After Rabeeha Abdurehim of Pondicherry University rejected her gold medal in solidarity with the students of JMI, AMU etc. who were faced a police crackdown due to their protest of the Citizenship Amendment Act, Debsmita Chowdhury from Jadavpur University made news when she tore a copy of the CAA on stage at the convocation ceremony to receive her gold medal and certificates on December 24. The 24-year-old gold medalist went up on the stage but before receiving her medal and certificates, she faced the crowd, took out a copy of the controversial CAA and NRC, tore it apart and shouted "Hum Kagaz Nahin Dikhayenge. Inquilab Zindabad" (We will not show our papers).
I didn't orchestrate the event. It was when I got the confirmation of attending the convocation, I thought I would do it. When I was walking towards the dais, my heart was beating fast as only I knew what I was going to do.
She then bowed to the audience, moved back to her college dignitaries to receive her laurels. While protests opposing and favouring CAA-NRC are happening across the country for over a fortnight now, women, in particular, have established themselves as the forerunners of the anti-CAA-NRC protests. Talking exclusively to SheThePeople.TV, Debsmita opened up about why she tore the Act on stage, what her perspective on the bill is and on the student movement leading the protests against it.
On about her act of defiance and civil disobedience, she says, "I have never been to any political rally or protests ever before in my life as I am very shy and introverted. In fact, my friends also have never seen me politically active so they were very surprised and shocked when I tore the CAA copy in the convocation. Frankly, I didn't orchestrate the event. It was when I got the confirmation of attending the convocation, I thought I would do it. When I was walking towards the dais, my heart was beating fast as only I knew what I was going to do."
"It was just an emotional outburst as I have been really affected by it," adds Debsmita as she claims that she has read the Act thoroughly and has researched on it. She has done her graduation and post-graduation from the International Relations department of Jadavpur University. While she had never gone for a protest earlier, it is only now that she has attended one and she recalls her experience. "I went to a protest happening in Rashmoni Avenue in Kolkata because I just wanted to see the response of people protesting and I was amazed that people of all ages, religions, sections of the society had gathered there. No one knew each other but everyone was speaking in one voice, it was the sheer impact if this bill. I had read about unity in diversity but that day I saw it live in front of my eyes.
Everyone asks me why I did it? My response is just that people like me who are introverts have been compelled to the limit of taking such drastic steps. Especially women, as I have been seeing so many women who have come out to protest. This act is more of an imposition than an act."
She adds that she didn't just protest against CAA-NRC and the students who were attacked but also for Najeeb Jung, Rohith Vemula and the "highly discriminatory" National Education Policy. "It was a culmination of all of it that led me to do this," asserts Debsmita.
It was just an emotional outburst as I have been really affected by it.
On asking if the university authorities retaliated after her bold step, she says, "It would be an understatement to say that my university has supported me. I am obliged to the university authorities who didn't say anything against it. I went to the university afterwards and my teachers only supported me for the courageous act and they congratulated me for showing such braveness." In the video, Vice-Chancellor Pradeep Ghosh can be seen asking her to accept her medal after she tore the copy of CAA.
Debsmita's parents have also supported her but fear for her safety and security as while she is being praised, she is also getting trolled. "They fear the consequences of what I did," she says.
Talking about the criticism women protesters are receiving, Debsmita, who has also seen hate comments on her act, notes, "People have said several nasty things about me as well. They say that I don't deserve my gold medal and what not but I would rather question if they would say the same thing if a man had done the sane thing? But I would also say that I don't mind the trolls as I am not taking the applause very seriously. I am trying to stay away from the hate comments however the few that I saw target me on my gender."
She also goes on to explain how CAA is also anti-women. "It is grossly patriarchal in the sense that if the government is liberating the Muslim women of India by banning Triple Talaq then why aren't they letting Muslim women from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh enter India too just like other minorities in those countries since they talk about persecution. Are Muslim women in those countries not being subjected to abuse, crimes and assault?" she questions.
Finally, Debsmita applauds every girl and woman standing up for what they feel is right despite the criticism they have been subjected to. She, along with all the women who have been protesting, whether in marches, rallies, or those sitting at Shaheen Bagh are the ones who are truly the new faces of protest.