Citizenship Act Tears Friendships Apart As Whatsapp Turns Battlefield

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NEW DELHI – Relationships among childhood friends are turning sour, students are disagreeing with their teachers and alumni of prestigious institutions are exiting WhatsApp groups, all because of arguments on social media over the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens.

As protests across the country over the Citizenship Act and a possible NRC turned violent, leaving around 20 dead and several more injured in clashes with the police, there were heated debates on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp groups.

Allahabad-based Roshini Ahmed (23) was taken aback when two childhood friends labelled her a “terrorist” and told her “to go to Pakistan” if she cannot support the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the NRC.

An MA degree holder from Allahabad University, she said she held “dearest” these two friends with whom she shared lunches and notes in school and college, but was shocked by their reaction after she raised concerns over the Citizenship Act and NRC on Facebook and WhatsApp statuses.

“It was something I couldn’t have imagined coming from my friends. One of them regretted being my friend or helping me in college, thinking that I am a terrorist because I don’t agree with her political views,” Ahmed told PTI. “It was very insulting and hurting. I had no words to answer, so I left her message unanswered,” she said.

Asked whether she thought the relationships could be repaired, she said, “I’ve lost them and they’ve lost me; [I’m] not even sure if they consider my going away as a loss or not.”

Kisa Zehra, a 20-year-old student at Jamia Millia Islamia, shared similar experiences, saying friends from her hometown labelled her “a stone pelter” after violent protests at her university in Delhi.

“And according to them, this was not the right way to do protest… They started abusing me and my university,” the final year maths (honours) student said.

Faiz Rahman, 37, said he had done an executive MBA programme from an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in 2014 after which the alumni of his batch created a WhatsApp group, largely used for networking and resource sharing.

“The group remained free of political discussions over the years, but. of late, several posts by some group members had become insufferable. They were directed at a particular community, demonising it. Initially, some members, including Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims, tried to reason with them and counter the fake news with facts, but the tirade continued to the point that I had to leave the group,” Faiz, who hails from Varanasi and works in Delhi, said.

Hyderabad-based Aditya Sharma said he was dismayed by the Facebook posts shared by his former schoolteachers in smaller towns of Uttar Pradesh. “Some of my teachers are supporting CAA and NRC, without an ounce of consideration towards its implications. Glad to know the problem with education system starts right from the beginning,” Sharma, an IIM graduate now working with a tech giant, said in a Facebook post.

Padmaja Tamuli, 31, said she was “rattled” by her friend of over two decades questioning her Assamese identity just because she did not agree with his political ideology.

“I believed in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies initially and hoped he would do something good for Assam. But no longer,” Tamuli, who hails from Tinsukia and now works as an assistant professor in Kolkata, told PTI.

She said this childhood friend of hers, now a BJP worker, recently called her up to ask why she had not posted anything on Facebook in support of the CAA and NRC.

“I told him that he should question himself why he was supporting these policies and when he could not counter it with logic, he got personal and questioned my very identity of being Assamese. He said I did not cast my vote in the last elections, am staying in Kolkata and am married to an Odia man, so I should not be speaking about Assam,” Tamuli said.

“I was rattled by his audacity to say something like this to his childhood friend, his best friend with whom he shared family ties,” she added.

Several parts of the country have been witnessing protests against the Citizenship Act and NRC. The CAA provides for grant of citizenship to persecuted minority Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jain, Buddhists and Parsis of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have taken refuge in India before December 31, 2014.

Critics say that by leaving Muslims out of the ambit of the law, it violates the fundamental right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution and is against the secular ethos of India.

Though the NRC was carried out in Assam, the government has not said whether it will be implemented in other parts of the country. However, it has sanctioned nearly Rs 4,000 crore for updating the National Population Register (NPR), which the opposition parties claim is a precursor to NRC.

 

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