Indo-Australian academics gather in Melbourne to express solidarity with anti-CAA protestors in India

Held on January 26, the event saw participants express concern at police brutality on AMU and Jamiastudents and support for the Shaheen Bagh movement

Photo Courtesy: Yask Desai
Photo Courtesy: Yask Desai

Vikrant Kishore

On January 26, on the occasion of India’s Republic Day, Indian-Australian academics in Melbourne organised ‘We are with you’, a solidarity gathering against the enactment of CAA, NRC/NPR and police brutality on university students across India.

The organiser of this protest, Dr Mridula Nath Chakraborty states, “It is clearly Tagore season, when a judge in New Delhi recites from the poem, ‘Where the mind is without fear’ while granting bail to Bhim Army Chief, Chandrashekhar Azad, and upholding the right of citizens to participate in peaceful protest without any curtailment or coercion by the government. Around the same time, Hollywood celebrity, Martin Sheen, arrested 66 times (by his own admission) for political protesting and acts of civil disobedience, recited the same poem while participating in a climate action protest on Capitol Hill, Washington…”

She further adds, “In the bone-chilling cold of New Delhi, the satyagrahi women of Shaheen Bagh sit vigil for more than a month, with babies and grandmothers, to safeguard the rights of ordinary citizens and marginalised communities with a strength that seems preternatural. Brave girls are leading the charge everywhere, and poets are linking the fires of the hearth to the fires of the heart.

Dr Vikrant Kishore, another organiser, was more direct in his criticism of the current happenings. He said, “I am deeply disturbed by the violent suppression and police brutality in Jamia Millia Islamia on 15 December 2019, followed by suppression of the student protesters at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and elsewhere. The protest has spread all over India, with very highhanded responses from the Indian government, including cutting off phone and internet in some areas.

Views of other participants:

Dr Arjun Raina

Independent Artist, Melbourne

A jumla (a political spin) has the Indian Home Minister reassuring the country that no Indian Muslim Citizen will suffer detention and persecution as a consequence of the CAA or Citizen Amendment Act. However, till the NRC or the National Registration of Citizens is complete, there are no citizens on the register. It is only at the end of the NRC process that citizenship is deemed as valid, and all those that fall off the radar will be at the mercy of the system.

In Assam, out of nineteen lakh non-citizens left out of the NRC, fourteen lakh Hindus will potentially get citizenship under the CAA, but five lakh Muslims will have to move to detention centers. Multiply this right across the country and you have lakhs of Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, and other communities for whom paper documentation, either does not exist, is lost or is a bureaucratic nightmare to produce. They will exist at the mercy of a government out to improve a despairing economy by making the poor boost demand.

Nobel laureate Abhijeet Banerjee, and other prominent economists, say cash should be deposited directly into the accounts of the poor. Can a Hindu majority government be seen as giving cash to its Muslim citizens? Only, I suspect, if it can demonstrate its toughness by doing all it can to attack its Muslim population.

Dr Ian Woolford

Academic, Melbourne

When we think of Hindi literature addressing Partition, we think first of novels: Jootha sach, maila anchal, or the recent novel Gujarat Pakistan se Gujarat Hindustan by Krishna Sobti. Hindi poets have rarely addressed the trauma and scars of Partition. Perhaps this is why Kedarnath Singh, in his poem “Remembering the year 1947,” asks himself “do you even remember?” He writes of a family friend, a Muslim neighbour named Noor Miyan, who featured in the daily life of his village pre-Independence. “Where is he now?” Kedarnath asks. He remembers so much from his childhood. He can still recite the 19 times-table he used to scribble on his school slate. But he cannot use his chalk and slate to calculate why Noor Miyan suddenly vanished: “Why are you silent Kedarnath Singh/Has your math failed you?”

As India grapples with questions of citizenship in the 21st century, I ponder the following. Had Noor Miyan stayed in India, once the NRC came into effect, his family would have less legal protection than Kedarnath’s family. The Citizenship Amendment Act exposes one motive for implementing the NRC. If Noor Miyan lacked documentation and his citizenship were questioned, he could be removed and detained. He is Muslim, so he would not be protected through the CAA. The state could continue to claim that no Indian citizens are affected by the CAA, because they would insist Noor Miyan was never a citizen to begin with.

