Protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 or CAA and related provisions were in full swing until a little less than two weeks ago. Shaheen Bagh protests had been in place for more than 3 months and was seeing no signs of stopping. The government continued to carry on its daily nothings, laying ground to implement CAA/NRC (National Register of Citizens) on a nation-wide scale on the side. Months of protests had had barely any affect on the government’s decision of amending the Citizenship Act yet once again, this time with a very obvious religious bias.
Police brutality claimed lives all around the country and there was no saying what the protests would have further resulted in. Would the resistance have crumbled in the face of an unfaltering body of power? Would the power have given in to its creator’s demands? Well we wouldn’t know now, will we? The recent Covid-19 panic set foot in India at a very opportune time for the ruling party, and very unfortunately for the people carrying on their protests.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister announced a nation-wide lockdown of 21 days on 24th March 2020, during which time only essential services like grocery shops, pharmacies, hospitals and a few other ‘essential’ sectors were supposed to be operating. This lock-down put a ban on people (who are not in the forefront of fighting Covid-19) from leaving their homes for anything but completely essential errands such as shopping for food or medicine.
This meant that groups of people who had gathered to protest against CAA were no longer permitted to collect for fear of mass-transmission of the virus. While this is a legitimate concern for the government and citizens alike, there are a few things that raise concerns about the government’s intentions for the protests after the Covid-19 crisis is resolved.
In the face of a global health crisis which spread like wildfire throughout the world and very probably will in India too, the government still made it a priority to clear out protest sites. So strong is their conviction to drown out the voices of dissent that even when millions of lives are at stake, washing away remnants of protests still takes a front seat.
After protest sites were cleared of people, news soon emerged informing the public about banners, tents and other structures being removed by the police. An installation of the map of India stating an opposition to CAA and NRC was taken down, a replica of the India Gate set at the Shaheen Bagh protest site was seen being lifted away by a crane while the police looked on, banners and posters were removed too. On top of that graffiti and paintings on walls made by protesters were seen being covered up with paint in multiple locations in the country. The day after Shaheen Bagh was cleared, news also reported perpetrators vandalising the empty scene of the protest where people had left cots and sandals as form of carrying on their resistance.
The ruling party at the Centre has been anything but subtle in displaying their unwillingness to make changes to the CAA or in the creation of NRC. And now that a situation has arisen where the public is helpless but to follow government orders, they have pounced at the opportunity to erase any traces of protest left behind. This is, to put in very plain words, terrifying. In the face of a global health crisis which spread like wildfire throughout the world and very probably will in India too, the government still made it a priority to clear out protest sites. So strong is their conviction to drown out the voices of dissent that even when millions of lives are at stake, washing away remnants of protests still takes a front seat.
This situation is very similar to what happens between a parent, and a child demanding, say a fourth bar of chocolate from a basket on the dining table. The child is throwing tantrums and wouldn’t calm down, the parent is trying to placate them by telling them that too many chocolates is not good for health. Suddenly when the child sees a toy they like, they get distracted and the parents use this opportunity to hide the basket of chocolates away, hoping their child would forget about it if it is out of sight.
It is underhand, and it occurs when one party was unable to pay attention to the situation at hand. There is also an unimaginable imbalance of power between the two parties. While this example might help shed some light on why the government’s attempts to clear the streets of any signs of protest is dangerous, it is anything but a perfect parallel. What is attempted to carry through in this article is that the government has always looked at the protests, be it the CAA ones or others, as something infantile.
What is attempted to carry through in this article is that the government has always looked at the protests, be it the CAA ones or others, as something infantile.
They know what is best for the country and that is implementing the CAA. It was not possible to brutally supress all dissent and therefore some, when those promised to be peaceful, were allowed to continue. The whole point of protests is to make the government take notice. When they are peaceful, when absolutely no other form of protest is entertained, it becomes easy for those in power to blissfully ignore the graveness of the situation. And when the chance came where these protesters could be sent home, there was no delay. Crowds were sent home and banned from re-convening, murals were painted over and tents taken down faster than medical staff was provided safety gear.
In fact, medical and allied branches are still operating without adequate safety, banking on good old Indian ‘jugaad’. But this is no time for ‘jugaad’. This pandemic is real, and it is lethal. The most important job right now is to ensure safety of and for essential front-line workers, food for the poor, shelter and transport for migrant workers, security for North East people accused of carrying Covid-19, and protection for Muslims being blamed for spreading the virus.
It is truly concerning that the government chose to paint over ‘NO CAA, NO NRC’ graffiti before they got to arranging travel for workers displaced from their work, in alien states, hundreds of kilometres away from their homes. They seem to be unwilling to hold on to the little sliver of (apparent) democracy this country is supposed to be. Now, we can only hope that the pandemic is not too hard on us, and that after all of it is over, all the brave-hearts of the resistance will come together once again, and fight for what is just.
Featured Image Source: The Print