The year 2019 ended with massive protests against the CAA-NRC and the subsequent crackdown on these protests. The demonstrations carried well into 2020, culminating in violent communal riots in Delhi and attacks against individuals and groups critical of the government.
The most prominent peaceful gatherings that were disrupted often were the Jamia, JNU and Shaheen Bagh protests. Jamia Millia Islamia saw massive crackdowns against its students. The women sitting in Shaheen Bagh were constantly vilified on mainstream and social media. And it came as no surprise when two separate incidents of a lone gunman firing shots at these protest sites came to light.
The protests were eventually cut short after the Covid-19 lockdown was enforced.
During the lockdown period, various other incidents highlighted the hatred ingrained within our society; overblowing the Tablighi Jamaat incident, calls to boycott Muslims, attacks on Muslims in Telinapar and the recent Begum Bagh incident. In between, Dalits, Adivasis and migrant labourers faced several challenges during the lockdown.
And just like 2019, the end of 2020 saw similar chaos. Farmers started their agitation in August when the three farm bills were first introduced. The parliament passed the bills and the protests have grown ever since. Initially, a majority of the protests were centred in Punjab, but with farmer unions coming together and organising, the Delhi Chalo movement gained momentum.
The end of November saw clashes between the farmers marching towards Delhi’s borders and police (ordered by the Centre). Water cannons and tear gas were used against the farmers, and protesters were lathi charged. This led to a massive uproar online. A nationwide general strike followed that involved approximately 250 million people.
More farmers and protestors converged to Delhi’s borders. The transport union came out in support of the farmers as well. Thousands of farmers and protesters from around the country have now joined the farmers at different Delhi borders.
The anti-CAA-NRC and farmers protests have a lot in common, including the Centre’s rhetoric. The protesters have been called anti-nationals, terrorists, Maoists, Pakistanis, Khalistanis, etc. In both instances, the Centre also claimed that the protests were “politically motivated” and were infiltrated by “outside forces”. The ruling class and their supporters have tried their damnedest to delegitimise these movements.
The difference lies in the apparent success with which the farmers have sustained their agitation. They have been successful because they planned and organised beforehand. They have a definitive action plan for every obstacle that is thrown at them. They have shown unity and have stayed together in large numbers to counter any opposition.
Another reason they’ve been successful is because of the massive public support they’ve been getting. The government did use force against the farmers, but the massive outpouring of support might have disrupted the Centre’s actions and forced them to reevaluate their next steps. The farmers have continued to protest at the borders peacefully and have vowed to do so until the farm bills are revoked.
The anti-CAA-NRC protests were widespread, but right-wing narratives were weaponised and were successful in hindering public support. While people like Kapil Mishra were mad at protesters blocking roads, threatening retaliation (culminating in the Delhi Riots), such rhetoric cannot hinder the farmer’s protests.
Public support is important for any agitation to be successful. The inherent indifference of the public may have led to much more severity against the anti-CAA-NRC protesters.
Although these protests signify the importance of freedom of speech and expression, the difference in public perception gauge that freedom. While Kapil Mishra was free to incite a violent mob, activists like Sharjeel Imam, Umar Khalid, Dr Kafeel Khan, members of Pinjra Tod, Safoora Zargar, etc. have been arrested. The Centre and the police have been actively trying to blame anti-CAA protesters of orchestrating the Delhi riots.
Sharjeel Imam, in particular, was arrested for suggesting a blockade of Assam’s borders (what we currently see in Delhi) to protest the implementation of the CAA and use of detention centres. He is accused of “misleading” Muslims against the CAA and NRC.
The pillars of Indian democracy — legislative, executive, judiciary and media — have indiscriminately been used to suppress dissent against the status quo. With the BJPs rise to power, most of the Constitutions principles have been diluted. Their leaders openly call for socialism and secularism to be scrapped from the Constitution.
Whether the Congress or BJP, the government at the Centre works against the interests of 90% of the population. These protests are a testament to the growing frustration within the country. Thus, class consciousness is important for further such movements to be successful.
26 January marks the Constitution’s inception, but the ideals of justice, equality and liberty that the ruling class is about to celebrate do not exist in India’s reality.