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Oxford Students Protest India’s Citizenship Amendment Act

Yesterday students gathered outside the Radcliffe Camera to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act, a bill passed in India’s Parliament which has been widely criticised as Islamophobic.

Those attending the event joined protesters across the world, expressing solidarity with students who had been subject to police brutality as they carried out demonstrations in universities across India.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act passed through India’s Parliament on 11th December this year. The bill is designed to enable the provision of citizenship as a right to religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who have suffered from, or who stand the risk of suffering from religious persecution. However, the bill specifically nominates six religions as being eligible for citizenship: Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians. The bill has been criticised for its omission of Muslim refugees, which violates India’s constitutional commitment to secularism.

Protests against the bill erupted in cities and at universities across India. During a protest at Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi, police were accused of firing tear gas at the library, locking the gates of the university’s campus, and using batons on students. Excessive police force is also believed to have been used at a number of other universities.

A statement released by the Oxford India Society said: “Oxford India Society stands in solidarity with our fellow students at university campuses across India who are protesting against the unjust Citizenship Amendment Act, and we condemn police brutality against these protestors.

“OIS celebrates India’s unity in diversity; we are saddened that this spirit of unity is under threat, and we hope that the right to peaceful protest is upheld.”

The protest outside the Radcliffe Camera, which endured the rain this afternoon, was attended by approximately one hundred despite term ending for undergraduates last week. Placards at the event read “selective democracy is not democracy”, “trust anyone but Delhi Police” and “unconditional solidarity with Jamia, Amu, DU [Delhi University] and others”.

As well as at Oxford, today students gathered in protest at a number of campuses across the UK and the world including Harvard, Yale and MIT. A statement was released on behalf of students and alumni protesting at American universities. The statement criticised the use of force by police responding to the peaceful protests, and made a number of demands of the Indian government:

  • “We demand cessation of violence by the police and their complete withdrawal from the university premises.
  • “We demand an immediate, independent, and robust investigation into the abuse of power by the Delhi Police, Uttar Pradesh Police, and the Central Reserve Police Force.
  • “We demand that student protestors be allowed to continue to protest peacefully in exercise of their fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution without any threat of use of force by the police or other law enforcement agencies.
  • “We call upon officers of the Indian Police and Administrative Services to fulfill their duty to uphold the Constitution of India, and to resist any political demand to act in abuse of the powers that have been conferred upon them; and, to ensure police forces under their command act strictly in accordance with the constitutional, legal and ethical constraints that bind them.
  • “We call on the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Amit Shah, to immediately take these necessary steps to curb police brutality, or resign.”

Another statement open for signature by Oxford students also called for an end to violence against those protesting, as well as criticising the CAA: “We, the students, scholars and alumni of the University of Oxford, are in solidarity with students exercising their fundamental right to dissent and protest across India.

“We condemn the violence unleashed on students in Jamia Millia Islamia (New Delhi), Aligarh Muslim University (Aligarh), Delhi University (New Delhi), Cotton University (Assam) and other educational institutions. The use of police force against students exercising their fundamental right to protest in university spaces and elsewhere is a direct attack on the foundations of a democratic society. We demand an immediate end to all forms of violence against the protesting students and call for accountability of those responsible.

“Over the last week, we have seen many peaceful protests and demonstrations across India against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. The Act stipulates preferential treatment to religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the process of acquiring Indian citizenship, while explicitly excluding Muslims from its purview. This explicit and blatant exclusion of Muslims from citizenship upends the long-standing fundamental ideals of equality, liberty, pluralism and secularism enshrined in the Constitution of India. We lend our voices in support of the fight against this immoral and unconstitutional law and call for its immediate withdrawal.

“As we watch, with extreme concern, the events unfolding in India, we lend our unconditional support for the students and others peacefully taking to the streets to fight injustice.”

By Tuesday at 8:00 am the statement had received more than 300 signatures by members and alumni of Oxford University.

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