After the Supreme Court refused to stay the implementation of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, and ruled that it would begin hearing petitions only after the Centre’s reply, protests around the country have only continued to intensify. Now, although the court has given the Centre four weeks to respond, some residents of the Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh have sent letters to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) pleading with him to abrogate the CAA.
After the Government of Uttar Pradesh detained over 80 people in late December 2019 for protesting the CAA, many are or have become reluctant to speak up against the Act. Sharique, 26, a resident of Nagina town in Bijnor, said, “There was nobody to lead people, so we decided to take this initiative” – of drafting the letters to the CJI. “We cannot just sit quietly.”
Sharique also went door to door to raise support for the letters. “People don’t want to experience that fear again,” he told The Wire. “If we will also get afraid, who will eliminate this fear?”
Ironically enough, many refused to sign Sharique’s letters because they thought he was a government official come to collect data for the National Population Register.
The letter was written by Mohammed Faizan Ahmad, a 26-year-old civil engineer; in the text, he requests the Supreme Court to read down the CAA because, he argues, it violates Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitute of India. Ahmad is particularly focused on the CAA’s unconstitutionality and argues that “this is the fight to save the constitution.”
According to Sharique, most of those who knew what he was doing but still didn’t sign the letters stayed mum for fear of police action. Sharique said one resident of the town told him, “Do not make noise, otherwise someone will hear” – alluding the threat of being arrested.
“The police is not working for law and order,” Zeeshan (name changed to protect identity), one supporter, said. “They are working for someone else.” But he echoed Sharique’s sentiment – that if they didn’t stand up, no one would.
Zeeshan and his peers believe that the judiciary can and will set things right. Danish, a 24-year-old AC technician and a signatory, said, “We trust the constitution. If we follow the constitution, the court will [decide] in our favour.”
Sharique said he became especially hopeful after the apex court granted Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Aazad his bail.
Indeed, though Sharique’s, Zeeshan’s and Danish’s relatives are worried, they feel more it is important to stand by the trio’s and other supporters’ actions. As Faizan said, “We will be counted among those who were trying to save the constitution” [even if we lose the fight].”
Rashi and Salman Saleem are students of the Mass Communication Research Centre at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.