In Mumbai, protests, tributes mark Rohith Vemula’s death anniversary

People take part in rally from Veer Kotwal Maidan to Chaityabhoomi on Friday.

People take part in rally from Veer Kotwal Maidan to Chaityabhoomi on Friday.   | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

Participants protest casteism, CAA; tribals, transgenders attend candlelight vigil

The death anniversary of Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad who committed suicide due to alleged harassment over his caste in 2016, was observed in the city with protests and tributes. While a candlelight vigil was held in his memory on Thursday night, a rally from Kotwal Udyan to Chaityabhoomi in Dadar was held on Friday.

Vemula, who was also a member of the Ambedkar Student Association, committed suicide on January 17, 2016, and his death led to protests and outrage in the country. Those who gathered to pay their respects, spoke about how the current atmosphere was on the same casteist lines as the one that led to Vemula’s death.

Participants in the gathering on Thursday and the rally on Friday protested the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR).

Jamila Eathakula, national coordinator, National Alliance of People’s Movement, Maharashtra, said, “The circumstances that racists had created provoked Rohith to take the extreme step. These people will never let a person who is not an upper caste Brahmin succeed and achieve their goals. Government servants know that this government is no good for the country, but are still supporting it because they are greedy for power. Only students are worried about the country.”

The rally was attended by former Indian Police Service officer Abdur Rehman, who resigned from his post after the CAA was passed in the Rajya Sabha. “How can we keep quiet when our children are being beaten up by goons? This Act is not going to give us citizenship but will snatch it from us,” he said.

Manan Desai, a self-confessed ‘bhakt’-turned-protester, was also at the rally. “I am a Gujarati Brahmin, and am still here to protect the Constitution. I was a ‘bhakt’ earlier, but have realised what the ruling regime is doing. They are ignoring our concerns regarding unemployment, lack of education and a drop in the economy, while focusing on Article 370, CAA, NRC and NPR to divert us from questioning their failures. I am a privileged upper caste Brahmin and when I took a stand against the CAA, supporters of the BJP started threatening me as well. Think of what they can do to quell the minorities,” Mr. Desai said.

The rally, organised by NGO Hum Bharat ke Log, witnessed participation from organisations working for the rights of minorities, including the Bhim Army.

On Thursday night, around 300 people, mostly students, gathered for a candlelight vigil at Chaityabhoomi. Suvarna Salve, a member of Joint Action Committee for Social Justice, said if students like Vemula and Payal Tadvi were alive today, they would have protested these dark laws. Tadvi, a second year resident at Nair hospital, had committed suicide last year, allegedly due to harassment by her seniors.

Ms. Salve said, “The government wants to bring the laws of Manusmriti and force Hindutva on people. We have gathered to take an oath that we will not let the martyrdom of the students, who lost their lives for our Constitution, be wasted.”

The gatherings on both days saw participation from members of the transgender community and tribals. “I am lucky my parents support me and let me live with them. Other transgenders abandoned by their families at a younger age will face problems. Even if documents are available, our gender would not match with the one mentioned in the papers,” Vicky, a transgender, said. on Thursday.

Christie, a transgender, said the trend of getting documents issued is still new in the tribal community. “Tribals have been living on Indian land before anyone else, and now the government wants us to prove our citizenship,” she said.

State govt. will do what people want: Sule

Nationalist Congress Party leader Supriya Sule on Friday said the State government will act according to the demands of the people of Maharashtra with regard to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register(NPR).

Mr. Sule made the statement at a protest attended by thousands of women at the YMCA ground in Agripada on Friday evening. The women gathered holding hundreds of Tricolours and anti-CAA placards, shouting ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and reciting Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’.

Ms. Sule said the Bharatiya Janata Party is coming out with such laws as it is unable to run the Central government.

“The Prime Minister and Home Minister give contrasting statements which makes me doubt that they might not be talking to each other. I was in Parliament when the Home Minister said he will implement the NRC across India,” Ms Sule said.

The NCP leader said the Maharashtra government will stand by the citizens of the State in opposition to the laws. “We know what is in the people’s mind and the same thing is on our mind as well. In Mumbai, nobody is Hindu or Muslim, everyone is a Mumbaikar and these laws will not be able to discriminate between us. A woman can run a house but can also break a government. This is the power of a sari or a burqa,” she said.

The protest was also attended by students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim University. Nabiya Khan from JMI said the police have an Islamophobic attitude towards the university.

“Violence against students has been seen in every university but there is a difference in how police is treating JNU and JMI. We have called things like ‘Jinnah ke pilley’ [Jinnah’s children] and told ‘kalma padh lo yeh tumhari aakhiri raat hai’ [say your prayers, this is your final night]. But women have been and will continue to be at the forefront of protests,” she said.

Devika Menon, a student from JNU, said the laws are in favour of the rich and will send the poor to detention camps to make slaves out of them. Advocate Qurratulaen Ganchi said, “The Constitution gives women equal rights as men and Islam also promotes education of women. It says women should be ahead in social issues. The issue is not about Hindu and Muslim, but about the danger to the country from dictators. Public opinion was not sought before passing the law overnight.”

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 9:54:04 AM |

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