Last year in the chilling winter of December, Indian government amended Citizenship Act 1955, making it completely biased towards the Muslim community of India, which resulted in protests erupting in top two Muslim majority educational institutions of India – Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI). This was not the first time that students protested but this time, police brutality inflicted on students was extraordinary.
Before the bill was even tabled in Lok Sabha, on 7 December, students called for a General Body Meeting in AMU to decide the further course of action against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). From the next day onwards, the first anti-CAA agitation in India began in AMU campus. Soon after that, protests started in JMI and in several parts of Delhi, led by Sharjeel Imam.
After 7 December, protest assemblies and meetings against CAA took place on a daily basis in AMU. On 9 December, the day bill of CAA was tabled in Lok Sabha, students burned copies of bill in protest. A consensus of not accepting the CAA bill built amongst students of AMU and JMI. On CAA bill, the students read the pain, betrayal and sufferings Muslims underwent during the last seven decades in India. According to them, the Indian Muslim community cannot afford a poisonous cocktail of CAA and National Register of Citizens (NRC) as it will obliterate everything for them in this country. State already had all forces and laws ready like Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and National Investigating Agency Act, due to regimes of previous governments of secular liberal parties, to attack Muslims.
On 10 December, AMU students went on a hunger strike. Imagine 25, 000 students went on a hunger strike and no national media house reported it from AMU as JMI students decided to go to Jantar Mantar. The students were angry and state was ready to do a crackdown.
Sharjeel Imam with his group of friends was campaigning in Okhla while AMU students simultaneously started campaigning in Aligarh to sensitize the local population for protesting on streets which was done bravely latter. JMI students called for long March to parliament on 14 December but police did not allow them to march by doing a heavy laathi charge and detaining students but this crackdown did not break down their spirits.
On 15 December, police along with Rapid Action Front invaded campuses of AMU and JMI and the brutal assault they inflicted on its students is history. As soon as the news reached Aligarh of police entering JMI campus and unleashing crackdown on its students, AMU students came out raging from their hostels in solidarity with JMI. In AMU, police used the solidarity gathering as an excuse to invade the campus and dislodge the protesting students with brute force. But they did not stop here, the brutal assault went on. They entered hostels, burnt rooms, abused students and detained students from their rooms.
The protests till 15 December were led by students who asserted their Muslim identity unflinchingly by raising slogans and routinely referred to the persecution Muslims have been facing in India. Their graffitis, speechs and slogans asserted their Muslim identity as they believed the current regime was attacking them in a chronology of events ranging from mob lynchings to CAA because of their religious identity. They believed the assertion of their identity to be the best defense to these Islamophobic attacks.
The state applied two methods to sabotage the protests on 15 December. Firstly, they infiltrated the groups of protesting students to cause ideological derailment and secondly, they used physical force to assault the protestors. Before 15th December, protests in both campuses were purely organic. The students asserted their identity to fight back. After 15 December, the infiltrated groups started propagating that the protest will become exclusive and not gather a larger solidarity if the protestors continued asserting their identity. Because of this baseless propagation, the protests soon started using constitution as a shield to gather solidarity. Identity assertion took backseat in this race to gather solidarity, which was rendered useless as the incarceration of the student protestors started.
The protestors which began with identity assertion of Muslims were sacrificed on the dais of larger solidarity and pseudo-constitutionalism. Both of these remain lost when it comes to supporting Muslim students like Imam who have been incarcerated due to their identity. All of this concludes that gathering solidarity by disowning Muslim identity is a privilege Muslim protestors cannot afford to have in India because when it comes to biased discrimination, all larger solidarities recede to invisibility.