Academics and activists from Sri Lanka have condemned the Indian government’s recent decisions to introduce the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and have expressed solidarity with those protesting against the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
In a statement signed by nearly 50 university teachers and researchers, including from the Universities of Jaffna (Northern Province), Peradeniya (Central Province), Kelaniya (near Colombo, Western Province), Ruhuna (Southern Province), the Open University of Sri Lanka and the University of Visual and Performing Arts, said they were “shocked by the recent attacks on democratic freedoms in India.”
“Since the introduction of the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act in India, we have seen courageous protests emerge all over India by people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. They, particularly university students, have stood up for democracy, a testament to the long and inspiring democratic tradition in India.”
Voicing concern over the “repeated targeted attacks” on university campuses, including the Jamia Millia Islamia , the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and most recently the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the academics noted that “such authoritarian repression and fascist assaults are deeply worrying as they undermine freedoms of expression and association in university spaces, which are a crucial bastion for dissent.”
Observing that it was heartening to see progressive Indian university students “boldly coming forward to defend democratic ideals”, the university teachers said that anti-minority discourse, seen often in Islamophobic attacks, coupled with shrinking intellectual freedom, was spreading in South Asia. “Just as we have a progressive history of struggles for social justice and democratic rights in the region, which have nourished each other’s countries, authoritarian consolidation and chauvinistic attacks in India portend danger for the entire region,” they warned, urging people of South Asia to protect democratic freedoms “in the face of rising authoritarian and nationalist forces” in the subcontinent.
In a separate statement, Sri Lanka-based defenders of rights of LGBTIQ persons said they were “deeply concerned” by the promise of the ruling BJP-government to implement the NRC across India, after it was ‘piloted’ in Assam.
“We condemn all attempts to implement the NRC, and absolutely condemn the attempt to implement it nationally. We believe it goes against the secular and democratic nature of the modern state of India as we know it,” the activists said. “As we saw in Assam, it was exclusionary to transpersons, where around 2,000 trans persons were not on the final list. The NRC in Assam forced persons to choose between ‘male’ and ‘female’ and further excluded those who could not produce original family documents, from before 1971,” they added.
Commenting on the CAA, the activists from organisations, including the Colombo-based Women and Media Collective, Jaffna Sangam, the Community Welfare and Development Fund and Chathra: Sri Lanka LGBTIQ Network, said the CAA “explicitly discriminates against those from the Muslim community.”
“We are worried that this is simply a consolidation of a larger campaign to claim India as a country for Hindus, by casting doubt on the citizenship, patriotism and loyalty of Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and others. These laws are extremely dangerous to people belonging to minorities both within and outside India,” the statement said.
“As Sri Lankans, we are all too aware of the realities of fleeing war and persecution, as well as the consequences of discriminatory citizenship law (The Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 explicitly excluded Sri Lankan Tamils of South Indian origin from citizenship),” it further added. “Many thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils also fled the civil war in Sri Lanka and have found safety in India. We are deeply concerned about what would become of these communities, and others like them, were the CAA and the NRC to be implemented as they are also excluded from the terms of citizenship,” the activists said.