Future of anti-CAA protest: In conversation with Ladeeda Farzana

Ladeeda an anti-CAA protester and Muslim Leader

Ladeeda Farzana is a forefront figure in the anti-CAA protest that erupted in India last winter after Modi’s government introduced the anti-Muslim amendment. Ladeeda took the lead of the protest in Jamia Millia Islamia which escalated to become a national movement against Hindu nationalist regime. Ladeeda is now a prominent Muslim youth leader and a leading political icon in the fight against Modi’s government. Maktoob sat down with Ladeeda to speak about the future of the movement and its impact.

How did your life change during anti-CAA protest? How active and aware were you politically before CAA? What made you come out on the streets?  

I have a lot to say about everything that happened before and after December 15. The police attack on Jamia on 15 December brought national attention to the anti-CAA protests at Jamia. It was the unified effort of a lot of people that made these protests successful. Since then, I was called to participate in similar protests in many parts of India, talked to a lot of media, these were the initial changes that the publicity brought. This brought me the responsibility to do everything I could for the anti-CAA movement, from within my limits. But I believe I’ve had strong political opinion way before this.

I come from a family that’s made social activism a part of life. Personally, the life and existence of Muslims in India have been politically and intellectually something I engage with. I’ve participated in academic seminars, protests and read up on the topic. Consequently, the politics of the movement isn’t new to me at all. But my increased responsibility in the movement is a result of the attention the protests at Jamia got. Moreover, CAA is an issue of life and survival for a community that I am part of. And so no matter how much the police hit me, or insult me or charge me with cases, I consider it my responsibility to fight for this till the very end.

What do you think is the role of international pressure and can it achieve good results?

International pressure is a very important factor. The anti-CAA movement is international as well. From the beginning, international society has been against CAA NPR and NRC. There were protests in many countries. There are international organizations that are continuing protests online even during this pandemic. I’ve just been invited to an online event in the US about this. As I understand, international involvement has caused much political pressure for the Indian government. The international campaigns for Safoora have influenced the court’s decision to grant her bail. Certainly, we hope for more support from our international allies.

What are your personal life goals? What do you want as a career? Is there any change in those post these protests?

Personally, in academics, my preferred areas are philosophy and theology. I hope to get a Ph.D. at the very least in one of these fields. I read a lot of social and political theories related to this. Presently I’m not thinking of a job oriented career option, although that used to be a big deal for me before. I’ve even tried my hand at LLB (unsuccessfully) once. The protests haven’t changed the direction of my academic interest, because I firmly believe the two are related.

What do you make out of these arrests? Do you think the movement can sustain with such crackdowns on dissenters? According to you, how has COVID affected it and how to continue the movement in the long run?

The recent arrests are the government’s attempt to weaken the anti-CAA movement. Already many of us have been arrested unjustly using charges like UAPA, including my close friends. The complications of laws like UAPA are familiar to all of us. Its use is a strategy to jail people and deny them a trial for long periods. All of the BJP government projects are based on their Hindutva ideology. We can see the consequent interest in the elimination of Muslims reflected in these arrests. But I don’t think any of this can weaken our movement. Naturally, COVID has broken the continuity of the protests. But the people are still aware of it. BJP is under a false notion if they think they can dissolve that through these arrests.

There’s a lot to say about the future and growth of this movement. 

First of all, anti-CAA isn’t the only purpose that is being put forth by Muslims through this movement. It is a continuation of many political questions Muslims have been raising in India for decades. The anti-CAA movement is the resistance of a community that has been faced with discrimination, oppression, lynchings and harassment and part of their existence in this country. This movement has already instigated changes in political thinking and narrative.  

For example, take a look at all the anti-Muslim pogroms that have happened in India over the decades. The mainstream addressed all of them as ‘riots’, supporting a narrative that put equal responsibility on the Muslim community as well when they were victims.

 But this time, the pogrom that Sangh Parivar staged in northeast Delhi as a sort of revenge for the anti-CAA movement couldn’t be written off as a riot. That narrative didn’t work out for once.

 While the reality remains that Muslims are at the receiving end of police action for the riots, it is also true that the public society at large had to accept that it was an anti-Muslim genocidal project. I believe that the changes brought about in the narrative level by this movement is to thank for that. In a sense, our movement has already won. And I firmly believe that once the COVID crisis is over, our movement will continue stronger than ever.

How do you see Indian liberal society? And there support… Does it satisfy? Shrinking? Disappointing? Who are your allies?

Categorising and defining the liberal society in India is a confusing task, because of its nature. There are ‘liberals’ operating in various fields in India; social activists, politicians, cultural activists, media journalists, etc. Liberals span out over several streams. Consequently, the support and involvement of liberals in the anti-CAA movement cannot be analysed through a single frame. Some groups claim the anti-CAA movement is a protest for protection of the constitution. Others to say is for the protection of secularism, meaning they want participation in the protest to be exclusive of Muslim identity. I find stands like that unacceptable. They can call the movement whatever they want. But demanding that Muslim identity be set aside for the protests is not logical at all. It was problems with Muslim identity that was at the basis of Muslim Citizenship becoming a crisis in India. So when that same identity makes liberals uncomfortable, that should be seen as a problem. The support of liberals who see Muslim identity, subjectivity and political assertions as a problem can be of no help to the movement. I cannot form a long-term alliance with anyone who puts forth conditions like that. At most, there can only be a strategical alliance. And we have that right now. 

I wonder, don’t they see a problem with demanding that a community whose existence is as a crisis because of their identity set aside that same identity for their protests? After all, it is such a simple thing. The fact that this is a condition that applies to Muslims alone when it comes to political movements in India is an impact of islamophobia. Personally, alliances I approve would be with people who do not carry such islamophobic stands.