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November 30, 2023

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Back from break: BGSU Indian students speak on discrimination, protests back home


The Feb. 1 meeting attendees holding up posters created by protesters.

Jamia Millia Islamia, a public university in New Delhi, India, made national headlines when police raided the campus and beat students on Dec. 15. Two days before the incident, BGSU students were completing their final exams and heading home for winter break.

For some students from India, home felt unstable, and the future seemed uncertain.

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“Honestly, at this point, we don’t even know what’s happening,“ doctoral student Riddhima Sharma said in disbelief. She stood in front of a group of her peers who had all gathered on Feb. 1 to discuss the protests students at Jamia were beaten for.

In a small classroom in the Business Administration building on campus, the group watched videos, shared personal stories from their winter break in India and looked at posters created by the protesters.

Two government actions — the Citizen Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens — are what many of the protesters are against. The CAA would allow refugees who came to India before Dec. 31, 2014 to gain citizenship as long as they are of a certain religion and from a specific country.

The act most notably excludes Muslims from the list of religions. Muslims make up about 13% of the population according to the 2001 Indian census and, while the CAA directly affects refugees and not Indian citizens, combined with the NRC it poses a subsequent problem.

The NRC would require Indian residents to provide documents proving their citizenship. The problem is, in a country that has a national literacy rate of 65%, many residents, especially those with lower income, don’t have access to these documents despite living in the country for generations. Some may have the documents, but either the spelling of their name or their date of birth on the papers is incorrect.

In a video shown at the meeting, lawyer Gautam Bhatia broke it down.

“In fact, the poorest people, the most vulnerable are the ones who find it hardest to show the documents,” Bhatia says in the video.

Bhatia also says a form of the NRC has already taken place in the Indian state of Assam, and 19 million people were left out of the register of citizens. If it were to go national, the NRC would primarily affect the country’s most vulnerable demographics.

Subsequently, the NRC and CAA combination is discriminatory toward Muslims and other minorities excluded from the CAA’s list of religions, because if a person whose religion is included on the list was excluded from the NRC due to lack of documentation, they would still have a pathway to citizenship through the CAA.

“On the other hand, if you’re a Muslim who’s left out of the NRC,” Bhatia says. “Then you have absolutely no chance because you’re ruled out by virtue of the CAA.”

The government response to these protests is also concerning to Indian BGSU students. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has been accused of lying to the public and spreading misinformation.

But Sharma said, “Protests are happening despite the government trying to spread misinformation.”

Shubham Sundriyal, a graduate applied statistics student, said the government controls a lot of what the media says, too. According to The New York Times, the Hindustan Times, a large English-based newspaper in India, launched a “Hate Tracker campaign,” which claimed to be India’s first database for acts of violence based on religion, caste or other markers.

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The campaign abruptly ended three months later, and the paper’s top editor was forced out around the same time.

“They call it ‘Modia’,” Sundriyal said. “In the last election, he made everyone believe Hindus would be the minority.” Hindus currently make up about 80% of the Indian population.

Sharma said it’s hard to know what is going on now that she’s back in the U.S. because the media isn’t reporting the full story; therefore, she relies on protesters who are active on social media.

Both Sundriyal and Sharma saw parallels between President Donald Trump and Modi. These leaders of two of the largest democracies are known for being friends, having massive Twitter followings and they both promote nationalist ideals in their respective countries.

The Modi administration has also faced criticism for revoking the special status of Muslim-majority state Kashmir and putting the state on lockdown in August.

“Why would you go against people in your own country?” Atul Sanjay, a graduate applied statistics student, asked at the meeting.

“The fear is actually very gripping,” Sharma said, and added that it’s hard to predict where the country is headed.

The group discussed potentially getting Bowling Green City Council to pass a resolution or press statement supporting the protests in India. Sharma said she hasn’t noticed a lot of progressive Indians in the area who would speak on what’s happening in the country.

However, one BGSU alumnus at the meeting, Ahmad Mehmood, said conscientious citizens in the area would stand up against the discrimination.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article said 19 thousand people were left out of the register of citizens in Assam. The correct number is 19 million. We apologize for the error.

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