I have never been that interested in politics and protests. To me, politics has always been a business of a select group of men blaming one another for the country’s problems. But I clearly remember the day BJP came into power in 2014. We were in the car going somewhere, while members of my family discussed how unsafe it was going to get for Muslims. I did not want to believe them and shrugged their worries off as being a baseless apprehension. How could anyone hate me because of my religion?
I have always been a firm believer in “Live and let live.” But things changed when on 2nd December 2019, the news of Citizen Amendment Bill being passed in Lok Sabha spread around. It was seen in the Muslim community as a discriminatory bill targeting Muslims. It was also passed by the Rajya Sabha and signed by the President of India, which gave it the status of an Act. This created a lot of confusion around me. The opinions online were very mixed. So I decided to do a little digging and understand what it really was all about.
As I discovered, the Act makes it easier for immigrants from neighboring countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh to become citizens of India. However, there is a catch. The bill entitles Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, and Christians to apply for citizenship, all except Muslims. Although the Home Minister of India tried to clarify things, the experts saw it as Act not only discriminating against Muslims but clearly violating the Indian Constitution.
The uneasiness of people started showing up in the form of protests. Many universities like Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University released statements condemning the discriminatory Act. The students started carrying out peaceful protests. On Sunday, 14th December, I decided to visit one such protest to have a first-hand experience of it.
What happened at the Jamia protest?
As my brother and I reached Jamia University, we saw thousands of people gathered there. In one corner, someone was playing the dhol while in the other, students chanted “CAA se azaadi.” (Freedom from CAA). I had attended a protest only once before, but this was totally different. I noticed that a group of volunteers was constantly moving around and telling the participants: “This is a peaceful protest. No one will resort to violence. It will send the wrong message. If you want to resort to violence, please leave this protest.”
I made my way to the ladies’ area in the front while my brother stayed with the men. We were constantly in touch and shared our locations on WhatsApp, just in case something went wrong. But somehow, I felt safe. Young boys and adults had formed a human chain around the women in order to protect them.
The procession made its way to Julena Chowk, where it suddenly stopped. I tried to understand why. When I tried to look through the crowd, I saw the police force not ten feet away from us. They stood there with their gears and helmets blocking the road. It felt like something straight out of a movie. Yet, I still felt safe because it was the constitutional right of the citizens to stage a peaceful protest and we believed that the police wouldn’t hurt us. The procession was peaceful by all means.
Since the protesters were not moving and the people were continuously joining the protest, the ladies in the crowd, along with many others, took a detour and moved on to Mata Mandir road. I took my phone out to take a beautiful picture of the national flags being waved when there was suddenly panic in the crowd. Moments later, people started running, screaming, “Bhaago!” (Run!)
Hundreds of people who were in front of us started running in our direction. The girl who was next to me grabbed my hand and we started running too. One girl fell in front of us, then another fell, and a few others fell on top of her. Somehow, I managed to keep myself up and was in a position to help myself. But this one girl who was stuck beneath 4-5 people was screaming for help. I couldn’t leave her behind. So I grabbed her by the hand and pulled her out. As she got up and ran forward, I pulled out another girl and helped her to stand up.
Then I tried to move away from the police lathi-charging and ran towards the area which was in front of me. That is when I saw two young girls sitting under a tree crying. One of them was hurt in the foot; both of them were panicked and traumatized. We saw that the police continued to fire tear gas and lathi-charge at the few people that were left behind. I joined the two girls and tried to calm them. Thank God, it helped them to regain composure.
By this time, a policeman came towards us and, raising his stick on us, told us to leave immediately. But when I told him that my friend was injured, he went away. Just then, one of the two girls pointed to someone at a distance. It was a girl who had fallen on the floor.
I ran towards the fallen girl. She was completely choking while her friend tried to make her inhale her asthma puff. I knew she was having a panic attack. I had undergone such fits myself. I held her hands and spent many minutes calming her down. Then more of her friends came running towards her and took her away. The video of her, along with her friends, has gone viral. I reached the place seconds later after the girls saved their male friend from the police. Later I saw a picture of her lying in a hospital. I hope she is fine now.
