Student Protests in India

Against a Discriminatory New Law, Protesters Face Police Brutality

Over the past month, India has been in turmoil over the passing of the controversial new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In an unprecedented move, the Act introduces religion as one of the key criteria in determining the eligibility of refugees for citizenship. More specifically, critics show that, the CAA offers a means by which to exclude people of Muslim origin from being able to obtain citizenship in India, thus acting as a key step in Narendra Modi’s government’s plan to make India a Hindu nationalist state. The CAA has been deemed “fundamentally discriminatory in nature” by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Indeed, the CAA, viewed alongside the National Register for Citizens (NRC), provides the infrastructure for reducing Muslim communities to second-class citizenship status in India. The government has also initiated the construction of detention campus across the country to house so-called “illegal immigrants”, a move which has led Genocide Watch to issue an alert for India, especially the states of Kashmir and Assam.

After the CAA was passed on December 11, 2019, students at two Muslim-majority universities – Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi, and the Aligarh Muslim University in the state of Uttar Pradesh – organized protests to condemn the discriminatory nature of this new law. They were met with vicious and brutal violence. Police barged into campus spaces, attacking students with tear gas and beating them with sticks, and even shot at students, many of whom were peacefully protesting. Students not involved in the protests – studying in the library or praying at the mosque – were also attacked. More than 80 students from Jamia Millia Islamia University were admitted to the hospital with injuries, and many reports of sexual violence have also emerged. As one website reports,female students were beaten up and even sexually harassed by the male police officers. To save themselves, they tried locking themselves in the female washrooms but in vain. Doors were broken, and the forces entered thereto. Another tactic employed by the forces was to switch off the lights before they started assaulting students and sexually abusing girl students.” 

In Aligarh Muslim University, students also experienced a similar situation. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the university is located, more than 16 people have been killed as a result of police brutality and right-wing violence. The death toll across India has now exceeded 25 people since the protests first began.

More recently, on Sunday, January 5, 2020, masked goons revealed to be part of the Hindu supremacist student movement stormed a peaceful protest at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, attacking students with iron rods. More than 32 students have been admitted to the hospital for injuries, several in critical condition. Video footage released on social media shows that police stood by and enabled the attacks to take place unimpeded for many hours. It is distressing that reports indicate these instances of violence specifically target students with disabilities and female students. The attacks against university students and professors reveal that India’s Hindu supremacist government, like other fascist states, views freedom of thought and freedom of speech as particularly dangerous. 

While these recent attacks are particularly egregious, it is important to note that there has been an ongoing, concerted attack on students, activists, and journalists ever since Modi’s government came into power in 2014. Several journalists have been harassed and murdered during Modi’s power  marking India as one of the most unsafe nations for the free press.. This includes Gauri Lankesh, an outspoken critic of the right-wing government. Dozens of activists leading the Right to Information campaign (which ensures transparency and accountability in governance) have been murdered, assaulted and intimidated. Through its rise to power, this government  has made the quashing of dissent a central aspect of its policies. Across India, academics and students who have critiqued the government have been subject to increasing scrutiny, arrests and violence.

This increase of authoritarianism, the repression of dissent, and the assault on the freedom of thought and speech are recent trends that can be seen all over the world. Yet even while these fascist trends propagate, so does resistance to these policies is growing everyday. What’s more,  these resistances are being led by women and girls. As students strongly committed to social justice and equality, we feel that it is imperative to speak out. We need to join our voices to protestors fighting the rise of fascism all over the world, build networks of solidarity and support, and encourage academic institutions to support us in this effort. While many students and professors at McGill have signed statements condemning the CAA, NRC and police brutality in India, the official university administration remains passive.

We ask that the student community join us in asking the McGill Administration and student unions at McGill to release statements condemning the attacks on students in India. We also ask that they write to the Canadian Government to speak out against the current attacks on student protestors in India. We ask them to condemn the exclusionary policies (affecting religious minorities) that have prompted these protests.

For those who are more interested in learning about the situation in India and the global rise of fascism, a group of students and activists in Montreal are organizing a series of teach-ins called Mapping the Rise of Global Fascism. The next teach-in of the series will take place on Monday, January 20 at the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) Concordia. We also invite you to join us in  a march on January 26, 2020 at 1 pm at the Parc metro station, as part of a global effort to protest the Indian government’s rise to fascism.