The growing number of students and citizens joining the India-wide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act have now received support all the way from Harvard University. The university’s students and affiliates have written an open letter to the Indian government dated December 16, condemning the “violent suppression of the student protesters” at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi, Aligarh Muslim University and other places. They have also called the CAA a “deeply regrettable act of legislation”.
Stressing that protest and dissent are inherent to democracy, the letter says that even though they are disruptive and inconvenient, they are important to sustain the secular and democratic fabric of the country.
“The violent suppression of protesters by the police, the use of teargas, lathi charges, and physical assault in response to peaceful dissent, and the police forces’ forceful entry into university campuses and consequent Internet blockades there are all deeply reprehensible,” the letter, signed by 120 students and affiliates of Harvard at the time of writing, says.
“We are shocked and deeply concerned about many of the anecdotal reports being shared on police brutality aimed at breaking the spirit of protesters including anecdotes of police attacks on female protesters. It is important to note that these events are in violation of rights to due process, public association, and dissent,” it reads.
Highlighting that India’s independence itself was won thanks to peaceful protest, the letter states that political engagement is not an impediment to democracy, but rather breeds democracy. They also called for both protesters and law enforcement to abide by the Gandhian principle of ahimsa or non-violence.
Echoing a popular criticism of the CAA, the signatories also say that the law is in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution which enshrines equal protection for all citizens.
“Further, it is also in violation of the spirit of India as imagined by leaders like Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Sarojini Naidu, Dr BR Ambedkar and Maulana Azad. Religion cannot be the determinant of nationhood and citizenship cannot be a tool of ethnic violence. By pushing a religiously backed narrative on immigrants and refugees, the act protects non-Muslim minorities of neighbouring states at the cost of Muslim immigrants and refugees. The consequences of this range from an attempt to redefine what it means to be Indian and who counts as Indian to questions on what will happen to future climate refugees, such as, for instance, those living in low altitude areas of Bangladesh who might be in need of refuge,” the letter says.
The Harvard University students and affiliates who signed the letter expressed solidarity with the “students and other patriotic citizens of India” who have strongly dissented to and opposed the Act.