Natasha Raghuvanshi

Doctoral Student, Melbourne

On 5th January 2020, a mob of masked people stormed into the campus and attacked the students at one of India’s most iconic universities, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Armed with iron rods, sticks, baseball bats and stones, they attacked students and teachers, smashed windows and vandalized student dormitories. Students feared for their lives in the university while the police stood by and watched.

JNU is one of the world’s renowned centres for teaching and research. The university’s alumni include 2019 Nobel Laureates, former leaders of nation-states, as well as several politicians, diplomats, artists, academics, and scientists. JNU, along with protesting against CAA and NRC, was also in the middle of a protest against fee hike in the university which was announced in October 2019. The fee hike would limit access to education to many students who come from a poor socio-economic background and cannot afford to pay the hefty education fees.

I am an alumna of JNU and I have spent around 6 years on campus. I spent a lot of time near Sabarmati Hostel drinking tea, discussing, debating or sometimes just enjoying my campus. The campus that was so safe in the hustle-bustle of the city. Once I walked inside the JNU gates, the relief it gave me cannot be expressed. I was free to think, free to express, free walk around. I had the freedom of whoever I wanted to be. JNU gave me not only confidence but freedom as well. This air of freedom and safety is what I trying to protect through continuously attending/organizing the solidarity/ protests gathering in Melbourne.

Dr Shweta Kishore

Academic, Melbourne

I moved to Australia in 2000 with a Master’s from Jamia Millia Islamia University, whose diverse and progressive faculty included amongst others, members of India’s first feminist media collective. Today Jamia University, together with numerous arts and humanities departments and other universities, is spearheading the resistance against a Parliamentary Act that abets the transformation of India into a Hindu nation.

As I write this, news of violence against students flashes. The public university has morphed into a battleground between competing ideas of India; one, secular, inclusive, progressive and the other, fundamentalist, exclusionary, hegemonic.

How do we understand this moment and what does it mean for Australian- Indians like me who are translocal and feel multiple perceptions of belonging, home and (dis)connection?

Objections against the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) invoke the secular heart of the Indian Constitution, under attack from a government who categorises refugees on the basis of religion to determine eligibility for Indian citizenship.

In its objections, the pro-constitutionalists question not the granting of citizenship to Hindu refugees from Muslim dominated neighbour nations but the statutory exclusion of persecuted Muslim groups including Rohingya, Uzbek, Ahmediya, from these very nations. Together with NRC, which assesses historical migration data to delegitimize the citizenship of current citizens, fears grow of divisive Hindutva consolidation of a nation where histories of migration stitch a patchwork of languages, cultures and religions.

Yask Desai

Freelance writer and visual artist, Melbourne

As a person of Australian-Indian origin who is currently observing potentially nation defining events in both of my homelands, I find striking parallels between the actions of the political class in both nations. The relative catastrophes that are, at present, dominating the socio-political landscapes in India and Australia, seem largely disparate. However, the proposed introduction of the discriminatory combination of the CAA-NRC bills in India and the deadly bush fires in Australia remain inseparably linked.

It is no small irony that, with the political miscalculation of holidaying in Hawaii while fires ravaged large tracts of land in Australia still fresh, the Australian Prime Minister has cancelled his planned January trip to India. At the forefront of the proposed meeting between PMs, Morrison and Modi, would be the continued sale of Australian coal to India, and, undoubtedly, a reassurance of Australia’s commitment to the Adani coal mine in Queensland. Globally, Australia is now considered the country most effected by immediate climate change in the Western world, not least due to its continued dependence upon coal, both for domestic energy generation and as a trade commodity.

Concurrently, lurking at the root of the BJP’s CAA-NRC threat is an urgent political need on the part of the Indian government to propel the country’s annual GDP to above 5 percent. The Modi government realises that a falling GDP is a far greater threat to its long term ability to hold power and implement its ongoing neo-liberal economic policies.

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