Several Indian international students are expressing concern regarding India’s lack of respect for protesters’ rights and the passing of laws — namely the Citizenship Amendment Act — that many have deemed Islamophobic. They say the actions of the Indian government amount to blatant human rights abuses.
The Indian government passed the act Dec. 11 last year to accelerate the citizenship process for refugee applicants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. However, Muslim refugees from those countries would not be eligible, making the law exclusionary.
In August 2019, India’s government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, moved to strike down the autonomy of India’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir.
Ownership of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is claimed by both India and Pakistan, a Muslim-majority nation.
In October 2019, India officially split Jammu and Kashmir into two territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh — which are centrally controlled by India, without their former constitutional state status.
One notable change is that individuals not residing in or local to the area will now be allowed to purchase land and live in the region.
This was formerly restricted under Article 35A of the Indian constitution.
These changes have been touted as instrumental to advancing the agendas of Hindu nationalists, including that of Modi’s political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP is widely known as a right-wing Hindu nationalist political party that espouses ideologies such as Hindutva — or “Hinduness” — meaning Hindu values should be an integral part of wider Indian culture, despite the fact that many religious and ethnic minorities call India home.
Several international students reached out to the Manitoban to express how the situation in India is affecting them, even here in Manitoba.
They all want the U of M and UMSU to show support for affected students on its campus.
udent hailing from India, co-authored a motion “in support of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in India” with international students’ representative Victoria Nwabuisi that passed at the Feb. 27 UMSU board of directors meeting. Singh attended the meeting to implore the board to pass the motion.
At the meeting, he expressed concern that some Indian citizens studying here are at risk of losing their citizenship.
“If [the national register of citizenship] is brought through, many of the students here potentially risk losing their citizenship altogether and becoming stateless refugees,” Singh said.
“We could be left without a state and a home.”
He said he believes that “India has been engaged in a battle for its soul,” which is part of his motivation for being so vocal on this issue.
“At this point, I’m tired of waiting for others to speak out on my behalf,” he wrote in response to a question asking why he chose to forgo anonymity.
“If they will not give voice to our dissent, we’ll have to do it ourselves, even if it’s without the protections of anonymity.”
Singh said Canada’s response has been “very weak,” and that he would like to see the Canadian government do more to denounce the actions of the Indian government against protesters and minorities in the country.
“Unless we can come out and collectively condemn the abuses that have been going on in India, support becomes little more than a banal platitude,” he said.
“We need Canadian citizens to show their support, not only in private conversations but publicly, and the university is the perfect place to start.”
Another student, Kunal Rajpal, echoed Singh’s sentiments.
“The same law [of the Citizenship Amendment Act] has been condemned in the UN and has been criticized globally for its Islamophobic underlinings and yet government is not ready to listen, which is scary,” he wrote in a statement.
Rajpal, too, said he wants UMSU to act. He pointed to the stress and fear Indian international students on the U of M campus are going through as a result of the turmoil in their home country.
“UMSU must start an active conversation about the issue on campus,” said Rajpal.
“The mental stress affected students might be going through is unimaginable,” he continued. “With the risk of losing our citizenship, the threat our families face back home and the violence that’s already happening in the country is affecting the lives of the whole Indian community on campus.”
Another student, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed further concern over the possibility of being rendered stateless — the reason for their anonymity.
“The way things have been evolving in India, I wouldn’t want to risk it,” they wrote.
“India seems to be determined to take away the citizenship of those who don’t agree with their hateful agenda, and I don’t want to join that list so soon.”
They appear hopeful for a proposed interfaith dialogue, which they said “would be an opportunity for us to get together with people from different cultural and religious backgrounds.”
“As we watch the proceedings in India with great concern […], this event will pave the way for a future campaign that might address the larger student community, so that we can start working on solutions.”
Another student, who also wished to remain anonymous, reaffirmed this sentiment.
They said an interfaith dialogue can’t “solely be an Indian thing.”
“Simply holding talks will not help anyone,” they said.
“We need to look at the situation practically, think about what is achievable, and then create a roadmap that might help us achieve it.”
A third student speaking on condition of anonymity said they too fear retribution from the Indian government and feel vulnerable as an international student.
“Just last week there was a report about a journalist [Gurpreet Singh] in Vancouver being threatened by Hindutva supporters after he gave a lecture at [the University of British Columbia] against the developments in India,” they said.
They criticized UMSU for not going far enough to help its membership.
“It’s not enough for UMSU to say they support us if their actions, or lack thereof, speaks to the contrary,” they said.
“Mental health support for those of us who are finding it difficult to cope with the developments in India would be a good first step.”
“India is in crisis mode right now.”