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New Delhi: Thousands of students came out in support of their peers at Jamia Millia Islamia university in Delhi as protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on Monday spread swiftly across the country.
The students’ agitation that started at Jamia has now spread to around 20 universities, including Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, amid fears that the nationwide unrest could hurt investor sentiment.
Students at Patna University, Banaras Hindu University, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), and universities in Lucknow and Hyderabad joined the protests on Monday.
While students of Jamia, Aligarh Muslim University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jadavpur University continued their agitation, hundreds of Delhi University students clashed with police in the national capital.
The spread of the campus agitation, experts said, could have a social and economic impact if the government fails to control it. They argued that major people’s movements had started with campuses and that the central government could no longer afford to view such agitations through a religious prism. The views of students and faculty at top IITs, IIMs and IISc cannot be ignored by attaching political ideologies to them, they said.
“Universities are mini-Indias, they are embodiments of diversity. So, students are the first set of people to see the destruction of diversity and growth of bad political theory. Hence you are now witnessing the protest emanating from universities across states,” said Shiv Vishwanath, sociologist and professor at Jindal Global Law School in Haryana.
“It’s not about Muslims or Hindus, but about a broader sense of citizenship,” he said. “You will see more students and universities joining in and civil society coming forward to speak against a narrow sense of citizenship and protest against their right to dissent.”
A law student from Jamia, breaking down in front of TV cameras, said: “I am not even Muslim. I’m still at the front-line from Day 1. Why? …What use is our education if we cannot stand by what is right?”
With the unrest having now spread beyond the North-East, an economist, who declined to be named, said that unless it is tackled with sensitivity it will impact investor sentiment. “The north-eastern regions are not great hubs of economic activity, but university agitations around the country are worrisome for any investor looking at India from a long-term perspective,” the economist said. “The BJP has the political majority to pass any bill, but it underestimated that popular sentiment will emerge so strongly against CAA. Protests by youth from top institutions are a warning for any government,” he said.
Meanwhile, authorities at Jamia and AMU have announced a vacation and asked students to vacate hostels. Jamia authorities on Monday said they always encourage students’ voice and protest. Jamia has never denied democratic rights to any student as long as protests are peaceful and within rules, said registrar A.P. Siddique.
A group of over 750 students and faculty of top educational institutions including IIM Ahmedabad and IIT Madras have written an open letter denouncing the law, which gives citizenship rights to non-Muslims escaping religious persecution in neighbouring countries. “The Act is discriminatory and violative of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. It is inconsistent with the cherished values of equality under law and secularism,” it said.
The BJP accused opposition parties of fanning campus protests.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman warned of “jihadists, Maoists and separatists” getting into student activism, news agency PTI reported. Sitharaman, however, said she was not aware of the events at Jamia.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi countered: “The torture of government, unabated unemployment, increase in fees, attack on rights and the BJP’s conspiracy of breaking the Constitution have led to youth and students of the country to protest on the streets. However, the Modi government and its ministers are busy terming youths of this country as extremist, Naxalites, separatists and anti-national.”