I tried calling my brother in between. He didn’t pick up. Scary images passed through my head, but I shut them away. The next moment I noticed another girl frantically screaming at the constables. She was upset as the police had caught hold of her friend and were beating him up. One policeman advanced to hit her, but by the time her friends reached there and tried to cover her up. That gave me time to drag her away.
As I made my way back, I saw one bus lit up in flames. But there was no protester near it. Everyone had scattered over 15 minutes ago. It made me wonder who had the time and arson to light up the bus when the police were right there? There was no protester around except a few people urging us to leave. The whole road was a complete mess with thousands of shoes and slippers scattered. Each one had a different story of police brutality to tell.
I had completely lost my way. The area was near my house. I had been around there hundreds of times, but I could not recognize any of the streets. A few men were running around. Their faces covered with clothes, large sticks in hand. You could just tell that they were not a part of the protest and they came with a different goal. I sneaked into a gully and kept walking. There were other protesters around me, all of them badly shaken up. The tear gas was burning our eyes, lungs and the whole face.
As I made my way home through the narrow gullies, I was scared of what my parents would say. I had not told them where I was going. But when I reached home and told them what had happened, they were proud of me. I finally got in touch with my brother. He was stuck in Sukhdev Vihar. My sister, who is a doctor and works at BL Kapoor hospital, had to walk all the way from Noida because the metro was not going beyond Okhla NCIS. I anxiously kept checking their location.
As I was walking outside hoping for their safe return, I could hear loud bangs coming from Jamia University side. WhatsApp was flooded with messages of police barging into Jamia and beating students up. Some shared news updates while others shared numbers of people who had opened up their homes for students. The police came into our area and shut down all the shops. It felt like a war zone. I breathed a sigh of relief when my brother and sister got home. But I couldn’t sleep that night.
I don’t think any of us could sleep. I spent the night trying to contact loved ones and replying to concerned messages. The next day, stories of friends and relatives started reaching us. A friend of mine was studying in the library when tear gas was shot in. She fell on broken glasses as she tried to run away. While other students tried to carry her away, they were stopped by the police and beaten up.
Another family friend of mine was also beaten up by the police. His glasses and phone were smashed. Many students came forward to describe how the police had used communal language on them, like “go back to Pakistan; you are a terrorist” or “Call out to Allah now.”
Is CAA anti-Muslim?
While numerous institutions and people have come out to condemn violence against students in Jamia, Aligarh Muslim University and other places, there have been some who supported the CAA and the police action. One of the most common statements they give is that Muslims are being provoked and that the CAA is not discriminative.
One of the main problems with CAA is that you have to prove your citizenship. In order to do that, you need to show documents issued before 1971. The problem is that a large part of the population does not have those documents. People preferred home birth, so there is no birth certificate. Many families were not educated back then, so people do not have degrees to show, and the majority of the people did not have land to show ownership papers and thus prove that you are a citizen of India.
The people who will be most affected by the CAA are poor people who do not have the above-mentioned documents to prove their legal residence in India, although they have been living here for generations. Simply put, they do not have any such documents, nor could they trace any legal evidence to substantiate that their parents were Indian citizens. The number of such people is very large, who will find themselves in this awkward situation.
If we talk about the people who have the proper documents, there is no guarantee that those papers will be acceptable to the authorities. Sanaullah Khan’s case from Assam is an example of it. He was a former army officer and Kargil war veteran. But his papers did not match the formalities of the process. As a result, he has declared a foreigner and was sent to the camp by the police. His case is still in the High Court.
In an interview that is going viral, Amit Shah said that “Hindus. Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, and Christians will be given citizenship,” even if they are illegal immigrants to India. Notice that all these groups are religious communities. All these communities will benefit from the CAA. But a Muslim under the same circumstances will end up in the camp of the illegal immigrants, even if he has spent 30 years serving the country as Sanaullah Khan did.
Although it is disheartening to see the government stoping the people from voicing their opinions, there is still hope. Being a part of the protest and interacting with people made me realize that there were people from different religions and backgrounds who joined the Muslims to show solidarity in the name of justice. There is a sense of celebration of togetherness and brotherhood in the air, which made me feel that I was owned by my countrymen without any reservation. Of course, that made me feel a proud Indian.