New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will find it difficult to identify the protesters at Jamia Millia Islamia by their clothes as most of them dressed up like Santa Claus on Wednesday to celebrate Christmas. This was not a reactionary overture to the PM’s communal barb, but the students and residents of the neighbourhood here imbibed the spirit of brotherhood and religious pluralism which is intrinsic to the century-old institution.
To reiterate that India is a pluralistic society where different religions and festivals are respected and celebrated, the protest site in the Southeast region of the national capital was decorated with balloons, Christmas trees and silver bells. Christmas carols were sung, with young boys and girls dressed as Santa protesting against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), proposed National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) and National Population Register (NPR). The protesters also distributed copies of the preamble of Indian Constitution.
“Amid the distressing atmosphere all around, we organised a small celebration for Christmas today with an aim to bring some positivity. We want to send out a message that we are one in such a testing time and you (PM Modi) cannot differentiate on the basis of our religions and the clothes we wear. This is also an attempt at giving a message to the society to stay positive, no matter how bad the situation is,” said Ayesha Syed, a Jamia student, while speaking to NewsClick.
This is what Jamia is, said others, adding that the varsity has students from different faiths and that the student community celebrates every festival in the same spirit.
“Jamia has always celebrated every festival here, be it Eid, Diwali or Christmas. And no government can stop us from celebrating different cultures. This is what Jamia is,” said Sumaira Shakir, also a student of the varsity.
“Songs will be sung and festivals will be celebrated even in the age of oppression and imposition of black laws,” said Meeran Haider, a research scholar from the university, adding that “it’s a message of brotherhood. We have co-existed in the past and will continue to do the same in the future as well. We will not let any attempt to divide us be successful. We are extending love to our Christian brothers and sisters and wishing them a merry Christmas”.
Students further said that such celebrations are not new to this campus. “We are carrying our secular legacy forward. Since it is Christmas today, we are celebrating it. Had it been Diwali or Hoi or Eid, we would have celebrated that as well. We celebrate all festivals with full fun and frolic. Jamia belongs to all religions, not any parivar faith and one should not forget it,” said Kulsum Fatma, a student of fine arts.
She said, in addition to organising a cake-cutting ceremony, students dressed as Santas are distributing chocolates and preamble of the Constitution to remind everyone of the basic foundation of “this beautiful country”.
Arshiya, an alumnus of Jamia who is volunteering for the protest arrangements, broke down while talking about what she and several others are going through since after the CAA and NRC “drama” has unfolded.
“I am unable to sleep properly. This government has snatched our peace away. I wake up twice and thrice at night. And whenever I open my eyes, I check my mobile to look at what new decisions have been made by the government. The CAA and NRC have become my worst nightmare. We are spending our days and nights amid fear of disfranchisement,” she said, appealing the government to focus on the “real issues”.
Following the pain and horror Jamia students experienced on December 15 when the Delhi Police barged into the central university campus and “unleashed terror” on students, Arshiya—a physiotherapist by profession—said that she and others like her had to take to streets, putting aside their professional, personal and family commitments.
“Now, it is a question of life and death. Our existence is in question. Our loyalty towards the nation is being questioned. The government is hell bent on pushing its communal agenda and dividing the country along the religious lines. We can no longer afford to sit inside cosy rooms,” she added.
All India Christian Minority Front President Philip Christy, Bandhua Mukti Morcha's Swami Agnivesh, Father Suman Sarin from Sukhdev Vihar Church, Kumar Prashant from Gandhi Peace Foundation, Professor Madhu Prasad from Delhi University, senior journalist Qurban also spoke on this occasion.
A big Christmas cake was cut by the invitees at the protest site which was turned into a virtual church.
Also watch: CAA: Why is the Left Opposing It?