Karthika B Kurup is one among many students who decided to boycott the convocation as a mark of protest against CAA and NRC.

Arun Kumar, Karthika and Mehala
news CAA Monday, December 23, 2019 - 19:20

“What use is a government that doesn't consider its people's voices?” questions Karthika B Kurup, when asked about her decision to boycott the annual convocation event organised by Pondicherry University. 

Twenty-eight-year-old Karthika is one of the many graduates of the university, who decided to boycott the 27th Annual Convocation event on Monday, which was presided over by the Indian President Ram Nath Kovind. Their decision to boycott the event came on the sidelines of the nationwide protests against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). 

The Students Council of Pondicherry University had last week urged students to boycott the convocation as a mark of their protest against the CAA and NRC and in solidarity with the students who were attacked by the police in Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). 

Speaking to TNM from Kottayam, Karthika was one of the first to announce her decision to refuse to receive her award from the President. “I was reluctant to accept an award from the hands of someone who finally assented to a discriminatory law,” she explains. She had updated her WhatsApp status about her decision to boycott the convocation, which went viral. 

‘India not a fascist state’

A gold medallist in M Sc Electronic Media, Karthika graduated from Pondicherry University in 2018 and is now working in Kerala. Calling her decision to boycott the prestigious event a ‘purely personal’ one, Karthika says that she cannot stand by discrimination on religious grounds. “I demand the withdrawal of CAA and NRC. The government must understand how strong the sentiment is by seeing people like me, students, foregoing our valuable, hard-earned moments. As an individual, I got a chance to protest in this way. I urge everybody else also to register their protest in any way they can, as individuals," she says earnestly. 

She says that the widespread protests are a reflection of the deep resentment that the people of India have towards the CAA and NRC. The students of Pondicherry University had also taken out a protest march inside the campus last week in solidarity with the students of JMI and AMU. 

“Why should we follow whatever the government says without questioning them? We are not a fascist country, we are a democracy. Our Preamble says so. We don’t need to bow down and take whatever is given at us. If we disagree, we should protest in every way we can,” she emphasises. 

‘I stand with the students’

For AS Arun Kumar, the seven long years he put in, working on his PhD thesis was not as important registering his dissent. 

“Not just with JMI and AMU students, I also wanted to express solidarity with the lakhs of protesters out on the streets against the CAA and NRC,” he tells TNM. The 34-year-old anthropology scholar defended his PhD thesis in October 2018 and was eagerly awaiting his felicitation. However, he chose to forgo in protest against what’s happening instead.

“I didn’t want to get my degree from the President of India. He had a choice, an option, to send the bill back to the Parliament. But he did not; instead, he put his sign and made it a law,” he explains.

Secularism threatened

For SA Mehala, a 30-year-old PhD scholar, who was to receive her certificate from the President on Monday, the decision was simple -- when the government is plotting to destroy the secularism enshrined in the Constitution, she will protest, she says. 

“Discrimination based on religion and community cannot be tolerated by any Indian citizen. Today, it is Muslims, tomorrow it could be Christians, and the day after that it could be Dalits or other minorities. This will divide people and we should not allow this to happen,” she argues. 

Mehala was a gold medallist in anthropology from the same university, and completed her PhD in February this year. Referring to the thousands of students who have been protesting against CAA, she says, “This is why we are educated. We study so we can reason, and question. When we reason, and raise our voice against whatever is harming us, the state treats us also brutally?” she questions.

Calling the BJP-led government at the centre “fascist” for targeting a particular community, and for unleashing violence on students for opposing that, Mehala adds, “There is no point in claiming we live in a democracy if our freedom of speech and right to protest are curtailed.”