‘Let’s Talk About…’ assembles student panel to discuss political turmoil in India

“We need more politicians in power who are actually well-versed in politics,” said Anushka Gupta, a second-year international economics student, highlighting the current conditions in India.

Gupta was a featured panelist at “Let’s Talk About India,” an event held on January 20 at the UBC Global Lounge and organized by the International Relations Student Association (IRSA) under their initiative “Let’s Talk About…”

The “Let’s Talk About…” series aims to create a safe space for UBC students to talk and learn about the culture and narratives of countries that have recently or historically been portrayed negatively in the media.

The goal of the event was to educate and exchange viewpoints among students regarding the issues concerning CAA and NRC as well as show solidarity and support for those protesting in India.

Danilo Angulo-Molina, the director of “Let’s Talk About…” facilitated the discussion and allowed the student-panelists to share their views on what India meant to them personally.

Gupta, who attended a boarding school in India, said that after growing up in India, she thought of the Indian community as a whole and not from an individualistic mindset.

Sharon Nadeem, an alumn of the UBC School of Journalism, agreed, saying that when she thought about India, the phrase “unity in diversity” instantly came to her mind.

Nadeem, who now works for the Global Reporting Centre at UBC, cleared certain misconceptions that people have about India.

“People think that Islam came to India through the Mughals and their northern conquest. But Islam actually came to India through the south, through the trade between the Arabs and the Malabar coast, and it happened during the time of the Prophet himself,” she said. “It’s important to know this as there’s a political narrative driven that Islam invaded in from the north.”

Angulo-Molina addressed nationwide outcry about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), and asked the panelists to shed light on the policies and its’ effects.

The CAA, which was passed in December 2019, seeks to give expedited citizenship to members of Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Jain and Parsi religious minorities who have fled persecution in the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

The NRC, on the other hand, requires Indian citizens to prove their citizenship based on valid government documents. Inability to provide evidence would only affect Muslims, as practitioners of other religions can take refuge under the citizenship act.

The exclusion of Muslims in this Act, who constitute over 14 per cent of the total Indian population has led to nationwide protests in India, calling the act as discriminatory in nature and against the ethos of the Indian Constitution.

“I find it insulting that the act does not include Ahmadiyya Muslims of Pakistan or the Rohingyas in Bangladesh, who are facing persecution. Also, the term ‘persecution’ in itself has different interpretations,” said Anupriya Dasgupta, a second-year sociology student.

Panelist Riya Talitha, a third-year political science student, stated that the act discriminated “heavily against women, due to the country’s patriarchal and patrilineal culture.”

“Women, in large numbers, do not have a paper trail in terms of documents that prove their identity, as they don’t own properties or have access to education. This is also discriminatory against transgender, landless and homeless [people] who do not have any proof of identity,” she said.

Gupta added that the act was discriminatory not only in terms of religion but also in terms of an individual’s financial standing in society. Drawing lines to casteism in India, she commented on the lack of institutions and infrastructure available to those living in villages to be able to access documents that prove their citizenship.

On being asked about the personal impacts of CAA and NRC, Talitha explained that physical insulation from events back home did not mitigate the intensity of the matter as she was hearing about terrifying situations that her friends are going through in India.

The panelists also felt that the government was using controversy around the CAA and NRC to distract public attention from other underlying issues like India’s falling economy.

They also agreed that the silence from the international community has been shocking.

“What I find distressing is that, if this was Iran or Saudi Arabia, I would have heard about this constantly,” said Nadeem. “But there has been no noise from international governments on this matter and it’s disappointing.”

Dasgupta vocalized the importance of educating ourselves, having constant dialogues and enabling those without resources with the right information.

The event moved on to the audience, where attendees with questions had an opportunity to interact with the panelists.

Alifya Sohail, a third-year history and international relations student raised the importance of talking about Kashmir and including the narrative of Kashmiris in an increasingly censored state as they have been going through insecurities in identity, security, freedom and inclusion for the past several decades.

“So is there any institutional opposition from political parties to the ruling government beyond those who have taken to the streets?” wondered Rayan Kalo, a third-year international relations student.

Talitha pointed out that hope can only come from regionalized and centralized opposition. She added, “The government holds so much power that they retaliated at Kerala, a state which has always gone against the government’s decision, by cutting the state from the public distribution system for food and their funding for natural disasters.”

“The right to protest is a democratic right and if the government is opposing that, then we’re not a democracy anymore,” Nadeem said.

Anupriya Dasgupta and Riya Talitha are both staff writers at The Ubyssey.