Story by: Syed Mujeeb
Auckland: The peaceful protest, called with a message to ‘Defend the Indian Constitution’, brought together a number of Ex-students of Aligarh Muslim University and United Union organization, New Zealand who chanted slogans of “Azadi” and waved the Indian Tricolour and placards calling for a withdrawal of the CAA and the NRC.
Hundreds of students and other groups gathered around the Aotea Square, Auckland on Saturday 21st December 2019 to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) in India.
The peaceful protest, called with a message to “Defend the Indian Constitution”, brought together a number of Ex-students of Aligarh Muslim University and United Union organizations who chanted slogans of “Azadi” and waved the Indian Tricolour and placards calling for a withdrawal of the CAA and the NRC.
The crowd here to say that we stand in solidarity with Jamia and AMU (Aligarh Muslim University) and all other students and people protesting across India,” said one of the demonstrators.
Women’s Rights activist Anjum Rehman said in her speech “My heart swells with pride as I see protests around India today. For so many years, I have watched my country of birth change from an inclusive one where everyone has a place, to one where parts of the population live in fear simply because of what they were born as or the faith they hold. For so long, it seemed that so very few in the country had the strength to speak out, and those few who did were easily silenced and dismissed by the state and media alike.
To see young people take centre stage, sparking nationwide protests across the country, shows us that it is not the old who must educate the young, but the young who are schooling the rest of us in courage, strength and real love for this country. A love that born of justice, equity and the values enshrined in the Constitution of India.
Yesterday, people in New Zealand gathered in a show of support for the protesters and defiance against an oppressive state. While most of New Zealand had shut down for the summer break, focusing on Christmas celebrations and a week at the beach, there were still many who took the time to voice their anger, their hurt, and yes, also their love for India.
At the protest, there was Indian diaspora from all parts of the country. While many of the organizers and participants were alumni from Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, also present were Hindu, Sikhs, Christians, and Muslims from across India. There were New Zealand born youth whose Indian parents or grandparents had migrated many years ago. I saw people from Gujurat, Punjab, Goa, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi. I know there would have been many from other parts of India.
What was most heartening was to see the support of our friends from other nations: Uighur and Han Chinese, Irish, European New Zealanders and more. Though the rally was organized in a short space of time during the holiday season, attendance was strong, and feelings ran high.
The rally began with speeches by Aaqib Siddiqui, Mohd Shariq, Anu Kulati, Arif Zia and Joe from United Union, then included shairi, song, and the rallying cries of “Azadi” – freedom for all. The speakers did not only recall the current unfairness of the implementation of the National Register of Citizens in Assam which left 1.9 million people stateless, and the passing of the discriminatory and unconstitutional Citizen (Amendment) Act of 2019. They noted that the build-up for these two actions, the spark for current protests, had been happening for decades.
Many spoke of the secular, socialist and democratic state, outlined in the constitution, which is now under extreme threat. They talked of the sacrifice of those seeking fighting for independence, the blood of Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and Christians that had been spilt to establish a nation that welcomed a diverse range of cultures and beliefs. They spoke of Kashmir and the severe oppression, the attempted land and resource grab, the banning of media and shutdown of the Internet to quash resistance and the presence of an inordinate number of troops to instil fear into the population.
There was a call for politicians who loved to turn up to various celebrations in Indian garb, seeking votes, to stand up for human rights and justice at this crucial time in the country’s history. We heard from Ayesha, a former teacher at Jamia, whose Hindu parents had given her a Muslim name as a symbol of the secular nature of the Indian state. We heard from a transgender woman, from a young student who had migrated to New Zealand just 6 months ago. The crowd resonated with her statement that when there are 7 people around a table, and if one of them is a vocal Nazi and the other six are silent, then there are seven Nazis around the table.
The protest rally finished with a reading of the first part of the Indian Constitution, singing of the Indian national anthem and singing a traditional Māori waiata focused on love.
Dr Anwar Ghani, Sapna Samant and Kamran Chadda were among the gathering.