Protests cannot be put down by force

Protests cannot be put down by force

Demonstrators display placards during a protest to show solidarity with the students of New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia university after police entered the university campus on Sunday following a protest against a new citizenship law, in Bengaluru, India

Protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which started in the North-Eastern states with the passage of the Bill in Parliament, have gained momentum and spread to other areas, including the national capital Delhi, West Bengal, Bengaluru and Chennai. In many places, students from even the IITs and IIMs, as well as those from several universities, have come out to protest, especially after the police action on the students of Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi. While many have come out to protest against the Act, others have turned up in solidarity with the Jamia Millia students. This now seems to be turning into a nationwide movement. Some protests were marked by violence, but much of the violence has been in the form of disproportionate use of force by the police. The police crackdown in the Jamia Millia was harsh, and students have responded to that in cities and small towns far away from Delhi. 

The government is wrong if it thinks it can contain the protests with strong-arm measures like police firing, curfews and cutting off communication facilities like the internet. Blaming political parties for instigating the protests and finding in them a conspiracy against the government also will not help. Even in the face of the worsening situation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made only a general promise that the linguistic and cultural identities of the people of the North-East will be protected. This has not been accepted by the communities in the region because it cannot be fulfilled within the framework of the CAA and similar assurances have not been kept in the past. The region has a delicate balance of communities, races and religions and that is now sought to be upset. This will have dangerous consequences in an area where fierce identity politics and even secessionism has currency. 

But the CAA raises issues that are larger than the concerns over identity in the North-East and that is why it is being strongly and widely opposed in all parts of the country. It will be wrong and unwise of the government to counter such protests, arising out of concerns over the threat to citizenship rules and the Constitution that the CAA poses, with force, misinformation and accusations of anti-national conduct. Citizens of all classes and religions and wearing all kinds of clothes, and all political parties and social groups have the right and reasons to protest against the CAA because it affects all of them. But it must be ensured that the protests are peaceful so as not to give the government the reason to malign them.    

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