India’s Citizenship Amendment Act was the first time that religion was made the basis for qualifying for citizenship. Many felt that this law struck at the heart of India’s secular democratic constitution, and indeed a much older civilizational legacy of diversity and pluralism. Spontaneous protests broke out around the country, mostly peaceful.
After a few stray incidents of arson near the campus, the police entered the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi on the night of 15 December. Police brutally beat students including those studying in the library, and many students were arrested. Large crowds of concerned citizens gathered outside police stations the same night, and forced the government to free the arrested and wounded students several hours later. The next day, thousands of anguished students gathered in the university.
Among those invited to address the students was peace and human rights worker and writer Harsh Mander. Over five months later, the Delhi police named Mander in a chargesheet for the brutal murder of an intelligence officer in hate violence over two months after this speech. It charges Harsh Mander, claiming his speech incited hate using a ‘facade’ of peace, ultimately leading to the violence months later. This is the English translation of his speech.
I will first raise a slogan. Who is this fight for? Whose fight is this? This fight is first for our country, then for our Constitution, and then for love. This government has thrown a challenge and has begun a fight not just against our Muslim brothers and sisters in this country, but it has also begun a fight against the way this country was imagined.
During the freedom struggle, there was an imagination of India, an imagining of what kind of a country ours would be after the British left. Our imagination, our belief was that we would build a nation where it would not matter whether you believed in this Bhagwaan or that Allah or didn’t believe in any god. It would not matter what caste you belonged to or what language you spoke. It would not matter if you were rich or poor, female or male. You would be in every way, in every way an equal human being and an equal citizen of this country. You would have fully equal rights to this country to anyone else.
Today, the Muslims of this country are being asked to prove their love for this country. The irony is that this question, this demand is being raised by those people who never participated in the freedom struggle and made no sacrifices.
My Muslim brothers and sisters, and my children who are present here, you are Indian by choice. The rest of us are Indian by chance. We had no choice (when India was partitioned in 1947). We had only this country. You had a choice (between India and Pakistan) and your ancestors chose this country. Today, those who are in the government are trying to prove that Jinnah was right and Mahatma Gandhi was wrong. The name of their party should be changed from Bharatiya Janata Party to Bharatiya Jinnah Party. Mr Jinnah had said that India is not one country but two: Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. What we are saying is that this is one country: Hindustan, and those who live in and chose this country – Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, Adivasis, Dalits, rich, poor, man, woman, all – have equal rights on this country.
Those who ask you these questions and claim to take away your rights are being challenged today by a flood which has risen across this country, a flood to protect the Constitution of the country and to protect the soul of the Constitution, which is love, which is fraternity.
To protect it, we have come out on the streets and will remain here.
This fight cannot be won in the parliament because our political parties, who declare themselves secular, do not have the moral strength to take up the fight.
This fight can also not be won in the Supreme Court because, as we have seen in - the case of the NRC, Ayodhya and Kashmir, the Supreme Court has not protected humanism, equality and secularism. We will certainly reach out to the Supreme Court. It is our Supreme Court after all. However, the final decision will be taken neither by the Parliament nor by the Supreme Court. The question is what will be the future of the country? You are young people – what kind of a country do you want to leave for your children? Where will this decision be made? On the one hand, the decision will be taken on the streets. We are all out on the streets. However, there is one more space, bigger than the streets, where this decision can be taken. What is this space where the solution to this struggle can be found? It is in our hearts – in my heart and your heart.
If they want to respond to us with hatred and we respond likewise with hatred, hatred will only deepen. If there is someone spreading darkness in the country and we say that we will spread more darkness to fight you, then of course darkness will deepen further. If there is darkness, it can be countered only by lighting a lamp. Even in this great tempest, we will light our lamps. That’s how darkness can be defeated. This is why we have only one answer to their hatred, and that answer is love.
They will create violence, they will incite us to violence, but we will never commit violence. Please do understand that it is their ploy to incite you to violence. If we respond with violence, we will create 2 percent violence and they will respond with 100 percent violence.
We have learnt from Gandhi what violence and injustice can do.
The answer to injustice is to fight with non-violence (ahimsa). If anyone ever provokes you to violence and hatred, then they are no friend of yours.
I will raise a slogan now: Long Live The Constitution (Zindabad).
Harsh Mander is a peace and human rights worker and writer.