“Students at work, country under construction” read one of the banners held by a group of protesting students in front of the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv earlier on Friday. More than 30 students had gathered amidst strong winds, incessant rains and chilly weather for a peaceful and silent demonstration against the Indian government’s enactment of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 and the violent crackdown of the student protests across the country that followed soon after. The demonstrators included Masters, Ph.D. students and postdoctoral research fellows from leading Israeli research institutes such as Tel Aviv University, Weizmann Institute of Science and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 was passed by the upper house in the Indian parliament on 11th December 2019. It gives an expedited path to Indian citizenship to the religious minorities from Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian faiths facing persecution in three of India’s Muslim-majority neighboring countries (Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan). The protestors claim that the new legislation is discriminatory for Muslims and atheists and will eventually undermine the liberal and secular ethos of the Indian constitution. The earliest resistance to the act came from the northeastern states of India, including Assam and Tripura, fearing that the law would legitimize the Bengali-speaking migrants from Bangladesh, thus diluting the local language and culture.
The next wave of protests, which came from a group of agitating students from Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, was mercilessly cracked down by the local police. This fueled a rapid widespread proliferation of protests across the country, which has been largely apolitical, organic, leaderless and peaceful. In places like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and parts of Karnataka, protests have turned violent which quickly prompted the authorities to impose a colonial-era order – Section 144 of Indian Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which cuts off internet, messaging and further prohibits aggregation of more than four people in an area. As of writing this article, more than 25 people have lost their lives in the protest with over 1000 arrests and more than 3000 people kept in preventive detention. The new laws have also attracted international condemnation including the UN High Commissioner for human rights and the US Department of State. In a statement released soon after the approval of the new legislation, the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights expressed concern by saying that, “these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people’s access to nationality”.
According to a press release and a letter to the Ambassador of India to Israel, a group of Indian students and scholars said that they are particularly concerned about the unprecedented communal polarisation that the Citizenship Amendment Act in conjunction with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) can possibly lead to. They also condemn the use of excessive force used by the Indian state to curb dissent and called upon the Indian prime minister Mr. Narendra Modi and home (interior) minister Mr. Amit Shah to repeal the ghastly act and allow peaceful demonstrations. Indian students and scholars in Israel thus join the growing list of leading universities and countries where students and academicians have staged protests against the CAA. This includes Columbia University in New York, Harvard and MIT Boston in the US, Oxford University in the UK. Further, protests were organized around the globe such as Paris, Washington DC, Berlin, Geneva, The Hague, Barcelona, San Francisco, Tokyo, Amsterdam, and Melbourne.
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