Protestors holding the 'Azadi' slogan at Shaheen Bagh, Delhi

Thousands of Indians have protested against a proposed law on citizenship as well as potential proposals for a National Registry of Citizens.

The protestors argued that the steps are an assault on a democratic constitution and on Muslim ethnic communities.

What is the CAA and why is it controversial?

On December 11, 2019 the Parliament of India passed The Citizenship Amendment Act that provides citizenship to illegal immigrants from three bordering countries that are not Muslims.

Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan can apply for citizenship.

The bill’s critics argue it is discriminatory and break the democratic values enshrined in the Indian constitution.

Samiya Javed Akhtar, 29, a public health professional and writer from New Delhi said: “The CAA as we see it is discriminatory, anti-constitutional and against the social fabric of India.

Samiya Javed Akhtar

“We are Indian Muslims and we are here to stay.”

The constitution forbids religious discrimination and provides equality before the law and equal treatment of the law for all individuals.

A protestor at Azad Maidan, Mumbai

What is NRC and how is it linked to the CAA?

The CAA is directly connected to a project by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is the ruling party in India, called the National Register of Citizens or NRC.

The NRC remains a key part of the BJP’s attempt to claim India to be a home of the Hindus.

The purpose of the registry is to recognize legitimate Indian citizens through a mechanism that could cast doubt on millions of Indians’ citizenship.

Afreen Fatima, 21, student and councillor at Jawaharlal Nehru University said: “When we connect the CAA to NRC we see how our government intends to give citizenships only to non-Muslims.

Afreen Fatima

“This is what the government has said in the parliament and at live events and so we fear an uncertain future and we do not like uncertainty.”

Consequently, the CAA-NRC has evoked a far more intense reaction than many other recent successes on the Hindutva list such as the abolition of Article 370, the criminalization of triple Talaq and the decision of the Supreme Court on the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid issue.

Why did students all over India protest?

In an unprecedented show of anti-government resistance, the passage of the CAA and the initiative to establish NRC galvanized thousands of citizens.

The flame ignited by the protests in Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh took India by storm.

A regular at the protests all over India, Samiya said: “The deliberate, targeted, anti-Muslim attacks were perpetrated to instill fear.

“Further stoking the fire of hate against Muslims and vilifying and dehumanizing the Muslim community. ”

Police brutality inside the campus of the university gave the wave of demonstrations a further momentum.

Muslims of the nation, who are most at risk from this step, were at the frontline of the massive protests.

She further added: “The spearheading of the anti-CAA movement by Muslim women has been an empowering and emotional development for Muslim-identifying women everywhere, including myself.”

Protestors at Azad Maidan, Mumbai

The demonstrations launched by JMI and AMU students grew into a much wider opposition.

All over India, tens of thousands of people came out into the streets to demonstrate their opposition to the CAA, with a heavy focus on upholding the constitution.

The protests were not explicitly limited to minority educational establishments or to any particular community.

Students protesting against police brutality in JMI and AMU

Furthermore, they took place beyond the context of identity politics, with young men and women articulating their rights as individuals, particularly at JMI.

These movements gave the youth of India a new identity that the government did not see coming.

Former Women’s College Students’ Union President, Afreen said: “Initially the number of female protestors was considerably low but more and more females joined after the incidents at JMI and AMU.”

Failures in the economy also aroused criticism and the riled-up anger against the inability of the government to reform the economy provided the wider political backdrop for dissatisfaction.

A wide range of issues, from increased tuition fees to higher unemployment to intentionally established social differences, the upheavals also reflected increasing distrust against the totalitarian Hindutva rule of the BJP.

Protestors at Azad Maidan, Mumbai

This dramatic show of a unified India has been compared with the agitations against the authoritarian rule of Indira Gandhi and the two major moves of the last decade, the campaigns of Anna Hazare and Nirbhaya.

Samiya said: “On a personal front, another great experience, definitely, has been the various friendships and solidarities that have been forged during the ongoing protests.

“I have met countless fellow protestors, activists, whom I now call friends, with a shared vision of what India should look like.”

The demonstrations have helped rekindle the latent memories of the unity, exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi’s alliance with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and his affection for Hakim Ajmal Khan.

Is Shaheen Bagh the new face of Indian protests?

A Muslim middle-class community in New Delhi emerged as the epicenter and the face of anti-CAA protests across India.

The infamous Shaheen Bagh sit-in peaceful protest began on December 14, 2019 and lasted for 101 days.

The protests were halted on 24 March as Delhi Police vacated the area due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Shaheen Bagh’s distinguishing feature was the protesting women.

Young, elderly, from villages to urban cities, women not only took part but also led the demonstrations.

Javed said: “The oppressed Muslim woman have been turned on their heads and women have taken the reigns of the movement and are leading the fight for the soul of India.

“They have sat through cold and rainy nights, suffered severe personal inconvenience and at the cost of their privacy and safety, forefronted a resilient, inspiring, campaign.”

Women at the sit-in protests at Shaheen Bagh, Delhi

After the police interventions in Jamia, worried mothers began campaigning to protect not just the constitution but also their children’s rights.

Those witnessing the demonstrations credit the women of Shaheen Bagh for their strength and endurance.

Fatima said: “My mother, grandmother and my aunts were the kind of women that had no say regarding politics as they thought nobody would care about their opinion.

“Seeing these kind of women on the streets protesting through the Delhi winters was amazing.”

With crowds reaching a soaring magnitude of 100,000 people, Shaheen Bagh inspired similar sit-in protests across the nation.

For 101 days the women of Shaheen Bagh and people across India endured long, dark hours, united against a mutual enemy: the racist and divisive politics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.