Naina Mishra in New Delhi
Salman is closing in on 18, but age is hardly a constraint when he articulates why he’s standing outside Gate no. 7 of Jamia Millia Islamia on a bitterly cold morning. “If we don’t fight against this injustice, who will?” he asks. Jamia, he quickly adds, bears the legacy of the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat movements in British India. “This is yet another Khilafat movement.”
Tricolour bands tied on the wrists and wearing their resolve on their sleeves, Salman and other students begin to gather outside the gate after 8 am daily. It’s a routine they have been following since the President’s assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
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Last Sunday, however, violence outside and the police intrusion into the campus — which resulted in an “assault” on students and considerable damage to property — led to a pan-India outpouring of support for the Jamia students. And the cause!
Suddenly, campuses across the country erupted in mass protests and students — with banners highlighting again and again how they would not let religion dictate their Indianness — voicing opposition to the new citizenship law that seeks to exclude Muslims.
“Jamia is home to us,” says Alfaraz Laique (23), a student of Mass Communication. “The police could not differentiate between the students and the mob, and so they entered our gates, assaulted us with sticks until one of us lost an eye or a leg. There are bloodstains everywhere on the campus and it is haunting us. Now, there is only one emotion left, and that’s rage.”
Chanda Yadav (20) joins in: “We are rising out of fear.” She and other female students had saved their male friends from getting beaten up by the police; the video shot near New Friends Colony had gone viral. “We were looked upon with extreme hatred and were abused by the police,” recalls Yadav.
“And this is just the start,” a protester wriggles in. “Imagine if they were to introduce the National Register of Citizens, which they say they will. They just want to make it ‘us versus them’. We can’t let that happen. This country is every Indian’s. They can’t decide who stays, and who goes.”
Tired of standing all along, Abhishek Jha (27) sits aloof, with his head down. “I can’t stand and shout,” he says, as he holds a placard that reads: ‘No CAA, no NRC, we want equality’. “If this hasn’t affected every one of us, then I am sad. This government is resorting to ruthless means to suppress the dissenting voices. We are not anti-Hindu, but it is all about our right to protest.”
Vice-Chancellor Najma Akhtar has been acclaimed outside for her unwavering support to students, but there is strong resentment among students over the administration declaring the winter break earlier than scheduled and postponing the varsity exams.
“How were the outsiders and the police even allowed on the campus when there is no entry without ID?” asks Arsalam Ahmed (17). “She was supposed to address us in such harsh times, but she didn’t. Rather, we were forced to leave our hostels within four hours. Many of us spent nights outside like refugees.”
Neha (23), an MBA student, points to the gates and says these were never closed. “Even during festivals, the campus remained open. This is the first time we have seen gates being closed for students as well. It hurts.”
Voicing their opposition
A majority of protesting students view CAA in conjunction with the NRC, and the threat of losing citizenship looms large among Muslim students.
Says Hifzur Rehman (25), “The names of Muslims are tough to pronounce and are mostly spelt incorrectly. My name is erroneously printed in the Class X documents. Such things can be a trigger for losing citizenship. With the cut-off year in CAA being 2014 and if the NRC comes into force, only non-Muslims will be called citizens.”
Mustafiz (17) raises similar concerns. “My village in Bihar is a flood-affected area. A lot of documents get destroyed in such areas. Where am I going to bring the decades-old documents to prove my citizenship in the country?”
Unreasonable, unfounded concerns? “Not if you are a Muslim,” he points out. “Is this not my country? Then why?”
Jamia students were at the receiving end over last Sunday’s violence though the perpetrators turned out to be outsiders. Now, each student can be seen making efforts to ensure the protest stays peaceful and no disruption in any form is caused to the public — from giving way to an ambulance to making a passage for commuters.
“If we don’t control the traffic movement, it can lead to chaos and the blame will be on us. We are students and fighting for our rights. We don’t want to harm anyone,” says Mohammad Zaid, regulating traffic movement near Gate no 7.
Not only this, the students are also ensuring that the roads are left clean. Faisal, along with his peers, has created a special group for this task. “We are more than 10 people and will keep doing this till the protest continues.” The group collects garbage in polythene bags at 2 am and keeps it near the Jamia gate. It is lifted by the MC staff in the morning.
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