On December 11, 2019, the students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) called a university-wide hunger strike to protest against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR). Almost immediately, the police filed a FIR against 20 named, and 700 unnamed students of the institution. The district administration claimed, the students have violated Section 144 of the CrPC, which was never imposed in Aligarh to begin with. The protest movement at AMU continued.
The students of Jamia Millia University in Delhi, too, were protesting against the CAA and NRC. On December 15, as news of police attack on Jamia students started appearing on social media, AMU students came out spontaneously in solidarity. The students started gathering at the Library Canteen and moved towards the main gate Bab-e-Syed where most of the protests in AMU usually take place. According to an article, based on a recently released preliminary report on the police violence at AMU, by a fact finding team of the Quill Foundation, the AMU students were confronted by a heavy contingent of police, and the Rapid Action Force, which prevented them from taking out a protest rally. The police forcefully opened the university gates and marched inside the campus, smashing two-wheelers that were parked outside. The police fired tear gas shells, rubber bullets as they entered the campus. Internet services were blocked so that no videos of the police action can go out. The students ran back, and sought refuge in the campus buildings, but were chased, mercilessly beaten up, tear gassed and dragged outside. The AMU authorities acting on the state administration’s order, closed down the university and asked all students to vacate the hostels immediately.
The state violence on protests serves a dual purpose. First and foremost, it is used to repress and terrorise the protestors. This helps to isolate the protestors from the general masses. Only the die-hard activists remain to face the continued might of the state. Secondly, state violence diverts public attention from the political issues that the protestors raise. The focus shifts more to human rights violations, appeals in courts and demands for enquiry committees. Even solidarity movements get directed more towards denouncing state violence. The real issues take a backseat.
But the intense police brutality and state repression at AMU and Jamia, has this time, failed to quell the protests against CAA and NRC. It has inspired further student mobilizations in educational institutions across the country.
It is in this context that we bring to our readers an interview of the members of the Central Committee of #MuslimLivesMatter, a loose conglomeration of concerned students at AMU, which organized the protests against CAA, NRC and NPR.
How do you view CAA? Why, for you, is it so important to resist it in the way you are doing?
We see the bill as Islamophobic in essence. And we see it as an agenda — the fulfillment of an agenda that the RSS, the BJP, and the entire Sangh Parivar and the collaborators that are with them have cooked to exclude Muslims, to isolate Muslims and make them refugees in their own country. Now this is an urgent matter; this is something that nobody in their right minds should accept. Because the ultimate goal is naturally to snatch away voting rights, to snatch away representation in the parliament, to make Muslims second class citizens, and there are no two opinions to this. What is there should be said in clear words and should be communicated to others too.
Why is it important for us to resist the way we are doing it? AMU is looked upon in north India as the voice of Muslim students, along with Jamia Milliah Islamia University, but AMU has been looked upon specifically, as the voice of the community, and it is our job and our duty to spread this voice to all the areas around us. Because we are not looking at it as just another issue. It is an emergency, and all Muslims, regardless of their background or their other identity, should come forward to oppose this and announce a complete civil disobedience against this measure.
And a lot of people have also called this a second independence struggle, and rightly so, because within an hour upon our request to do so, the dining halls of AMU were closed and the students came out on the street. The agitation is there inside, but the thing is, that an environment of fear has been created, which makes it very difficult for people to come out and speak. So, the environment is finally breaking, the thing is really breaking, and people are coming out, and the government should fear that. And we should be really proud of this and know that if this continues, we will reject this bill and we will not let their plans be executed.
Why did you choose the particular form of a hunger strike against the CAA? What are you aiming to achieve through this form? Who is it being organized by? Are there any specific organizations involved?
Basically our fight and our struggle is against the current Hindutva fascist regime and the very ideology of Hindutva that is the catalyst behind this Citizenship Amendment Bill and all the policies of hate that the BJP government is trying to implement in this nation. We find this Citizenship Amendment Bill completely unacceptable, unconstitutional, inhuman and specifically it is anti-Muslim. It’s intentionally anti-Muslim. Because we find this tendency of this Hundutva ideology, which is a rigid nationalism, and in which they consider Muslims as “others”, they have this broader concept of Hinduness and include all the Indic faiths in it. We find this same tendency inside the citizenship amendment bill where the other communities are named and the Muslims are selectively excluded. So this policy is completely discriminatory and anti-Muslim. This is targeting Muslim communities and we find a hidden conspiracy and motive behind this bill which is to turn Muslims to second class citizens, to exterminate them, to dehumanise them, to deny them citizenship and send them to detention centres and gradually it will take the turn of massive genocide as we have seen in the case of other fascist regimes in the world. We have to convey the message that it is our duty and obligation to reject this bill unanimously because that is the only way out now.
Through a massive movement, we have to reject this bill because we find that the systemic proceedings, the parliamentary proceedings, the different agencies of the state, even the recent legislations and the verdicts of the Supreme Court are happening in a very one-sided manner. So to counter the system, we have to reject it unanimously. The movement should be led by the civil society, and being students of the university, it is our duty to begin this movement and let others follow our approach. So we started this movement on the day it was passed in the Lok Sabha and we had multiple gatherings inside campus, a massive protest march and we also sensitised students by visiting all halls and we are also trying to build a consolidation among the university communities. Through this, the movement will become a massive act of dissent and rejection. Apart from that, we chose the path of hunger strike. It has nothing to do with the aim but it is a symbolic way of expressing our dissent which others may see and come out of their comfort zones and join the movement. The symbolism is basically aimed at creating an awareness amongst the masses. This movement is not controlled by any specific organisation, it is a collective of students, a collective of aware students. We are planning the future course of action and we are informing all the students who have joined the movement.
