University students organize against the rise of fascism in India
As New Delhi witnessed Brazilian dictator Jair Bolsonaro, Chief Guest of India’s 71st Republic Day military parade, walk down the streets flanked by India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, protests against the government’s new citizenship law surged across the nation. January 26 is usually a commemoration of the adoption of the Indian Constitution and the country’s entry into its post-colonial period. But this year, it was observed as a day of mourning by Indian students—both across the country and in the diaspora—as they gathered across university campuses singing songs of resistance and demanding freedom from fascist oppression by the Hindu nationalist government.
A vigil titled “Stand in for the Pro-Democracy Movement in India” and organized by a handful of South Asian students from Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design reiterated this sentiment as they stood on the steps of Faunce House, protesting the rise of fascism under India’s current Hindu nationalist regime. More specifically, they protested against the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) of India, which has come under fire for making religion a basis for extending citizenship in the country and raising legal obstructions to Muslim refugees’ pathway to citizenship. Since December 12, the day the Act was adopted by the Parliament, students, women, intellectuals, and working-class members have taken to the streets demanding a revocation of this act which they believe violates the secular ethos of the Indian constitution.
Echoing a practice that has grown increasingly popular across student protests in India, the gathered students collectively read the Preamble to the Constitution in an effort to remind the government of the founding ideals of the Constitution that this law undermines. The gathering also sang Hum Dekhenge, an Urdu ghazal written by the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz to protest the military dictatorship of General Zia Ul Haq in Pakistan, which has become the anthem of the anti-CAA student protests.
The protest began with a minute of silence for the 26 people who had lost their lives to police violence while protesting the new law, and was followed by students sharing personal reflections on the law. Aryan Srivastava, a sophomore at Brown, talked about how the student protests in India have created an opportunity for young people to engage with the Islamophobic ideas held by a sizeable majority of the older generation and break down the institutionalsized hatred for the Muslim community of India.
The event also included a call and response to “Azaadi,” a chant—led by a representative of the Brown chapter of the Kashmir Solidarity Movement (KSM)—that originated in Indian-occupied Kashmir, which continues to resist a brutal 30-year-long military occupation by India. In organizing the protest with KSM, the event recognized that the idea of freedom means different things for people who identify with India and acknowledged their right to not participate in any aspect of the stand-in that does not align with their beliefs.
Meanwhile, not far from Brown, the South Asian community at Harvard University also observed Republic Day by organizing a 24-hour tag-team protest at Harvard Square. Ruha Shadab, a graduate student in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, spoke about the “organic nature” of the event which, she claimed, did not have a core organizing team but was an all-hands-on-deck effort by its supporters. “Everyone gave it their all,” said Ruha, who added that cartons of samosas were brought and shared by the protestors during a day that was celebrated through songs, poetry, and speeches against Hindu nationalist fascism. Ruha emphasized the significance of the protest lasting 24 hours, which had a turnout of over 200 students at its busiest hour and a minimum of six at other times.
Organizers of both events expressed that they were hopeful for the future and thought it was unlikely that the movement would fizzle out. “This [law] affects us fundamentally,” said Ruha. “It is hard to become complacent.” Meanwhile, students at Brown and RISD have said that they plan on hosting teach-ins on the law in the upcoming months to continue building on the momentum the movement has gained internationally, while trying to build cross-campus solidarity among the South Asian student diaspora in the US.
When asked about the significance of this diasporic mobilization, Kushagra Agarwal, a sophomore at Brown said, “this matters because the Indian government cares about its public image in the US.” Indeed, if the pressure against the Act continues to mount as it has over the last two months—both at home within India as well as in the diasporic community—it seems unlikely that the government will be able to persist in its indifference to student protests.
RI students organize Bernie rally
Stepping up to the microphone at a student rally supporting Bernie Sanders last Tuesday, James Callow, a student at the Community College of Rhode Island, told the crowd the heartbreaking story of his mother’s passing from a preventable form of cancer. Callow, only 16 at the time of his mother’s death, said she was confronted with a choice: sell the family home to fund treatment, or keep a roof over her son’s head and hope for the best. “That is the world that we live in today,” said Callow, a field organizer for the Sanders 2020 campaign. “Those are the problems that Senator Bernie Sanders is fighting to address.”
The rally was hosted by student organizers of the Rhode Island Students for Bernie coalition at the Columbus Theater in Providence. Students and activists from across the state were attracted by Sanders’ promise of a political revolution in America that will fundamentally shift politics. Emotions in the room were high, with hundreds of attendees riveted by an array of speakers—student activists, academics, and organizers—throughout the night.
“Another world is possible,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison, the president of the Center for Popular Democracy and one of the keynote speakers. “We’re not just here to return to the status-quo…We’re here building this movement, supporting candidates who will walk side by side with us to help us build the country of our dreams.”
Epps-Addison echoed speakers throughout the night who stressed the transformational potential of a Sanders presidency. Speakers included students from Brown University, the Community College of Rhode Island, Providence College, and local high schoolers from the MET School. A number of students were organizers with Sunrise, the climate justice advocacy movement, reflecting the bottom-up, activist roots of much of the Sanders campaign.
The keynote speaker was Palestinian-American human rights activist Linda Sarsour, founder and director of the Arab-American Association of New York, a co-chair of the 2017 Women’s March, and a longtime Sanders supporter. Last year, Sarsour spoke at Brown University in support of the student-led movement urging the Brown Corporation to divest from companies profiting from human rights abuses in Palestine.
“Nothing about what Bernie Sanders is fighting for is radical,” said Sarsour, responding to a widespread belief that Sanders’ politics are pushing the Democratic party too far to the left. “There’s nothing radical about the idea that everybody deserves healthcare… [or] high quality public education [or] a $15 dollar minumum wage.” She said that the day after a Sanders inauguration (which she would proudly attend), she would be protesting outside the White House to ensure that his presidency remained a movement of the people.
After the event, Alex Gourevitch, a professor of Political Science at Brown University, asked attendees to sign up to canvass for Sanders’ campaign in New Hampshire in the days leading up to the primary election on February 11. Speakers throughout the night, a number of whom had canvassed before, spoke of the direct impact canvassing can have on those who might not otherwise go to the ballot box on election day.
Mary Paolino, a retired elementary school teacher who worked in the Providence Public School system, said that she hadn’t been so excited for a candidate since Robert Kennedy ran for president in 1968. She said that Sanders' support for human rights separated him from the other candidates and that she would be canvassing for him in New Hampshire in February.
In the shadow of a contentious political period—with ongoing impeachment proceedings, rising white nationalism and fears of an imperial presidency—the Sanders rally offered a vision of a brighter political future. In 2016, Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in the Rhode Island Democratic primaries by over 15,000 votes. Sanders supporters at the rally hope to replicate those margins in 2020 and support the Sanders campaign throughout New England, including next week’s New Hampshire democratic primary where Sanders leads in the most recent polling.
PEDER SCHAEFER ’22 and ANCHITA DASGUPTA ’21 enjoy watching videos of Bernie shooting hoops.