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Statement: Montreal academics against police brutality and right-wing Hindu nationalism in India

Human Rights

Protests are being held across India against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), with the opposition accusing the government of furthering a hidden agenda to target Muslims. Photo by PTI.

The BJP government of Narendra Modi has been pushing an agenda to turn India into a Hindu State. The last straw has been the passing of a new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The CAA defines citizenship on the basis of religion, something that has never been proposed in India before. It sets up a dangerous precedent which along with the proposed nation-wide implementation of the National Register of Citizens, will discriminate blatantly against the Muslim minority of 200 million (15% of the population). While it was quickly condemned by the UN Human Rights Commission as “bigoted discrimination”, we feel that nations around the world, including the Trudeau government here in Canada, need to add their voice and condemn this law in the strongest possible terms.

Massive protests have broken out across the country in defense of India’s secular, pluralist and democratic Constitution. The protests started on university campuses and quickly spread from the Northeast of India to the rest of the country, including large cities like Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Chennai. The Modi government reacted with disproportionate and brutal police violence against students and citizens, including noted public intellectuals. Many have been killed, maimed, or sexually abused.

The government also invoked an old British-era colonial law (section 144) to ban dissent and protest. It shut down the internet in many parts of the country, including the capital, New Delhi. And it warned all media not to report on the protests, threatening journalists who do so.

As people who believe in the principles of equality, secularism, and freedom, as members of the Indian diaspora, and the academic community in Montreal, we have drafted a statement of solidarity with students and citizens protesting in India. We have collected 335 signatures from students and professors at universities across Montreal. In addition, we have organized two demonstrations in solidarity with our friends, families and comrades in India, to show that they are not alone and the world sees them, and joins them in their fight to uphold democracy and equality in India. The first demonstration was largely student-led and was held at McGill on Friday, December 20. The second demonstration, held on Sunday, December 22 at Norman Bethune square, brought together many members of the Montreal community.

Since the signing of the statement below, the Indian government has escalated violence against peaceful protestors. To date, over 23 people have been killed while protesting, including an 8-year old boy. Hundreds have been injured and thousands have been arrested, wrongfully detained and even tortured. Despite the efforts of the government to quash dissent, hundreds of thousands of people have been out on the streets every day, protesting against this discriminatory law since it was passed on December 12, 2019. In addition, students across the globe have added their voices to the ongoing resistance against Hindu supremacism in India, and have gathered together in solidarity with protestors in India.

On January 5, a peaceful student protest at the Jawaharlal Nehru University was attacked by masked goons who charged students wielding sticks. More than 80 students and teachers have been admitted to hospital with injuries, many of whom are in critical condition. Aishe Ghosh—the student union President at the university in Delhi—needed about 16 stitches for a deep gash in her head. Video footage reveals that police present at the university stood by, enabling the assault to continue unimpeded for hours. Reports show that this assault was pre-planned and coordinated by the ABVP, the student wing of the Hindu right. This state-sanctioned violence against students and citizens is a reprehensible attack on human rights and freedoms, and we wholeheartedly condemn it.

Since the state crackdown on protestors in India has been so brutal, we are now seeking immediate and sustained international pressure on the Indian government. We call for government officials, business leaders, and all citizens and residents of Canada to unequivocally condemn the Indian government for its violent treatment of citizens, its disregard for human rights, and its discrimination against Muslims and other minority groups in India.

Demonstration in Montreal at Norman Bethune square against India’s new Citizenship Amendment Act, Sunday, December 22. Photo supplied by the authors.


We, the members of the Montreal academic community, stand in solidarity with students exercising their fundamental right to dissent and protest across India.

We condemn the brutality unleashed by the police against students of Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University and many other academic institutions in the Northeastern states, and across the country. On the 15th of December, at JMI, police fired tear gas shells, entered hostels and attacked students studying in the library and praying in the mosque. Over 200 students have been severely injured, many who are in critical condition. There have also been reports of sexual harassment of female students by the police. A similar situation of violence has been unfolding at other universities, in some cases without any recourse to the press or public due to internet shutdowns and imposition of section 144.

For the Indian Government to mobilise police and paramilitary forces against its own non-violent and peacefully protesting students is emblematic of a troubling trend that attacks the very foundations of a democratic society. Under no circumstances should it be acceptable for the police to barge into University campuses, libraries, hostels or prayer spaces, to physically and verbally abuse and intimidate students and arbitrarily detain them. It is particularly concerning that this state-led repression is targeting students at majority-Muslim institutions, indicating the impunity with which the state can enact violence against minority populations in India. An atmosphere of fear, insecurity and anxiety is being deliberately created to brow-beat students into silence against what is a clear violation of the Indian Constitution and its secular ethic. To mischaracterize student protests as “riots,” and the police’s use of excessive force as justified “peacekeeping,” is an unlawful denial of students’ rights as citizens. We demand an immediate end to all forms of violence against the protesting students and call for accountability of those responsible.

Over the past several days, we have witnessed many peaceful protests and demonstrations against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019. The Act provisions for preferential treatment of religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan seeking to acquire Indian citizenship, while explicitly excluding Muslim refugees from its purview. This blatant discrimination against Muslims violates the principles of equality, liberty, and secularism that form the basis of the Constitution of India. We lend our unconditional support to all those across India fighting this unconstitutional law and join their call for its immediate withdrawal.

18 December 2019

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