MIT affiliates sign statement against Citizenship Amendment Act

Prof. Aiyar leads effort in solidarity with student protests in India

Over 150 MIT students, faculty, staff, alumni, and associates signed a statement “in solidarity with the peaceful and historic student protests” against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in India in December. The statement calls for the withdrawal of the CAA and National Register of Citizenship (NRC).

The statement reads, “We strongly condemn the increasingly violent suppression of these citizens’ protests … that have left several dead. We praise the courage, dignity, humor, resolve, and dynamism with which the students and ordinary citizens continue their protest.”

The CAA provides a path to Indian citizenship for Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi, and Christian undocumented migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who entered India before 2014.

“Ostensibly introduced to protect these religious communities from ‘persecution’, the Act does not in fact mention ‘persecuted religious minorities,’ identifying, instead, migrants belonging to the six religions, conspicuously excluding Muslims from its purview,” the statement from MIT affiliates reads.

“By introducing religion as a marker for communities which will receive such state protection, the Act directly violates Article 14 of the Indian constitution that explicitly guarantees equality to all persons, both citizens and foreigners, within the territory of India,” it states.

The statement states that the effect of the CAA must be understood together with the NRC, which is an “administrative undertaking to create a registry of all existing Indian citizens.” If the NRC is implemented, the statement says, “an overwhelming number of Muslims, who have lived within the territory of India for generations as well as more recent migrants, could be rendered stateless.”

“It has been dispiriting to see the current Indian government undermine the fundamental principles of secularism and equality Indians promised themselves at the moment of Indian independence,” Dwaipayan Banerjee, professor of science, technology, and society, who helped circulate the statement, wrote in an email to The Tech. “At the same time, the last months have seen equally historic protests, bringing together a coalition of resistance across religious lines.”

Sana Aiyar, professor of history, led the effort to write the statement. Aiyar wrote in an email to The Tech that in spite of violent police action and internet shutdowns, “The protest has only been growing and has effectively turned into a vigil — to protect the Constitution of India and the ideals of equality, democracy, and secularism that are embedded in it.”

Aiyar wrote, “A group of us here at MIT believe that to be silent at this historical moment is to be complicit in abandoning these ideals, especially for those of us who have either built out careers ‘studying’ India or are from the region. ... We decided to circulate the statement of solidarity among our MIT community to give voice to many who felt the same way as us.”

“Starting this petition is an attempt to further amplify the voices of those who are defending the principle of Indian secularism, even as ongoing police retaliations continue to violate the rights of citizens to protest,” Banerjee wrote.

“The response from the MIT community has been gratifying,” Balakrishnan Rajagopal, professor of law and development in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, wrote in an email to The Tech. He hopes the statement “sends a signal to the MIT leadership and to other universities, about ... what universities must do as part of their ethical obligations, in these critical times.”

“We have been supporting the protestors in our individual capacities, but we also reflected on MIT’s own relationship with India,” Aiyar wrote. “Thousands of MIT students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other affiliates are directly and indirectly connected with India.”

Aiyar wrote that the statement had gathered nearly 135 signatures within two days. “I don’t want to speak for the entire MIT community, but the statement certainly reflects the point of view of these signatories,” which include, “students and faculty, and staff and alumni of almost every school at MIT,” she wrote.

“I hope that this statement clarifies to stakeholders, both here [in the U.S. and] in India, the commitment of the undersigned to stand alongside those defending the principle of democratic secularism,” Banerjee wrote.

Aiyar wrote that teach-ins will be organized in February to spread awareness and continue conversations about events in India.

The full statement is available online.