Headlines and social media over the last two weeks have been full of pictures of massive protests around India against the new Citizenship Amendment Act and proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens. The pictures don’t just show huge demonstrations in iconic protest spots. Across India, smaller protests are being held in scattered neighbourhoods as residents display resistance to the discriminatory law at a much more local scale.
“Lot of people who came said they were uncomfortable going for big protests,” said 32-year-old Ishita Sharma, a Phd student, who volunteered to organise a protest in her neighbourhood in South Delhi’s Alaknanda on December 23. “It could be because of class, or because of fear of police brutality and detentions, but holding the protest in a community space made it easier to mobilise people.”
Protests around the country were initially limited to public universities as students gathered to voice their dissent against the Citizenship Amendment Act, which many fear will be used in conjunction with a National Register of Citizens as a tool to harass Indian Muslims.
But police violence on the campuses of Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh on December 15 sparked protests across India as lakhs of ordinary people took to the streets to express their opposition to the new law.
Even though protests in most places remained peaceful, some protests in Delhi, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh were accompanied by violence. So far, 25 deaths have been reported from across India, most of the fatalities caused by police bullets. Nineteen of these deaths are from Uttar Pradesh, where the police faces several accusations of using excessive force on residents, including minors. Several policemen also suffered injuries during the protests.
The severe police actions have not deterred protestors.
Dissent in the neighbourhood
In the Capital, protests have been held in Chittaranjan Park that is largely populated by the Bengali community, in Alaknanda and Hauz Khas.
To organise the protest, volunteers in the neighbourhood had to submit a letter to the police with details about the gathering and where it would be held, Sharma said.
“The idea was to have conversations when we gathered,” she said.
Once police in the area were informed, Sharma said that around 150 residents in the neighbourhood gathered on the morning of December 23. Along with residents, some students from Jamia Millia Islamia and Jamia Hamdard University also joined the protest, she said.
“The students from Jamia came and spoke about what happened at their university,” Sharma said.
Sharma also said that holding the protest in the neighbourhood created a sense of shared space. “We come together for Diwali and Christmas so this [protest] pushed towards something like that as well,” she said.
Lawyer Shubhangi Garg said she had volunteered to organise a protest in her neighbourhood in Hauz Khas on December 29.
The aim, she said, was to disseminate information about the dangers of the new citizenship law. Some volunteers worked to prepare flyers in Hindi and English about the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens, and distributed them around the neighbourhood, she said.
In individual neighbourhoods, Garg said, residents could be more receptive to such discussions. “Nobody organising this has an agenda,” she said. “People think they will not be impacted but they do not realise it yet. But the protest allows people to at least stand up for themselves if not for a community.”
Some users on social media also shared pointers on how residents could take the initiative to organise protests in neighbourhoods. A Twitter user also spotted a banner hanging from a balcony in South Delhi’s Safdarjung Enclave neighbourhood.
Other forms of protest
Away from Delhi, some Goa residents ventured into the bustling Mapusa Market in the northern part of the state with posters and banners to create awareness about the Act and the NRC.
Some young people showed their opposition to the law by holding placards during their wedding photoshoots.
While posing for their wedding photoshoot in Kerala, a couple with a grim look on their face held up placards against the Act and NRC. The photograph went viral on social media.
The couple Arun Gopi from Thiruvananthapuram and Asha Sekhar from Kollam planned their photoshoot around the same time when Delhi Police had stormed into Jamia Millia Islamia and charged students with batons and tear gas, The News Minute reported on December 21.