Mumbai: Months before the Citizenship Amendment Act came into force, a group of students at Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) were working to raise awareness about the proposed legislation and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam. Over the past week, their advocacy work has taken the form of peaceful protests on the streets of Mumbai, especially as they wanted to show solidarity with students of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), who faced a police crackdown.
“Ours is not an impulsive protest just for the sake of it. We have been speaking out against the CAA and the NRC for months," said an IIT-B student, who did not want to be named. The students have done more than taking out rallies, he said. They had formed committees to deal with content generation, research and social media outreach to answer questions people may have.
Another IIT-B student, who is also a member of the Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), said students of elite institutes were finally expressing themselves. “The perception that students of certain national universities are troublemakers is utterly unfounded. They have had a long history of participating in national politics and are known for a culture of openness. With the introduction of reservation in IITs and IIMs and the consequent diversification of the student mix over the past decade, we have stopped being silent bystanders to national issues. We have found our voice," he said.
On 15 December, IIT-B students from all departments assembled for a peaceful rally at midnight. On 19 December, they joined students from other institutes as well as working professionals in a massive demonstration at August Kranti Maidan.
More than 500 students and faculty from several IITs and IIMs, AMU, Xavier School of Management and other institutes signed an open letter denouncing the Act. The letter noted that the Act violated the basic tenets of the Constitution and flew in the face of equality. It called for a comprehensive asylum law and policy that protected the legitimate interests of indigenous people. On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Delhi there was no discussion about implementing an all-India NRC.
Another IIT-B student said, “I think there isn’t enough awareness about the nitty-gritty of the Act. Raising your voice without a thorough understanding of the matter is problematic. There has been no survey in IIT-B yet to assess the overall sentiment. Misinformation needs to be combatted."
A researcher from IIT-B said, “Judging by police documents and official reports, none of the violence came from students. Protests with just placards and candles have been branded ‘violent’ for no reason. This isn’t a mere distraction from the ongoing economic troubles either; it’s a serious issue."
On being asked what solutions students proposed, the APPSC member said, “We ask that all charges against the students who were unfairly detained be dropped. We want the policemen who committed the aggression to be punished according to due process. And we call for CAA to be repealed."
The idea behind their protest is to have their voices heard. “The aim is to grow the movement enough for the courts and state and central governments to take heed of our arguments," said another IIT-B student. “It is important for student communities to be heard."