We, the Students: A Citizenship Awareness campaign – a report

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For information on the We, the Students campaign, click here.

In the wake of country wide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the ‘We, The Students’ campaign aims to spread information around various aspects and history of the Act, its present and anticipated implications and the impact it has had on civil society. The campaign was conducted in a two-step process. There was an information session followed by a debate or discussion.

ccccWe conducted two sessions in Chowringhee High School and Akshar School respectively—in the latter we addressed the school’s teaching staff. The information sessions were divided into broad categories and analysed the implications of the Act from its legal, economic, diplomatic and humanitarian perspectives. The last category involved narrating a brief history of the implementation of the NRC in Assam.

ccccIn Chowringhee High School, the information session was followed by a fortnight’s preparation time, where students were expected to use resources shared during the information session to research aspects of the CAA further. We stuck to a loose debate-discussion model to see how students develop their opinions during the course of the session. Since one did not have to defend any particular side, this was a good opportunity for students to explore the ambivalent moral status of public policy. Although, a disadvantage of this format was that many participants could not articulate themselves when asked to speak on a particular issue from a specific view point.

ccccImportant takeaways from this session was that the discussion moved away from immediate concerns surrounding the CAA to larger issues of education, healthcare, immigration and its perceived threat and the role and responsibility of citizens. While discussing the economic and immigration angle, some students argued that large-scale and unregulated immigration of Bangladeshi workers poses a threat to the economic security of Indians as migrants work for lower pay. It was also argued whether India should allow a large influx of workers to migrate for jobs at all, given we have been going through unemployment and economic crisis.

ccccThe session ended with a lengthy discussion on the role of governments as facilitators of education. We discussed whether free primary education for the underprivileged was a boon and interrogated the link between education and employment. Some students also raised interesting questions around the form and rhetoric of protest. The primary question raised was: why should citizens care about an issue which would not directly impact them? While some students were sceptical of the protests having shades of fruitless ostentation or being irrelevant to the lives of those unaffected by it, others strongly argued that resisting unfair laws passed by the government was a fundamental civil responsibility. Teachers and students from the audience, representing both sides, (and the moderators) also argued with the speakers. It is needless to say that discussions like these enliven subjects like history, civics and other social sciences that students, day by day, fail to find relevant. Moreover, it imbues students with the confidence and rhetoric to articulate their thoughts and even argue with authority figures like their teachers.

ccccIn Akshar, the information session flowed into a lively discussion. Since we were addressing teachers, the information session was much more detailed and nuanced. We originally intended to follow a workshop model but the discussions began so organically that we decided to go with the flow.  We discussed at length about the legal trajectory of the CAA since 2015 followed by the Act’s impact on foreign relations. One teacher drew a very pertinent link between political apathy and weak civil society being the prime facilitators of authoritarian, right-wing, regressive ideologues and the gradual decay of school education. She said that the curriculum and syllabi actively prevents students from thinking critically about history and society by rewarding rote learning. This in turn breeds political apathy in the child from a very tender age which in turn breeds a culture of reverence around charismatic political leaders. We also discussed the mechanics of information dissemination and its positive and negative impact.  A teacher related a personal account where she had to furnish census data from the internet to show someone that Muslim population overwhelming Hindu population in the country was factually wrong and an Islamophobic myth. Since this session followed an even more open-ended format, we felt that perhaps the original workshop model could have prompted more people to speak.


-Amreeta, Diven