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Students gather on campus to protest India’s Citizenship Amendment Act

A number of UCLA student groups wore all black on Thursday while protesting Hindu nationalism in India. (Tanmay Shankar/Assistant Photo editor)

By Saumya Gupta

March 6, 2020 12:57 am

Students dressed head-to-toe in black gathered in front of Kerckhoff Hall on Thursday to protest Hindu nationalism in India.

A number of student groups, including UCLA Students Against Hindutva, Muslim Student Association at UCLA, Indus at UCLA and UCLA Sikh Student Association joined at least 18 other universities across the nation to protest Hindutva, a form of Hindu nationalism.

The Indian government has been ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party for six years. It recently incited backlash after passing the Citizenship Amendment Act in December. The act has been accused of discriminating against Muslim people.

The CAA provides a quicker path to citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who came to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan prior to 2015. However, Muslim people cannot access this faster path.

The Indian government announced in November that it would be implementing a National Register of Citizens nationwide that attempts to identify Indian citizens and illegal immigrants based on documentation.

Some critics have said the CAA would allow non-Muslims to become citizens and get on the register, while Muslims would not be able to obtain citizenship as easily.

The implementation of the CAA and NRC led to protests nationwide, especially from students.

Following the protests, pro-CAA riots broke out across the country. Protests were particularly violent in New Delhi, where Muslims were targeted in Delhi’s North East District. Rioters demolished four mosques, killed more than 50 people, injured more than 200 and burned down multiple Muslim-owned properties.

UCLA students said they participated in the protest on campus to raise greater awareness about what is happening in India.

Aroushi Taneja, a third-year statistics student, said she joined the UCLA protest in order to speak out against Hindutva, which she called a fascist ideology responsible for the CAA.

“The main thing we want to do is spread awareness,” she said. “We want to spread the message and want people to know what’s happening in India because it hasn’t gotten any media coverage.”

Some UCLA students said they are personally affected by the protests in India and found it especially important to stand in solidarity.

Iman Noory, a graduate student, was a speaker at the event. She said her family has personally felt the effects in Delhi.

“Just last week, the neighbor of my family in Delhi lost his entire pharmacy to a fire ignited by a Hindutva mob,” she said. “In just one day, his entire livelihood was destroyed.”

Her cousins are having trouble getting to their final exams since it’s too risky for them to leave their homes, she said.

She said that even though she lives in the United States, she has also felt the effects of Hindutva.

“Where once I felt a sense of familiarity and warmth when I saw another Indian, now many times I feel isolated, secluded and othered, as I’m visibly Muslim,” she said. “Just the other day, I was in Artesia, where the shopkeeper selling Indian clothes refused to help us.”

Taneja said people who are pro-CAA believe the bill has good intentions and is trying to be inclusive of people who need refuge.

However, she said this is inaccurate, and that groups who need refuge, such as the Rohingya people of Myanmar, are persecuted but won’t receive refuge because they are Muslim.

Shatakshi Mohan, a fourth-year statistics student who also protested, said she thought India was an extremely tolerant country when she was growing up. She said she is disheartened to see the rising intolerance.

“It’s like a general sense of despair,” she said. “When I went back home to India for winter break, all the conversations were about this. Genuinely, even my communities seem divided.”

At the same time, UCLA graduate students were protesting for a cost of living adjustment. After concluding their own demonstration, the anti-Hindutva protesters marched over to join the graduate students.

The situation in India is a global human rights issue, Mohan said. She said she hopes that more people in America pay attention to the situation.

“You should care about human rights, irrespective of the fact that the humans are halfway across the world,” she said. “A lot of parallels have been drawn between modern Indian and modern American politics. So I believe that if you’re able to find similarities, then you would automatically feel passionate about what’s happening in India as well.”

 

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Saumya Gupta | Assistant News editor
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