Katherine Coetzer ‘23

Staff Writer

SASA display provides timeline of events in Kashmir and the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act. Photo by Sarah Woods ‘21.

On Thursday, January 23rd, the South Asian Students Association (SASA) launched the #IndiaAgainstFascism exhibit in the Union Atrium with the hopes of bringing awareness of the widespread protests in India and Kashmir to Davidson’s campus.   

The exhibit delineates the build-up of protests against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist policies. The timeline begins with India’s general elections in May 2019 in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing party which supports Hindu supremacy as an ideology, won in a landslide victory, securing a second term in office. The display chronicles activism in India through January 22nd, when the Indian Supreme Court was expected to hear 144 petitions arguing that the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is unconstitutional. According to Al Jazeera, the Supreme Court refused to put a hold on the new citizenship law, instead granting the government four weeks to respond to the petitions filed. 

SASA co-president Yashita Kandhari ’22 explained that the protests were sparked by the BJP’s CAA, which was enacted in December 2019, and the Indian government’s repeal of Article 370, which grants Kashmir semi-autonomy, and imposition of an internet blockade on the region coupled with heavy militarization. According to SASA’s exhibit, the CAA allows for refugees fleeing religious persecution in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to obtain Indian citizenship, excluding Muslims from these nations and ignoring Muslims from neighboring countries such as Myanmar entirely. Additionally, the exhibit describes how the Modi government’s lockdown and militarization of the Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir, a region contested by India and Pakistan, is unconstitutional. Kandhari emphasized that both these occurrences represent steps towards shaping an India that is defined by Hindu identity. 

Kiran Rajguru ’22, a SASA co-president, explained that SASA has hosted events in the past, such as the screening of a film which provided insight into the Kashmiri fight for freedom. However, such events were limited in reach as only a certain number of people could be there for the time. Therefore, SASA wanted to display something that would be available for a longer period of time in order to reach more members of the Davidson community.  

Furthermore, Kandhari noted that SASA’s decision to launch the exhibit on January 23rd centered around the fact that India celebrates Republic Day, the birth and ratification of India’s Constitution, on January 26th. “In the preamble of our Constitution, it says that India [is] supposed to be a sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic; it says India is supposed to maintain ideals of unity, diversity, freedom, and inclusion, which the present government isn’t doing,” she said. “Right now, the government’s vision for India is to establish a Hindu nationalist state, and in order to achieve that, they’ve enacted a lot of fascist policies.”

According to Rajguru, SASA decided to create a timeline to both provide as much information as possible on the events in India, and to highlight the connection between these events and the conflict in Kashmir. “We didn’t want to isolate events that talked about Kashmir from events that have talked about the citizenship Amendment Act,” Rajguru said. “We want people to see that it’s all connected, and a reflection of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and its Hindu nationalist policies.” 

The display closed on Tuesday, January 28th. Kandhari explained that SASA wanted to bring the Davidson community’s attention to protests in India and Kashmir partly because these events are symptomatic of a broader global phenomenon in which right-wing populist parties, which support Islamophobia and the abuse of human rights, are rising to power. Given the surge of fascism and human rights abuses, Kandhari emphasized that the massive protests in India serve as an “inspiration for what people can do, and highlight that there is something that you can do about it.”