Students and affiliates of Singapore’s Yale-NUS College on Thu (19 Dec) drafted a petition against the “violent suppression” of “peaceful student protesters” by India’s police force at various Muslim-majority universities across the nation, following the federal government’s decision to introduce the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The petition highlighted that police had deployed various “reprehensible” means of handling the protesters such as “teargas, physical assault, internet blockades” and even “forceful entry into university campuses”.
The alleged instances of police brutality have also directly affected “members of the Yale-NUS community”, who “have faced and are facing various degrees of arbitrary government repression in India”.
“We strongly believe that these protests act as a means of checks and balances in a situation where the government forcibly exercises the shut down of internet services, the use of police violence to silence opposition and the unwillingness of the government to engage in productive discourse with the members of the parliament, the citizens and the very Indian Constitution’s democratic premises,” the petition read.
The Yale-NUS petitioners also argued that the “true impact of CAA, however, becomes apparent when seen in combination with the National Register of Citizens (NRC)”.
“The latter, currently implemented only in the state of Assam but with plans to be turned into a national policy, requires people to prove their citizenship status by providing documentation that goes back several generations.
“Given the state of document-keeping practices in most of the country, this is an ineffective way to create a register of Indian citizens,” according to the Yale-NUS petitioners, adding that the joint workings of CAA will complicate the process of obtaining Indian citizenship for “documented Muslim refugees”, and will in turn open the gates to “the systematic prosecution of Muslim citizens who lack appropriate documentation”.
The petition listed four demands, namely:
- The scrapping of the implementation of CAA and the NRC in its present form in favour of a “non-discriminatory and humane means of integrating refugees” into India;
- A follow-up in the form of an “investigation into abuse of power by the police, especially in the Aligarh Muslim and Jamia Millia Islamia universities”;
- All non-violent protests be allowed to continue “in concordance with our Fundamental Rights”; and
- The restoration of Internet access and telecommunication services “wherever it has been arbitrarily throttled by the government”.
Critics of CAA — including Yale-NUS petitioners — warn against erosion of India’s democratic, secular principles enshrined in Constitution
Under CAA, only non-Muslim migrants from neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will effectively be given amnesty on the grounds of protecting religious minorities from persecution in the three countries.
The protection afforded to non-Muslim migrants under CAA is seen by critics — including the Yale-NUS students who had drafted the petition on Thu — as a violation of the secular nature of India’s Constitution.
“The foundations of a truly democratic Republic of India rests on several key pillars enshrined in the Constitution. Foremost among these are secularism, abrogated by the enactment of the CAA, and the freedom of speech its people have, which has been suppressed inevitably by the government’s violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, especially in its own educational institutions,” according to the Yale-NUS petitioners.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, has previously rejected similar criticism, saying that such laws will have “no effect on citizens of India, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Christians and Buddhists”.
BBC News also reported Modi as saying that the opposition had been “spreading lies and rumours” and “instigating violence” and “creating an atmosphere of illusion and falsehood”.
Internet shutdowns in various regions across India following widespread dissent
The New York Times reported on Tue that authorities in Assam, as well as other states such as Meghalaya and Tripura, had shut down Internet services as a result of the widespread dissent across the nation. West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh — two of India’s most populous states — also “registered disturbances”, NYT observed.
Kashmir — a region whose autonomous status was revoked by Modi’s government in early Aug — is experiencing a total communications shutdown to this date, stunting not only public dissent against CAA, but also those who rely on an online marketplace to conduct commercial activities.
President of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad told NYT that is “no work”, and that the dignity of the people in Kashmir “has been taken away” as a result of the shutdowns, given that thousands of entrepreneurs — especially makers of silk scarves and handicrafts — sold their products online through social media.
According to NYT, the authorities said that the shutdown was a means of curbing “the spread of hateful and dangerous misinformation, which can move faster on Facebook, WhatsApp and other services than their ability to control it”.
Tech Crunch reported on Fri (20 Dec) that three of India’s leading telecommunications networks — Reliance Jio, Vodafone and Airtel — had cut their mobile coverage in parts of New Delhi, the capital of India, on Thu morning.
The three companies reportedly said that they had done so under the government’s direction, according to Tech Crunch.
While services were restored the same afternoon, the Indian government had allegedly issued a similar direction for the city of Mangalore — a commercial hub in the state of Karnataka — just hours later.
Such Internet shutdowns are no longer restricted to being the hallmark of authoritarian governments, as demonstrated by the curbs in democratic India.
Berhan Taye, a senior policy analyst at Access Now, told The Guardian that such Internet shutdowns are becoming more widespread as nations “are learning from each other, how these shutdowns work and how they can be implemented”.
“It’s like a child is at the switch, turning it on and off whenever they fear something is happening,” Taye said, citing examples such as Iraq, Venezuela, and in Ethiopia where such shutdowns are costing its economy an estimated US$4.5m a day.