You have issued show-cause notices to the VC of the university, the faculty association and the non-teaching staff association. Why is that? Through these show-cause notices, are you trying to assert a specific kind of voice of the Muslim youth? How will that voice differ from those of the earlier generation?
Through the show cause notices issued to the teachers and the vice chancellor, we wanted to convey this message that it is the duty of everyone to reject this bill. It is not just the duty of students, because the teachers are also a part of the civil society. They also have the duty to reject it. It is also their duty to dissent. It’s not a new thing. Whenever we have had these kinds of movements and activities of dissent inside the campus, we find this nexus of administration and teachers always playing a role in implementing the state policy inside the campus. These are deliberate efforts to depoliticise the campus and suppress the voices of dissent inside the campus. Through this, we wanted to question the authorities and the teachers that why are you silent. If you are silent and if you are not responding to it, we will declare you as collaborators and that you are taking the side of the oppressors. We wanted to convey it very strongly so they might change their mindset and come and join the movement of the students.
As a minority institution which has played an immense role in the sub-continent’s history, and continues to do so, how do you think CAA, NRC and NPR will affect AMU as an institution? Especially it’s students?
This is a very important question, because Aligarh Muslim University is a minority institution and the majority of students here are from the Muslim community and that too, from the underprivileged sections of the society. So, whenever this kind of act of oppression or attack happens on the Muslim community or any other oppressed community, they expect the students of Aligarh to speak and raise voices on their behalf. So, we find it to be our duty to act.
The other thing is, it is obvious that the bill is going to affect the university because it is not a spontaneous move; it has been a continuous process of othering Muslims in India. And if we talk about Aligarh Muslim University under the previous Hindutva regime led by BJP and even the current regime, there are continuous attempts to attack the university, the democratic spaces inside the university. Attempts have also been made to depoliticise the university by putting pressure on the administration, by putting pressure on the district administration, issuing showcause notices, issuing FIRs and filing cases and that too with serious charges that include sedition. So, this is a continuous process; so, it’s obvious. Citizenship is a basic right and, you know, living under a nation state, a human being gets dehumanised when he or she loses the right to be a citizen. So, this is the thing, it will obviously affect the university and the minority character of the university, so we find it an obligation to raise our voice and unanimously reject this thing.
Apart from the movement inside the university, apart from the consolidation within the university communities, we are also planning to sensitise the common masses. Because we know universities are privileged spaces, we have much awareness regarding the issue, and unlike us the underprivileged sections of the society, basically the Muslims who are living under dire circumstances, have no idea of the rejection that is happening across the country, have no idea about the voices that are being raised against this bill. Many of them are busy searching for documents, they are preparing for the register. We also want to give them this message of rejection; they should also go toward this approach of rejection rather than go toward documentation, which is completely a trap. We have seen that in Assam. How there they have used NRC to carry out the systemic extermination. This is also an important objective of our movement, a broader objective.
Do you think there is a necessity to develop a more unified society-wide anti-CAA movement beyond your particular institution?
Yes, the very idea behind the movement that we have had since the past two days at AMU, is to spread it beyond AMU, because in fact, from day one, we have been talking about how there are areas right outside AMU which will be more affected than the social elites that we have inside the university. We have been talking about, how we need to reach out and tell these people about the CAB and how it is going to affect them and how to make them join the struggle with us. So yes, there is an absolute necessity for a nationwide movement. In fact, all Muslims should join forced against this, because it is not only going to affect us, the university students. Like I said, it is not just another issue. It is affecting all the Muslims and it is making no difference in terms of your social status or anything, and all of us will be under the same umbrella when this comes. But yes, it is also to be stated that the poor and the marginalised communities will be more affected by the CAB, so it needs to reach out to them and a larger society wide movement needs to be developed, and I think it is developing. So yes, there is a hope that if this continues, even people from outside our college will join this.
What are your expectations from the secular, progressive Hindus?
Our expectations are formed based on prior experiences. So far, the struggle in here has been continuing for two three days and the campaign has been there for longer. There have been public talks and speeches and there have been social media trends. But I personally have not seen my secular progressive Hindu friends, or any other friends for that matter, who are not Muslims, come out or even write about the CAB and even reject it publicly — not even on social media. So yes, I have really really low expectations, even though it would be really great if these people came out. But yes, if we talk about expectations, I really have none. I think this is our fight, and we are going to fight it.
Why the particular hashtag MuslimLivesMatter? What is its relevance in contemporary India, given its connection to #BlackLivesMatter?
It is obvious that the bill, the Citizenship Amendment Bill, is directly targeted towards the Muslim community. Naming certain communities from certain countries and completely excluding Muslims is completely anti-Muslim and we know that. Taking inspiration from the African American movement that came into existence against the oppression of blacks in America, mainly from the side of the state and the agencies of the state and all the extra judicial killings and the harassment that happened there, we wanted to take that hashtag and use it here because here the Muslims are being targeted. They are being considered as “others” and “outsiders.” It will create an impact on people. Even the consciousness of people are being transformed and diverted by the acts of hate and the politics of hate that this Hindutva regime, this fascist regime is trying to propagate. So, we are using this hashtag to stress on the fact that they are planning for a massive genocide, a massive extermination, and this project is all about making Muslims second class citizens of this country.
Cover Image: Aligarh Muslim University students protest at the gate of the university campus in Aligarh. Image Source: www.deccanherald.com (PTI File Photo).