University students on warpath against CAA

By Kushal Jeena

Students across the universities are on the warpath against the contentious new citizenship act and proposed national register of citizens. There is no going back on their part as they are getting popular support not only from within the country but also from top universities overseas.

The incidents of violent attacks on the peaceful student protests recently at Jamia Millia University and Jawaharlal Nehru University by the government –backed ABVP, the student wing of ruling right wing Bhartiya Janata Party, have given further fillip to the movement that has currently rocked the country. The attitude of confrontation that central government has been pursuing has further complicated the situation.

“All major student unions like the All India Student Federation, Student Federation of India, the National Student Union of India and the All India Student Association mobilised support to register their protest. “All 40 central universities will see protests this week on the issue and plans were afoot to take it us in institutes as well. No campus can be turned into a war zone like it was done at Jamia Millia Islamia. We are demanding a roll back of Citizenship Amendment Act and action against Delhi Police for excesses on students. Protests have already erupted across several institutes,” the student unions said in a statement.

The events that have unfolded in the aftermath of passage of new citizenship amendment act by parliament and subsequent police action inside the campuses have given rise to a new phenomenon in India’s youth politics that could have its far reaching implications in the national politics as the government seems all out to curb it by using power. However, the movement seems still searching for an icon that could capture the imagination of this generation.

Perhaps, for the first time the country has been witnessing such a widespread support for student community on an issue like citizenship amendment act that hardly touch them. The youth that gathered at almost all protest venues were not mobilized by any particular political party. The spontaneous participation of students in the protests over CAA and NRC is evident of the fact that they at this juncture find their future bleak and are under various restrictions as the activities of student unions are discouraged, social media communication is monitored and student s are penalised for their anti-government posts on social networking sites. The protests against the government and police atrocities are also a protest against suffocation that the authorities have unleashed on the students.

The voicing of their opposition to the CAA and NRC assumes political significance as the student community that includes a sizeable number of non-Muslim students are rejecting the CAA and NRC on two basic issues of being non-secular and discriminatory in nature. If you look at the problem beyond CAA and NRC, you would find that youth is impatient with the business of settling past scores that the present BJP-led central government is engaged in.

The agitation against the hostel fee hike at JNU is in fact the fall out of this fundamental issue. Higher education is unaffordable in view of the state of the economy. Successive governments have done little except hold back fee hike, which is a small component of the expense of higher education, and that too under duress.

The new generation of students who have entered higher education bring new aspiration and they find out that university education is unlikely to land them decent jobs as unemployment rate continues to be high, and the highest among college graduates. This rate drops after the age of 24, not because they get the jobs they were looking for, but because they begin to settle down in whatever job they can get the sudden and spontaneous eruption of the student community expresses this deeper frustration of aspirations.

The movement is spontaneous and it does not have an organisational instrument that can widen and deepen its impact. Though there are emerging youth icons, but no one who can bind the movement together as it is also looking for a new set of ideas. It would be a mistake to read the movement as the harbinger of a socialist revolution because it is still a movement in search of a name and ideology that could shape it in a full-fledge political movement based on certain ideas and a well thought out forward looking process.

“No sooner had Parliament given its approval to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill than students across the country erupted in protest against what they saw as a violation of the Constitution. A number of student groups and other bodies issued statements against what is now the citizenship amendment act and the proposed national register of citizens, and against the crackdown on the students of JNU Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University.,” the joint statement of student unions underlined.

Almost all top Indian and 19 prestigious global universities have come out in support of Indian students and have issued a statement against CAA and NRC describing the act as discriminatory and in violation of the basic structure of Indian Constitution. They have advocated a comprehensive asylum law while protecting the land, cultural and linguistic rights of the indigenous people. The new citizenship amendment act in its present form is all set to harm the interests of the indigenous people of north east. India as a signatory to the UN declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People has the responsibility to protect the interests of its citizens.

Meanwhile, North East Students Organization, an umbrella organization of student unions of restive north-eastern region of the country has issued a joint statement against the CAA that reads: “The eight major student unions of seven north-eastern states are opposing strongly the citizenship amendment act. It is a draconian act on the very basic principle that this CAA is a threat to the identity and survival of the microscopic indigenous communities of the different states of the region, which shares a long and porous border with Bangladesh and has been facing a problem of illegal infiltration since India attained independence. This law will facilitate illegal migration of foreigners and put at risk its own citizens from external aggression”.

The powerful All Assam Student Union that had unleashed a popular movement against illegal migration in Assam, the largest among north-eastern states, is one of the major components of NESO.


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