In just a few hours, a widespread thread of texts gathered students from NYU, CUNY schools and Columbia University to protest against India’s highly controversial citizenship law in front of Columbia University’s Low Library.
Conrad Noronha, a student at Columbia Law School, and his friends were discussing the politics and the protests in India when they decided they wanted to raise their voices. Noronha and his friends reached out to their peers through WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook, and organized a protest within hours.
On December 19, around 100 New York State (NYS) students protested to raise awareness about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) for its discrimination against Muslims. The CAA excludes Muslims in the fast-track citizenship process offered to religious minorities that face religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The CAA was passed by the Indian Parliament on December 11. It was quickly met with a wave of protests nationwide. The protests, which started off peacefully, quickly turned violent when protesters allegedly damaged public properties.
“We’re also protesting the brutalities that happened in Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU),” said Noronha. “Students were assaulted and beaten up in their libraries, on campus, in their hostel dorms.”
Police were heavily criticised for forcibly entering the JMI and AMU campuses, where the protests were being held, and using excessive force on the students. The police also used tear gas inside the university premises.
The protests have led to 24 deaths and over 150 injuries.
Although the new law includes religious minorities in predominantly Muslim countries, it doesn’t mention the Muslim minorities in neighboring countries like Myanmar.
“The citizenship will be given only to persecuted religious minorities only from these three countries,” said Amit Shah, the Minister of Home Affairs, to the Upper House who condemned the bill for being against Muslims.
Rohingya Muslims faced religious persecution in Myanmar in 2016-17, which led to more than 10,000 deaths. However, the Indian government didn’t include Myanmar in the bill.
“If genuine religious persecution was the issue, the bill would’ve been religion-neutral,” Noronha said, in regards to the genocide of the Rohingya people.
The CAA will not require the requisite documentation from Hindus, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists from the three included countries. These religions will also be beneficiaries of fast-track citizenship, which will reduce the residence requirement for naturalization to six years. The standard time for eligibility is 12 years.
“There are horrible possibilities with the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) when combined with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) — which is where Muslims can be excluded from being citizens despite having lived in the country,” said Shruti Sriram, a student at Columbia University. CAB was the precursor to CAA when the law was just a bill. “It makes it really scary for any Muslim in India to feel safe or feel like an Indian citizen.”
The NRC is a way to have an official record of all Indian citizens, but it was only applied in Assam because of the mass immigrants that come from its border. NRC is still a proposal and hasn’t been implemented throughout India, except in the state of Assam. If it does come into effect, the proposed law will target Indian Muslims who lack the necessary documentation and they could then face an illegal immigrant status, since Muslims aren’t included in the CAA.
Religious minorities that are included in the CAA will not be affected by the NRC as long as they present themselves as victims of religious persecution from one of the three countries included in the bill.
Protests also erupted in the northeastern state of Assam, which borders Bangladesh, but not for the same reason that the rest of India is protesting the law.
The Assam Accord was enacted in 1985 to reduce illegal immigration from the border and retain Assam’s cultural identity. With CAA in effect, Assamese people fear losing their cultural identity to illegal immigrants.
“Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people,” states Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.
The Assamese protestors believe CAA violates Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.