Students and staff at Harvard and MIT condemn India’s new citizenship laws

In addition to Harvard and MIT in the U.S., students at Oxford University in Britain protest outside India House in London.

More than 220 Harvard affiliates as well as students and staff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have joined the chorus of protests for withdrawal of India’s Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens by signing statements, condemning suppression of student protests against the measures at Indian universities.

The MIT statement was signed by 135 MIT faculty, staff, students, alumni, and affiliates, including Balakrishnan Rajagopal, associate professor of Law and Development, Department of Urban Studies and Planning and head of the International Development Group; Renee Robins, executive director of the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab; as well as Sana Aiyar, associate professor of History, and Mihir Trivedi of the Undergraduate, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, among others.

The Harvard letter authored by Hemanth Bharatha Chakravarthy ‘22, a research assistant at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Shreyvardhan Sharma ‘22, was sponsored by groups, including the Harvard US-India Initiative, the Harvard Islamic Society, and the Harvard College Pakistani Students Association.

“The intention was to use Harvard’s platform, which counts for a great deal in India, and use that as leverage to amplify not only the cause that these students were protesting, but to make sure that people in authority in India and abroad, in the U.S., take note of what is happening,” Sharma said.

After the letter’s publication on Dec. 23, about 150 people gathered at the Science Center Plaza on Dec. 24 night to protest the Indian government’s decision.

According to a Harvard Crimson report, at the protest, demonstrators recited the preamble to the Indian Constitution and observed two minutes of silence to honor the demonstrators who died and sustained injuries. The protesters carried candles, Indian flags, and signs with slogans such as “Repeal CAA 2019” and “No human is illegal.”

Chakravarthy said in an interview at the protest that they wanted to bring awareness to “both the Citizenship Amendment Act and the violent suppression of student protesters.” The letter itself criticizes the CAA as an anti-Muslim measure.” Religion cannot be the determinant of nationhood and citizenship cannot be a tool of ethnic violence,” it reads.

Chakravarthy said, “it’s a fundamental issue of what defines the nation that I belong to and who belongs to that nation,” adding that “it’s a moral obligation for every Indian to show up at one of these protests.”

The letter also calls for the Indian government to respect the right to peaceful protest.

The MIT statement said, “We, the undersigned students, faculty, staff, alumni, and affiliates, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology stand in solidarity with the peaceful and historic student protests across nearly 100 campuses in India against the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA).”

Noting that the student protests against the CAA and its diversity is a testament to the democratic and secular foundation of the country that constitutes the fabric of India and which is under imminent threat, the MIT statement praised the courage, dignity, resolve, and dynamism with which the students and ordinary citizens continue their protest in the face of baton charges, detentions, suspension of the internet.

“The Act also includes an arbitrary cut-off date, 2014, for those who can apply for this fast-tracked citizenship. These places of origin and dates are suggestive of a continuous, 80-year-long history of persecution that stopped six years ago, neither of which claim has been substantiated or, indeed, is historically accurate,” the statement said. “The scope and scale of the CAA must be understood in conjunction with the NRC, an administrative undertaking to create a registry of all existing Indian citizens to enable the government to “weed out,” in its own words, “infiltrators” and “termites”, that is to say undocumented migrants,” the statement said.

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