'Our country does not need an NRC. We need to improve our economy which is in a bad condition.'
In solidarity with his friends who are under arrest for several days for protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and a proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens, Banaras Hindu University student Rajat Singh refused to accept his degree at the 101st convocation of the university on Wednesday, December 25.
A video of Singh walking up to the dais and refusing to accept his 'Masters in Art History' degree has gone viral on social media.
At least 69 BHU students were arrested on December 19 for staging a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
"Till my friends are not released, I am not bothered about my degree," Singh tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.
Did you plan to refuse to accept your degree at the convocation or was it extempore?
My friends were arrested on December 19 when they were holding a peaceful protest.
We were not even allowed to meet them. Later, we found they were charged with rioting, which was not true
They were charged under non-bailable sections.
Where were you when this protest was being held?
I was on the campus. I was about to reach the spot. But the police had started arresting the protesters when I reached. I witnessed that moment.
My friends were protesting peacefully by raising slogans to save the Constitution.
However, in the first information report filed by the police, it is mentioned they were shouting 'anti-national' slogans.
Why are you protesting against the CAA when it only concerns non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan?
Under this (NRC exercise), all Indians will have to show their documents to prove their citizenship.
I come from a small village in Deoria district in eastern UP. I don't have any documents prior to 1971 (to prove citizenship or ancestry).
However, being a Hindu, I will automatically become an Indian citizen, but any Indian Muslim in a similar condition won't. What will happen to them?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stated that there are no plans for a nationwide NRC.
When did he say that? He said it very late.
He kept quiet for very long while Home Minister Amit Shah was making statement after statement on the NRC.
Even now Modi is not saying that there will be no NRC in India.
Our country does not need an NRC. We need to improve our economy which is in a bad condition.
Funds for higher education are being cut and fees are being hiked.
These are the issues that bother students, not NRC.
Don't you feel an NRC is important for the country's security?
I don't think so. Our economy is going down rapidly. I don't think it is justified for our government to spend a huge amount on an NRC.
Almost all Indians have Aadhar cards. Just like demonetisation, people will have to queue-up again to prove their citizenship.
By showing a rebellious attitude, don't you think you have harmed your job prospects?
The way the economy is going, there will be no jobs anyway.
Vacancies in the civil services have been reduced.
Under the Modi regime, there are no job opportunities for students.
Just take Uttar Pradesh. There are 71,000 vacancies for teachers, but the government is not filling them.
There is no new recruitment of sub-inspectors too.
So where are the jobs in UP?
You are presenting a very bleak picture for UP.
In UP, if you apply for any government job, the entire process will take three to five years.
So, Modiji and Yogi ji (Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ajay Singh Bisht aka Yogi Adityanath) should concentrate on these issues rather than the NRC or NPR (National Population Register).
In Varanasi, which is Modi's constituency, are there no jobs in sectors like tourism?
In the last six months, tourism has fallen in India. The way the atmosphere of the country is right now, there could be no tourists (at all).
Just see Kashmir, how many tourists go there now?
What did your parents say about your action?
They have restricted themselves from commenting on the matter.
I had to do what I did because my friends are in jail.
There are 20 students in jail, 10 of whom are personally known to me.
Were you not scared that you too would be arrested?
When we went to the police station to meet our friends the police did not allow us. Instead, our photos were clicked outside the police station.
The next day a local newspaper published our photos and with a WhatsApp no. and a message that anyone who gives information about us will be rewarded.
Where is our right to privacy?
You can file a case against the newspaper.
We are going to be arrested sooner or later.
Yesterday (Wednesday, December 25), we met the family members of the students who are in jail.
The UP police interrupted the meeting and started making a video.
We told the police they cannot make a video of a private meeting.
They replied they will do what they want as Section 144 (of the Criminal Procedure Code) is imposed in Varanasi.
Are the charges against your friends serious? Are they bailable?
No, they are not bailable. They detained my friends at noon. They sent them to jail at 5 pm. And filed an FIR at 10.48 pm.
This FIR was given us on December 23. In the FIR it was written that they were trying to spread chaos, disturb communal harmony and instigate riots.
The fact is they were just protesting peacefully.
Do you or your family have any political leanings? Are you part of a student organisation?
No. My family has no political leanings.
At the university, I only joined the Joint Action Committee, which is a local body.
It is only to discuss university problems. It was not associated with any political party.
I have always been apolitical and away from party politics.
Now an NPR has been announced instead of an NRC. Do you have a problem with the NPR too?
What is the need for an NPR? Did Maharashtra ask for an NPR? Did Uttar Pradesh ask for an NPR?
No state asked for an NPR, so why is the central government bringing it?
Everyone is asking for employment. Students are asking for jobs and Modiji is giving them NPR.
NPR is a part of the Census.
If that is the case, why there is a ruckus over NPR. There is something wrong in the NPR.
There is a hospital in BHU where 20,000 people come daily from eastern Uttar Pradesh. We need to have more such hospitals.
Why are we getting into issues like the NRC or NPR?
The cost of these exercises is too high.
MTNL is being sold, so are BSNL and BPCL. The railways are going to be privatised. We are unable to save our public sector companies, so why not save them rather than go for NPR?
What happens to your degree now?
I don't know. Till the time my friends are not released, I am not bothered about my degree.