India's anti-CAA protests are mirroring global protests

India's anti-CAA protests are mirroring global protests

The protests in India mimic many other protests taking place across the world both in substance and style

Women from Muslim community protest against CAA and NRC in Mumbai, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. Credit: PTI Photo

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) which came into effect on January 10, 2020 has led to widespread protests in India since the end of 2019. Protesters hold that, coupled with a National Register of Citizens (NRC), the legislation will become an accessory in a religious test of citizenship that excludes Muslims.

Notably, the protests in India mimic many other protests taking place across the world such as those in Latin America, Europe, parts of the Middle East and South East Asia. Against this backdrop, it is likely that the anti-CAA protests have much more potent underpinnings than what is obvious. To appreciate this, it is worthwhile to look at the Indian protests in the context of global protests.

2019, the year of protests

2019 was a year filled with global protests. Indeed, it was dubbed the year of protesters by various experts and academics. The witnessing of globalised protests is not a new phenomenon. Revolutionary movement specialists like Mathilde Larrère have shown that such protests existed in the 19th and 20th Centuries with 1968, 1989 and 2011 being among the most well-known flash points. 2019 (and the beginning of 2020) is one such year that has witnessed energised agitation by people across the world.

Various scholarly opinions exist regarding the origin, causes, connectivity and outcomes of such protests. Causes for instance, can be different depending on the type of government in place. Democratic governments across the world have seen socio-economic issues act as triggers, with subsequent protests becoming streamlined to accommodate long-standing political issues as well.

In India, while the CAA was the spark, many other demands and criticisms regarding the economy, unemployment and the lack of strong labor laws were in the backdrop.

Among other facilitating factors, mentioned by protest specialist Richard Youngs, is the ubiquity of social media, the rise of a middle class with higher expectations from their governments, the staggering advance of democracy leading to problems with democratic rights and finally, the rapid growth of civil society actors including Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) as well as professional associations among others.

The Indian protests have encompassed many of these aspects. For instance, encrypted platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram have played a strong role in facilitating protests, to which the middle class was especially receptive due to dwindling economic opportunities under the current government. Additionally, that many political activists and protesters have specifically criticised the authoritarian push of the government has shown that there is higher desire to experience political freedoms that have slightly waned in India. Lastly, the presence of many civil society groups, who were instrumental in organising the protests, providing legal assistance and other such functions, highlight the congruence between Indian and global protests.

Stakeholders and tactics

Apart from these reasons, the groups of protestors and some of the tactics adopted also mimic that of global protests. Four groups of people deserve special mention. The first is the large swathes of students. Like universities abroad, Indian universities too have become staging grounds for protests. The second group is women. In areas like Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi, women have helped sustain protests. This is in keeping with global trends of women reclaiming public places more visibly in the last decade.

The third group is minorities (which includes Muslims and Dalits). Having faced decades of marginalisation, which was accelerated since the start of the Modi government’s tenure in 2014, the Muslim community came out in droves for the very first time since Indian independence in 1947, using mosques as places to discuss these developments. Moreover, Dalit groups like the Bhim Army have also had a visible presence in the protests including in religious sites like mosques and temples.

Lastly, it is also pertinent that more than 50 protests have taken place against CAA-NRC globally including in Poland, Malaysia, UK and the US among other places, showing that diaspora politics is still alive and active. This too is in line with other diasporas across the world.

One also notices a few tactics that protesters in India have learned from global protests, especially those in Hong Kong. Firstly, Indian protests have managed to remain largely leaderless in order to avoid being tainted as political party-led protests. Secondly, Indian protestors have adopted the tactics of flash protests and thirdly, in the backdrop of India’s ever-increasing Internet shutdowns, protestors have downloaded new apps like Bridgefy which are designed to work in the absence of the Internet.

What next for Indian protests

Statistics over the past few decades have shown that the success of protest movements have declined, going from almost 70 per cent in the 2000s to about 30 per cent since then. One key factor has been the presence of social media. Although it allows for quick mobilisation, circumventing the traditional process of organizing protests, the lack of long-drawn protests results in a weak machinery which does not translate into political action post the protest. This may well happen in India as well, which could spell a gradual dissipation of protests.

As seen above, the Indian protests have mimicked global ones in terms of underlying reasons, participating groups and tactics. In such a scenario, observers could look to the fate of global contexts when trying to gauge how these anti-incumbency sentiments will fare post the protests in India.

That said, Indian democracy has recently been questioned given the silence of citizens regarding many issues. In mirroring global protests, Indians have shown that civil society is still robust and a long way away from losing sight of the democratic goal. 

(Mohammed Sinan Siyech is a senior analyst with the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore) 
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox