixon had told the US public. Also, eerily similar to Modi’s 2019 victory, Nixon had won a second term in 1972, mainly by demonising the liberal, left, anti-War students. Less than two years down, with his popularity at its nadir, he was forced to resign as the Watergate Scandal report rocked US politics.

Even in the Bangladesh Liberation War, the students were at the forefront of the guerrilla war against the Pakistan Army. In the ongoing street protests in Hong Hong, again they are students who are challenging the might of the Chinese Communist Party.

What Modi and Shah has sparked off is a contagion of flames that is fast engulfing the country. For the first time, it seems the fascist government, in its over-confidence, may have bitten off more than it can chew. The students, of course, are not a calculative lot. Students’ politics in the world is not about cold results but ideology and courage.

But in all their recklessness, the students across India are living up to what Mahatma Gandhi had said. “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result,” were the great man’s words.

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Published: 19 Dec 2019, 9:25 AM