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University students hold vigil for Indian Pro-Democracy Movement

At stand-in, students protest two controversial laws, religious exclusion

Sunday night, a large crowd of University students held a stand-in on the steps of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center to express their support for students and marginalized communities in India who are protesting against two controversial Indian mandates.

The vigil, titled “Stand-In for Indian Pro-Democracy Movement,” followed an information session on events relating to the two mandates: the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. Brown South Asian Students Association hosted the information session, according to the event’s Facebook page. Members from SASA and the Kashmir Solidarity Movement, in addition to independent students, demonstrated support for Indian democracy and secularity at the stand-in.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, which was enacted in December 2019, outlines a path to citizenship for six religious minorities who have fled persecution from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, according to a press release for the Bill.

The CAA has been criticized for its exclusion of Muslim populations — a detail which, when dovetailed with the National Register of Citizens, leads to the obstruction of citizenship for Muslims in India.

The NRC, an Indian citizenship list used in the northeastern state of Assam, is part of the government’s effort to identify and remove illegal immigrants in the region. The government requires individuals not included on the NRC to provide certain documentation proving their citizenship. But in rural India, where many people are uneducated, the required documents are not necessarily accessible, protest attendee Sarang Mani ’21 told The Herald. Although a legal process exists for those trying to prove their citizenship, many who don’t exactly fit the criteria have been sent to mass detention camps.

“The CAA technically is supposed to be an empathetic move where (the government is) helping religious minorities. But what they’re actually doing is just trying to alienate the Muslim population of the country,” Srinjoy Srimani ’20, another attendee, told The Herald. “It’s a way of exclusively removing Muslims from the country.”

The laws’ jurisdictions extend to the Muslim-majority contested region of Kashmir. India abolished the region’s semi-autonomous status this summer.

Kanha Prasad ’21 explained KSM’s presence at the evening’s stand-in. “The presence of the KSM at the sit in (was) to remind the broader Indian mainstream or Indian student body that … there is a long history of occupation of Kashmir by India, so any protest will have to take into account this occupation,” Prasad told The Herald. “Sit-ins are an opportunity for oppressed people of India and Kashmir to build solidarity with each other and see that their issues are intersecting in certain ways.”

Aside from the resulting exclusion of citizenship for Muslims, a large religious majority of South Asia, this instance of religion as a legislative tool directly clashes with India’s constitution. Its preamble, which students read aloud at the end of the stand-in, explicitly underscores India’s status as a secular nation.

The government’s recent actions are “dangerous because the government has been known to have this pro-Hindu agenda for a long time, but India is supposed to be a secular country,” Varun Mathur '20 told The Herald. “People are at a bigger scale protesting against the violation of that secularity.”

Students across the world, in both India and the United States, have protested against the new mandates and the government’s response to subsequent protests. According to The Times of India, a 620 km long human chain formed in India to call for the withdrawal of the CAA. Students who have organized anti-CAA rallies across India have faced retaliation from the police force — more than two dozen individuals have been killed in protests relating to the CAA.

The stand-in at Brown occurred on the 71st anniversary of Republic Day, which marks the enactment of the Indian constitution. “We decided to do this protest on Republic Day, particularly to show that we stand in support of that idea,” Anchita Dasgupta ’21 told The Herald. The new laws “are not in line with the ethos of our constitution.”

The stand-in began with a moment of silence for Indian demonstrators who were killed by police during anti-CAA protests. Attendees, many of whom are from India, also shared their thoughts and personal experiences with the two laws and subsequent protests.

“The idea of a secular country that is welcoming of people of all religions has been harmed, and (we are) protesting in solidarity with students … who are standing up against the government brutality” toward students in India, Dasgupta told The Herald.

Another student expressed why support and awareness from those outside of India is impactful. “What motivates us to stand with the protests … (is that) I think that the Indian government pays attention to what is happening in the U.S. and what is happening outside of India, because (the country) cares about its national image,” Aryan Srivastava ‘22 told The Herald.

Correction: A previous version of this article attributed the words “dangerous because the government has been known to have this pro-Hindu agenda for a long time, but India is supposed to be a secular country" and “People are at a bigger scale protesting against the violation of that secularity” to Sarang Mani '21. In fact, they were spoken by Varun Mathur '20. The Herald regrets the error.

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