[dropcap]S[/dropcap]EVENTY years after the people of India gave themselves a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic, the youth from university campuses and women in towns across the country are up in arms to reclaim the republic from a Fascist regime out to impose a Hindu nation.
Waving the national flag and taking the oath to save the Indian Constitution, the youth and women are raising the war cry of ‘Azadi’ (liberation) from hunger, poverty, unemployment, oppressive patriarchy and divisive bigoted communal politics.
There is no single leader of this Azadi movement, no Mahatma Gandhi like an iconic figure who had liberated the country from the British rule through nonviolent direct action called satyagraha.
Each young man and woman of this second freedom struggle is guided by the preamble of the Indian Constitution which promises liberty, equality and justice to every citizen irrespective of their caste, creed, colour and gender.
The actions and statements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cabinet colleagues, BJP leaders and the rank and file of the Sangh Parivar have given the saviours of the Constitution reasons to fear that those in power in Delhi are hell-bent on replacing the secular, socialist democracy with Hindu Nation based on Manusmriti, the ancient codebook based on Brahminical socio-political order.
Events and developments since Modi returned to power for a second term, this time with a whopping majority of the BJP in the Lok Sabha, had given sufficient reasons to suspect the intent of the ruling party of subjugating the various constitutional institutions including the judiciary, the executive and even media, the fourth estate.
The last straw on the proverbial camel’s back came when the Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill and it became an act.
The CAA became the first instance of religion being overtly used as a criterion for citizenship under the Indian nationality law. The CAA paves the way to grant Indian citizenship to members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian religious minorities who fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014. However, Muslims have been excluded conspicuously. So have been the refugees from Sri Lanka and Myanmar and the tribals from Bangladesh who do not follow any of the mainstream religions listed in the CAA.
Obviously the amended citizenship law was brought in after the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam found as many as 1.4 million of the total 1.8 million people as Hindus who, if denied Indian citizenship, would defeat the BJP’s declared goal of weeding out each and every ‘infiltrator.’ Now, the Modi government says all Hindu refugees would be given Indian citizenship under the CAA.
The students and faculty of the Jamila Millia Islamia university first saw through the BJP’s game plan of targeting Muslims to mobilize the Hindu votes in its favour through the CAA. They took to streets in protest. The government launched a violent attack on the campus with the police thrashing students and teachers and destroying the library and other university property.
The government assault on the Jamia Millia university stung the sentiments of students and teachers of scores of other universities and institutions all across the country. Thousands of them turned up at peaceful protest demonstrations.
Adding salt to the wounded sentiments of the academic community was the ‘surgical strike’ by the masked armed goons on the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in which several students and faculty members were grievously injured.
Campuses all across the country rose in protest against the Modi regime. From Aligarh Muslim University and Banaras Hindu University to Jadavpur University, Allahabad University to the premier Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management, students and their teachers took to streets holding peaceful protest demonstrations. These were all spontaneous. There was no call from any political party or leader.
The government unleashed police on the protesting youth, beating them up with brute force. The worst police action was in Uttar Pradesh where chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s men in uniform went on a rampage, plundering shops and homes of Muslims, physically assaulting minor boys after dragging them out of Madarsas.
Sedition cases and other serious charges including attempt to murder, arson and the use of explosives were slapped on peaceful protesters across many cities including the state capital Lucknow.
Instead of silencing the protests by the use of brute force, the nonviolent movement against the government gathered momentum with women coming out in large numbers to sit on day and night dharna in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Patna and scores of other cities across the country.
People foiled the BJP’s attempt to create a communal divide on the issue of new citizenship law and its associated steps of National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) by forging unity among Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh communities whose members took part in all the protests.
The movement against CAA, NPR, NRC, in fact, helped in bringing together Muslims and Hindus, Dalits, Adivasis and Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in joint action programmes. For the first time after the post-Godhra state-sponsored anti-muslim pogrom of 2002, Muslims dared to join the protests against the BJP’s communal politics.
While the anti CAA, NPR, NRC protests in cities have found space in print and TV media, those held in towns away from metros and state capitals have gone unreported, though many of them, like the three-day convention of Adivasis, Dalits and Muslims in Palgarh, Maharashtra or in Gulbarga in Karnataka were attended by thousands of people.
Though all the ‘Save the Constitution’ movements across the country have been completely peaceful, top functionaries of institutions proclaiming themselves to be followers of Mahatma Gandhi, have maintained a conspicuous silence, some of them even maintaining a safe distance with these movements.
A redeeming feature, however, is the open support the movement has received from some celebrities of the film, theatre, art, culture, science and academics world.
Creative artists have come up with songs, slogans, skits, standup comedy shows, cartoons and posters extolling the ‘Azadi’ movement for reclaiming our secular, socialist and democratic republic and exposing the diabolical game of the Sangh Parivar and the Modi government to impose a Hindu Nation.
Nachiketa Desai is a senior journalist and activist.